Penn School: A Selective List of Materials & Links

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Penn School was established in 1862 by two Northern missionaries, Laura M. Towne and Ellen Murray.  It was among the first American institutions to provide a formal education for formerly enslaved people. In 1901, the Penn School expanded to become the Penn Normal, Agricultural and Industrial School after adopting the industrial arts curriculum taught at Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes. Penn School closed in 1948. During the 1960s, Penn Community Services reinvigorated its involvement in the Civil Rights Movement as the only South Carolina location where interracial groups could meet and discuss civil disobedience activities in peace.  During the 1970s, Penn Community Services evolved into Penn Center, an organization dedicated “to promote and preserve the history and culture of the Sea Islands.”

Materials and links selected by Grace Morris Cordial, MLS, SL, CA, Manager of the Beaufort District Collection in the Beaufort County Library (SC). Latest update: 29 June  2015 (Originally published: 28 January 2011)

Photograph Postcard by Ernest Fergerson, Photo Arts, Winnsboro, SC (Beaufort District Collection)

Web-Based Resources:

The Penn Center website

Penn Center National Historic Landmark District

Penn Center has sponsored the Heritage Days Festival since 1981.  Heritage Days Celebration is a three-day cultural event celebrating the Gullah/Geechee/Sea Island history, folk arts, food, music, crafts and West African cultural legacy.

Penn School Papers, The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories, the Library of Congress

Penn School Papers, 1862-2004 and undated (bulk 1862-1978) is an archival collection housed in the Southern Historical Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Parts of the collection have been digitized and are accessible via the website. The online finding aid provides useful and concise historical information about the institution, 1862 – present. Please note: The Beaufort District Collection has a copy of the microfilm series of the Penn School Papers, 1862 – 1976 in our Research Room.

SCIway has a webpage on “Penn Center, St. Helena Island, Beaufort County, South Carolina.”

  • All links accessed on 29 June 2015.

Check out these materials from the Beaufort County Library:

200.9757 WOL The abundant life prevails: religious traditions of Saint Helena Island by Michael Charles Wolfe, (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2000).  Available at BDC, BEA, HHI

323.4 POW I will not be silent and I will be heard: Martin Luther King Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Penn Center, 1964-1967 by J. Tracy Power.  (South Carolina: South Carolina Department of Archives & History, 1993) Available at ALL

370.9757 BUR Penn Center: A History Preserved by Orville Vernon Burton with Wilbur Cross; Foreword by Emory S. Campbell (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2014). Available at ALL

398.2 FIV Five Gullah folktales: (a collection of folktales from Sea Island Elders) by Penn Center, Inc., 1993. Available at BDC, BEA, HHI, LOB, STH

975.799 DAI Reminiscences of Sea Island heritage by Ronald Daise. (Orangeburg, S.C.: Sandlapper Publishing, 1986).  Available at ALL

975.799 JAC Yankee missionaries in the South: the Penn School experiment by Elizabeth Jacoway (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, c1980). Available at BDC, BEA

975.799 LIF Life in the South Carolina Lowcountry [DVD] by JeAnne Burg.  (Bluffton, SC: The Bluffton Historical Preservation Society, Inc., 2007). Available at ALL

975.799 MOM 975.799 MOM Moments from the past: an exhibition in celebration of the Penn Center of the Sea Islands (South Carolina: I. P. Stanback Museum & Planetarium, 1993). Available at BDC, BEA, LOB

975.799 PEN Penn School: experiment in freedom [Videorecording] Mary Long’s Yesteryear series (Columbia,SC: SCETV, no date). Available in ALL

975.799 TOW Letters and diary of Laura M. Towne: written from the Sea Islands of South Carolina, 1862-1884 edited by Rupert Sargent Holland (Salem, Mass: Higginson Book Co., [1996]) and another edition by Negro Universities Press 1912.  Available at ALL. Also available online through Hathitrust at

  • Location codes: ALL – Each Beaufort County Library Branch; BDC – Beaufort District Collection; BEA – Beaufort Branch; BLU – Bluffton Branch; HHI – Hilton Head Branch; LOB – Lobeco Branch; STH – St. Helena Branch

Come to the Beaufort District Collection to see these items:

BDC Vertical File Headings: Vertical files are folders with newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and miscellaneous paper documents.  Any study of Penn School will necessarily involve review of these materials. Most items can be photocopied from these files.

  • Penn Center
  • Penn Normal, Industrial, and Agricultural School—Annual Reports
  • Schools—Penn School
  • Festival—Heritage Days
  • Reconstruction Heritage Partnership
  • History—Reconstruction, 1865-1898
  • Better Homes Movement
  • African Americans –History
  • Penn Community Services, Inc.
  • Penn Pals, Fall 1991 [Magazine: Newsletter]

Postcards: We have some postcard images of Penn School beginning approximately 1940 until the present day.  These can be viewed in the Research Room during our posted hours of operation.

Books and Dissertations:

SC B FORTEN A tribute to Charlotte Forten by Roberta Hughes Wright (Michigan: Charro Book Company, c1993)

SC 312 PEN Beaufort County statistics, 1960 by Penn Community Services, Inc. ([S.l.] : [s.n.], 1960)

SC 370 SWI The Northern Teacher in the South, 1862 – 1870 by Henry Lee Swift (New York: Octagon Books, 1967). BDC

SC 370.973 ALB The Plantation School by Anthony Gerald Albanese (New York: Vantage Press, 1976). BDC.

SC 370.9757 ANN 7 Annual report of the Penn Normal, Industrial and Agricultural School on St. Helena Island, South Carolina [Pamphlet]: seventy-fourth year Penn Normal Industrial and Agricultural School.

SC 370.9757 ANN 1950 Annual report [Pamphlet]: Penn School on St. Helena Island, South Carolina : First report of The New Director, 1861-1951 : eighty-ninth year

SC 370.9757 COO Annual report of the Penn Normal, Industrial and Agricultural School on St. Helena Island, South Carolina [Pamphlet]: seventy-eighth year: 1862-1940 by Rossa B. Cooley

SC 370.9757 COO  Annual report of the Penn Normal, Industrial and Agricultural School on St. Helena Island, South Carolina [Pamphlet]: eighty-first year: 1942-1943 by Rossa B. Cooley

SC 370.9757 DAV The Penn School of St. Helena: Breaking the Shackles of Illiteracy on the Sea Islands of South Carolina, 1862 to 1922 by Marc Charlton David (Doctoral Dissertation, Syracuse University, 1999). BDC

SC 370.9757 HAR The History of the Penn School under its Founders at St. Helena Island, Frogmore, South Carolina, 1862-1908 by Yvonne Bailey Harris (Doctoral Dissertation, American University, 1979). BDC

SC 370.9757 JOR Across the Bridge: Penn School and Penn Center by Francis Harold Jordan (Doctoral Dissertation, University of South Carolina, 1991). BDC

SC 371.82996 BUT Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876 by Ronald E. Butchart (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2010. BDC

SC 641.5 PEN Penn School and Sea Islands Heritage Cookbook ([S.l.]: Fundcraft Publishing, Inc. c1978)

SC 975.704 TRI Of freedom unto all: an archaeological examination of the Port Royal Experiment by Michael Trinkley, (Columbia, SC: Chicora Foundation, 1987)  Click here to view

SC 975.799 COO Homes of the freed by Rossa Belle Cooley, (New York: New Republic. c1926)

SC 975.799 COO School acres: an adventure in rural education by Rossa Belle Cooley ([S.l.]: Yale University Press, c1930)

SC 975.799 CRU Gullah; Negro life in the Carolina Sea islands by Mason Crum, New York, Negro Universities Press [1968, c1940]

SC 975.799 DAB Sea island diary: a history of St. Helena Island by Edith M. Dabbs (Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Co., 1983)

SC 975.799 FRO “From the pages of history” 29 May 1989: Beaufort, South Carolina by Beaufort County (S.C.) by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (Beaufort, S.C.: Beaufort County Dept. of Veterans Affairs, 1989)

SC 975.799 PEN The nomination of the “Emancipation Proclamation Site” to the National Register 1993-1995 by the Penn Center of the Sea Islands (Southfield, Michigan: Michigan Support Group of the Penn Center of the Sea Islands), no date

SC 975.799 PEN Penn–a history (Columbia, S.C.; Office of the Governor, CETA Division 1982)

Microfilm: The Beaufort District Collection has the 33 reel microfilm set of the Penn School Papers, selections of the archival collection, 1862-1976.  An online inventory to the series is at  There is a paper copy of the inventory in the BDC Research Room.  There is a printed guide to the Penn School Papers filed in the BDC under call number SC 372.757 UNI as well as a photocopy of the guide in the BDC Research Room

Newspaper Microfilm: Unfortunately, no adequate index to the local newspapers exists.  A politically incorrect index of sorts to the Palmetto Post (1882-1906) and the Beaufort Gazette (1903 – 1936) is housed in the BDC as well as behind the Reference Desk at Beaufort Branch Library.  It runs approximately 1882 through 1936.  Ask for the “Newspaper Index” or the “Martin Index.”  Look under the heading: “Negroes.”

Materials and links selected by Grace Morris Cordial, MLS, SL, CA, Manager of the Beaufort District Collection in the Beaufort County Library (SC).

Note: Current hours and branch locations are posted on the Beaufort County Library’s (SC) website.