Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us that the word “historic” has several meanings:
a : famous or important in history — historic battlefields
b : having great and lasting importance — a historic occasion
c : known or established in the past — historic interest rates
d : dating from or preserved from a past time or culture — historic buildings
But have you thought about the John de la Howe School as being “historic”?
If you haven’t,” I think you should – and that includes all of us who love this special place. When Dr. John de la Howe wrote his will in 1796 to establish the school that bears his name, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and his army were marching across Europe to expand France’s landholdings. George Washington gave his farewell address, and John Adams was elected president. Tennessee became the 16th state.
When you stand on the grounds of JDLH today, it is nearly impossible to imagine that the school had its origins at the same time as all of these other major historical happenings!
Upon Dr. de la Howe’s death in 1797, his will established an “agricultural seminary” for 12 orphan boys and 12 orphan girls in an area then known as Abbeville. His desire was that they have a home and develop skills that would provide them with means of support for a lifetime.
Dr. de la Howe’s estate was left to the Agricultural Society of South Carolina, which was responsible for overseeing the intent of his will. Once the doors to the “Lethe Agricultural Seminary” opened and young people were admitted, the school took shape and became known throughout the state as a model of philanthropic success.
The John de la Howe School has endured wars, the Great Depression and changing fortunes; yet, its commitment to the education and well-being of thousands of South Carolina’s children over 221 years has never faltered.
Dr. de la Howe’s benevolence has endured as well through the successes of its alumni. The 1996 book, “Still Caring, Still Dreaming” by theJDLH Bicentennial History Committee, reports: “The will is one of the seminal documents of American educational history, and the reality is that its lineage is more complex, more fascinating and more distinguished than tradition has claimed.”
Future public relations efforts will refer to JDLH as “the historic John de la Howe School.” The description is appropriate for the amount of time that this great institution has impacted our state, nation and world bear and the thousands of people who bear witness to its history and greatness.