New Deal in Mississippi: Edwards Gymnasium

Edwards gymnasium

Edwards High School Gymnasium.  School Photographs (Mississippi) 1920s-1980s, Mississippi Department of Archives & History. Retrieved from

Edwards High School Gymnasium, designed by architect James Manly Spain in the Art Moderne style, was constructed 1941 by the National Youth Administration (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory).

Gymnasium front elevation

Only a year prior, Governor Paul Johnson vetoed a senate bill to authorize Kosciusko to issue bonds to equip a school building, auditorium, and gymnasium, citing the opposition to “play houses” (Veto Gym Bill, April 25, 1940, Hattiesburg American, p. 10).

I have reached the conclusion after mature deliberation, much study and after having consulted with the leading educators of our country that we have gone wild over athletics, the chief executive stated in his veto message.  …I do not believe it is necessary to build play houses…

I can see no good, but much harm in taxing our people to build gymnasiums and I respectfully decline to sign the bill.

Earlier in the month, Governor Johnson vetoed a bill to permit Pontotoc to vote bonds to build a gymnasium in cooperation with the WPA, saying there was a greater need for school books than play houses.  In contrast only 3 days later, the Biloxi Daily Herald reported:

The biggest drawback to southern basketball, according to Roy Mundorff, veteran coach of Georgia Tech, has been a lack of adequate playing space.  There are far fewer top-notch gymnasiums in Dixie than elsewhere.  Many secondary schools play on outdoor courts.  And good basketball players can’t be developed outdoors. (Brondfield, J. April 8, 1940. The Payoff.  Biloxi Daily Herald, p. 5)

Johnson’s take on the importance of physical education differed from the progressive education movement in Mississippi.

Good nutrition and regimented exercise became the keystones for health education, and broadened the original consolidated school goal of educating “mind and hands” to “mind, body, and hands.”  (Jennifer V. Opager Baughn, 2012, A modern school plant: Rural consolidated schools in Mississippi, 1910-1955. Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, 19(1), 43-72)

The National Youth Administration planned eight new school buildings, 23 new vocational buildings, two new gymnasiums and six teachers’ homes for construction at various locations  in Mississippi, scheduled for June 1941 completion (Non-defense works continue, February 8, 1941, Biloxi Daily Herald, p. 3) and the Edwards Gymnasium might have been one of the two.

Categories: Edwards, Historic Preservation, New Deal


6 replies

  1. Very interesting. Much i did not know. My Mama taught in the One Room Schools in Southwestern Hinds and Northern Claiborne County. She lost her job when the first consolidated schools came along, she no longer had the qualification. She spoke often of what a wonderful thing Governor Paul Johnson did when he began the Free School Books Program. James Earl (Sam) Price


  2. I wonder if any modern governor would have the bravery to veto spending bills with the comment, “I can see no good, but much harm in taxing our people to build convention centers and billion-dollar football stadiums and I respectfully decline to sign the bill.”? Meanwhile our nation’s infrastructure crumbles. Brave indeed…..


  3. Yes, that’s a fascinating vignette about Gov. Johnson. I wonder if there were other issues in play in that decision or if he was simply being that rare breed, a real fiscal conservative?


    • According to Biloxi Daily Herald, April 5, 1940, p. 1 “Some anti-administrationists believed today that Governor Paul B. Johnson might use his veto power as a weapon to swing support to his controversial finance program….Economy blocs in both the house and senate have stymied his efforts to push through tax bills to yield a biennium revenue of $44,000,000 for such benefits as free school books and increased old age pensions.”


    • It might not be related to being a fiscal conservative–further checking revealed Governor Johnson proposed a program to raise taxes to boost revenue, to fund free school books and increase old age pensions for Mississippians, but both the house and senate fought the measure.


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