It began with a love story. Love between J.W. and Alice. Love of education. Love of community. Love for children.
James Williams Smothers and Alice Olenza Wingfield are the pioneers of education who brought opportunity to abandoned children of color in East Texas during the early 1920's through the St. Paul Industrial Training School. Their story is about great personal achievement and unconditional love.
J.W. Smothers was born May 3, 1896 in Mount Meggs, Alabama. For Smothers, one of eight brothers and sisters, education was always an achievable goal. After being named valedictorian of his high school class, Smothers later graduated from Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. He studied science and agriculture at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas. During World War I, he served in the 366th Infantry and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1918. His career in academics began when Smothers became a professor at Sam Houston Public School in Huntsville, Texas (1921-22), Principal of Sauney School Chapel Hill (1923-26) and then co-founder, with his new bride Alice O. Smothers, of the St. Paul Industrial Training School in Caney City in 1926.
Alice Olenza Wingfield was born August 15, 1899 in Greenville, Alabama. Her father Randolph Wingfield, studied with renowned educator Booker T. Washington. No doubt, this fact influenced Alice as she graduated from Tuskegee Institute, an institution founded by Booker T. Washington. Her father, Reverend Wingfield, started the first black institution for underprivileged children of color in Greenville, Alabama. Because of her father's school, at an early age Alice became keenly interested in the welfare of children, especially children without a home. As individuals, J.W. and Alice Smothers were strong, magnificent personalities, but as a team they lovingly touched the lives of countless homeless children of color -- children they sheltered and educated. Before (and since) their deaths, many honors have been bestowed upon them; however, by their unselfish work they honored Henderson County, Texas for over six decades.
As a couple, J.W. and Alice O. Smothers began working in 1926 with the community in Henderson County to provide a home for orphans and abandoned children. They taught local residents the benefits of vaccinating cattle and fertilization of soil for more productive crops. Home economics, canning farm produce, reading, mathematics, and maintenance of farm equipment were daily activities for students of the St. Paul School. During this period, the St. Paul Industrial Training School provided social and educational services that were not previously offered through any state agencies or charitable organizations. The program was based on a threefold mission that allowed disadvantaged youth to pursue the industrial arts, develop and enhance social skills, and increase their knowledge, all in an effort to ensure that they would have the ability to make a lasting contribution to society.
No state funding was provided to the school and operations were maintained by private donations sought by Dr. Alice O. Smothers who garnered a stellar reputation among community, religious and political leaders throughout Texas. In 1947, the St. Paul Industrial Training School was chartered as a not for profit Texas corporation and under the auspices of J.W. and Alice Smothers, the organization worked for over six decades to education and provide guidance to students. During the summer of 1987, the Board of Directors restructured the program so assistance could be provided to the state's many college students. The new focus facilitated the development of a scholarship fund to assist eligible students attend Texas college and universities. As a result, the St. Paul Scholarship Foundation has been successful in helping thousands of youth who may have otherwise been unable to fulfill their dream of attending college.
In June 2009, the Texas Historical Commission recognized the former St. Paul Industrial Training School. A historical marker was erected at the site of the former school in Caney City, Texas located in Henderson County.