Joseph Samuel Clark, born on June 7, 1871, in Sparta, La., was a major influence in the development of Southern University. A well-educated gentleman with two Doctor of Philosophy degrees, Clark came to Southern University as its president in 1913 when the university was reorganized on the former Kerman Plantation at Scotlandville. The school had only 47 students, but through Clark's leadership, enrollment grew to more than 3,000.
During his lifetime, he was involved in many state and national educational organizations, including the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools and the Louisiana State Colored Teachers Association. He was also recognized by President Calvin Coolidge as a member of a commission to make a national education survey and by President Herbert Hoover as a minister to Liberia. Because Clark wanted to continue his work at Southern University, he declined this last honor.
He retired as president of Southern University after 25 years of service and was succeeded by his son. And after his death in 1944, he was buried in Scotlandville on the campus of Southern University. It is altogether fitting that a school in our city should bear his name.
Sophie Bell Wright was another educator to whom our city owes much. Born in 1866 in New Orleans to poor parents, at 3 years old she fell and so injured her back that she was in a cast for seven months. Even so, she managed to get a grammar-school education and went on to open a day school for girls, charging each student 50 cents per month.
Wright managed to continue her own education by teaching in the Normal school while she audited other classes.
In 1885, a young man applied, but since he couldn't attend day classes because he had to work, Wright opened New Orleans' only free night school. While the school board did not always approve, by 1905, it was convinced that a night school for boys was a good idea.
Wright, perhaps because her accident left her permanently crippled, took a great interest in helping the physically disabled. She was especially known for helping children and for years was president of the Home for Incurables.
During her lifetime, she was recognized and rewarded for her kindness and generosity and was the first woman to receive The Times-Picayune Loving Cup in 1903. In 1911, a school was built and named in her honor: the Sophie B. Wright Girls' High School.
When Wright died on June 6, 1912, she was buried in Metairie Cemetery and the Daily Picayune praised her as a "Saint of the common weal."
A friend of mine made a bequest to me in his will -- three costume sketches and a float sketch apparently for a 1957 Mardi Gras krewe. The sketches are of angels and devils, and the name of the float is handwritten in pencil: "Lucifer and the Fallen Angels." The sketches are watercolored, dated 1957, and signed "Reiss." Can you tell me what krewe had the float "Lucifer and the Fallen Angels," and what do you know about the artist?
For Mardi Gras of 1957, Rex's parade had the theme "Favorite Stories from the Old Testament." Among the instructive series of floats that included "Sampson and Delilah," "Noah and the Ark," and "Jonah and the Whale" was the third float -- "Lucifer and the Fallen Angels."
The artist, Alice Peak Reiss, was born in Baton Rouge and graduated from Newcomb College in 1930 as an art major. In 1981, after her death, the West Baton Rouge Museum in Port Allen exhibited her paintings and drawings. The exhibit also included her Mardi Gras designs for sets, costumes and even Rex doubloons. The exhibit was popular and a splendid tribute to a versatile and talented artist.
In her honor, Tulane University gives the Alice Peak Reiss Award to a student in the Newcomb Art Department.