New School in Foley to Bear the name of Ms. Florence B. Mathis

  • Longtime educator Florence Mathis, pictured here, will soon lend her name to Foley’s new elementary school, as the Baldwin County Board of Education voted unanimously to honor Mathis’ legacy and commitment to the community with the school naming.


    Former educator and principal Florence Mathis helped change so many lives in Baldwin County during her nearly 50 years in education, so it’s only fitting Foley’s newest elementary school will soon bear her name.

    Mathis started her teaching career at 16, serving as the second teacher for black children in the Miflin community in 1939. Mathis lived in Mobile, so her father drove her daily to and from the school until she became acquainted with Willie and Rosena Porter, whom she lived with for 29 years.

    Mathis was the first teacher at the Aaronville School, located where the present-day Foley Intermediate School sits. Mathis served not just as a teacher, but bus monitor, truant officer, and disciplinarian when needed.

    During the school’s early years, there was no cafeteria for the students, so Mathis, with the help of older children, would cook large pots of tomato soup or beans so that the students could have a hot meal.

    She also tried to find old and used books to be donated to the school so students could have opportunities to read more.

    Mathis eventually became principal of the school, becoming Baldwin County’s first black female principal before her retirement in 1971 and her death in 1979 - she continued to be a role model and guiding light for the students who learned at her school.

    “Each of us has an inner spark,” Mathis wrote in a 1966 Aaronville yearbook. “Be willing to test your spark, keep it alive, try it out, persist. Choose your field and seek the effective life.”

    Shirley Murray was a part of the first senior class to graduate from Aaronville High School and said Mathis made a huge impact on her life and the lives of other students.

    “Ms. Mathis touched the lives of so many of us,” Murray wrote. “She encouraged us to go to school and continue our education so that we could live productive lives. That school was her whole life. I enjoyed going to school under her leadership.”

    Betty Shoots Harris agreed.

    “Growing up and being educated in Foley, the only administrator I knew from first to ninth grade was Ms. Mathis,” Harris said. “We didn’t have the best equipment in our learning environment but she instilled in the students qualities such as character, respect, and perseverance.”

    Former educator James Shoots said Mathis continued to be an inspiration for many students who knew her.

    “We saw school leaders as well as a community leader, with impeccable love, leadership, and character for the education of those like myself who were denied the frills of modern facilities,” Shoots said. “In spite of all that, she worked hard to make what we had first class, instilling in us the value of hard work, academic excellence, and great character. She showed us that in spite of everything, with an education more doors would eventually open to equality.”

    The Baldwin County Board of Education voted unanimously on Aug. 7 to name the soon-to-be-built new elementary school in Foley after Mathis.

    “This has been discussed in many corners of our city and across our community, and everyone is supportive and feels very strongly about this,” Foley board member JaNay Dawson said. “She was a fascinating lady and to be able to honor her and the contributions she made to her students and to the Foley community is a proud moment.”