In 1897, Elizabeth Evelyn Wright ventured into the town of Denmark seeking support for her dream of starting a school for the poor black children who were in dire need of education. Wright, a graduate of Tuskegee in 1894, was a protégé of the nationally known Booker T. Washington.
On March 21, 1897, Wright spoke at Rome Baptist Church at the request of Rev. R.D. Rice, who supported her dreams. Other blacks recommended Wright talk to Sen. Stanwix Mayfield because they thought he might be sympathetic to her plan. The next day, Wright walked eight miles from Govan to Denmark to meet with the senator. At the conclusion of their meeting, Mayfield said, “You bring me a recommendation from Booker T. Washington, and I will see what can be done to help you.”
In early April, 1897, Wright met Mrs. Sontag, a German immigrant who was the owner of a general store in the Sato section of Denmark. As she did with others, Wright promoted her plan. Sontag, being compassionate, told her, “You can use the second floor of the store to start your school.” Wright was overjoyed and accepted the offer.
On April 14, 1897, Elizabeth Evelyn Wright opened her first school with 14 students and named it the Denmark Industrial School.
The school continued in Sontag‘s store until Sept. 6, 1897 when Sen. Mayfield sold Wright a 20-acre tract of land with three buildings, including a two-story dwelling, a three-room shanty, which was turned into a school house and another four-room shanty. The property was located on Frederick Street and the corner of Railroad Avenue, behind Rome Baptist Church.
The third location of Wright’s school was purchased from Dr. S.D.M. Guess on Oct. 12, 1901. Wright paid $4,500 for the 280-acre site, with the generous Ralph and Elizabeth Voorhees of New Jersey providing the funding.
On May 14, 1902, the school’s name was changed from the Denmark Industrial School to the Voorhees Industrial School in honor of the Voorhees family. Voorhees College sits on that land today.
Over the years, the two-story wooden structure has served as a general store, a family home and an apartment building. Records show the building is more than 130 years old.
The former Denmark Industrial School building still stands, today on Church Street in Denmark’s Sato community, embodying the memories of the vision of Elizabeth Evelyn Wright.