A Brief History of the A. A. Thomspon School: Home of The Wake Young Men's Leadership Academy
Above the front entrance to the A. A. Thompson School building, currently home to the Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy, a symbol stands as testament to the school’s history and the legacy of public education in North Carolina. The cornucopia which stand to the left and right of the letters TS (Thompson School) and numbers 22 (1922), reflect nourishment and abundance whereas the crown symbolizes reward or the highest quality of something.
Countless lives have been affected within these walls, dreams birthed and life pathways changed. It has been not only a school but a haven for people seeking help, guidance and support via Wake County Human Services. People have laughed here, made life-long friends here and solved problems here. Leaders have been molded here.
But first came the vision, which arose in the hearts of people like Sophia Arms Partridge and E. P. Moses, Raleigh Public School Superintendent, and one of the first visionaries to support the idea that the public school is an institution worth of our efforts, time and resources. In his words:
The Public School is the grandest institution for the education of the world ever devised by man. Its influence in lifting humanity to a high plane is surpassed alone by the religion which comes from above. In this age no sophistry can persuade the world that it is unwise or inexpedient to cultivate all the talents which Almighty God in His wisdom has given every man. The cause of the Public School is the cause of unselfishness, a spirit of the noblest philosophy and purest patriotism. Every child in our state can be enabled to make out of himself, for the State’s sake and for his own sake, everything that can be made.
– E.P Moses 1886-1887.
Our young men who come to school every day at WYMLA come so carrying on a legacy of hope for the future and dreams of being leaders in their communities, families and workplaces. Here are the stories that have laid the foundation. What is your WYMLA story?
September 1, 1846-1851, 1858-1865_________________________________________________________
Sophia Arms Partridge was originally from Vienna, New York, but moved south to help care of her sister who was sick. She adopted North Carolina as her home and eventually opened her school, “The Select School for Young Ladies.” It was the first boarding school in Raleigh and she operated it from her six room home on the lot which is presently home to the Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy, a school within the Wake County Public School System.
“Of course, she taught her students the three Rs, but as she was a woman of great culture and refinement, she also taught them art, music and fine needlework.”
Miss Partridge was a passionate Confederate and prominent Raleigh citizen of the period. She actively supported the war, creating a painted flag for Company I (Cedar Fork Rifles), Sixth Regiment North Carolina State Troops and serving in the local aid society.
Following the war, she was instrumental in the establishment of the (Ladies Memorial Association or LMW of Wake County which ultimately spearheaded the establishment of the Confederate Cemetery in Oakwood.
Sophia Partridge closes her school in the winter of 1865 to focus her efforts on tending to confederate graves, ultimately helping to spearhead the concept of the Confederate cemetery in Oakwood and seeing it to fruition. She re-opens the school again following the war in 1858 to 1865.
Sophia Partridge died on March 4, 1881 and is buried in the Oakwood
Cemetery in Raleigh, NC.
The Thompson school is first organized at 567 E Hargett Street during the administration of E.P. Moses, Raleigh Public School Superintendent.
The addition of three extra rooms was soon necessary as the first six had filled to capacity.
The site was known as “The Knoll.”
It is estimated that this photograph of the school was taken between 1906 and 1916, shortly after the school was acquired by the Raleigh School System.
The A. A. Thompson Elementary School is erected based on plans by Atlanta architect, Christopher Gadsen Sayre, best known for his school building designs. The Raleigh school board also hired Sayre to design three other modern, Jacobean style school buildings in the area: Wiley Elementary on St. Mary’s Street, Washington High School for African-Americans on the southern extension of Fayetteville Street and Hugh Morson High School near Moore Square.
As was the law at the time, A. A. Thompson opened as a school for white students.
These photos of the school building, the first available that we are aware of, were taken in 1944.
Once complete, the school was named in honor of Alfred A. Thompson, mayor of Raleigh from 1887-91. This plaque is posted at the front entrance of the school.
The Thompson School was closed due to low enrollment.
The Raleigh City School System merged with the Wake County Public School System, yet the building remained closed, unused and fell into disrepair.
In 1986, the Thompson building was redeveloped for use as a community services center. Known as the Thompson Center, it served as a center for Wake County’s Health and Human Services. Clients received help, support and information to reach their highest level of independence and attain their personal goals.
Thirty two years after it closed as a school, the A. A. Thompson School re-opened as a public school. Only this time, as a leadership academy for young men called The Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy (WYMLA). Not only did current students and their families attend, but also members of the community and former students and students of the A. A. Thompson Elementary school. It was, indeed, a community celebration.
Some had memories to share, such as Ginny Young Kellum:
I walked from Morgan St. Extension (now known as Morson St) to Thompson School in 1957…had to go right by the cemetery but never had to go into it. Mr. Hamrick was our principal – my 1st grade teacher was Ms. Buffalo. Our biggest fear was the atomic bomb during the cold war…duck & cover was a regular monthly exercise. The playground yard was covered in coal dust since that’s what they heated the school with. My fondest memory was the smell of the yeast rolls wafting through the halls every day!
WYMLA is a 6-13, single-gender, early college, leadership academy within the Wake County Public School System. Located on two campuses, grades 6-10 are held in the Thompson School Building in downtown Raleigh, NC and grades 11-13 are at Saint Augustine’s University located in the historic Oakwood neighborhood of Raleigh, NC. The school opened in the Fall of 2012 and currently serves approximately 150 students in the Middle School (6-8), 100 students in the High School (9-10), and 100 in our Early College Program with St. Augustine's University (11-12 currently with expansion to 11-13). WYMLA strives to develop young men into leaders who have a positive impact on their communities through Scholarship, Service, and Success.
What bonds the students is not only a culture of brotherhood, but the following commitment creed, which is said each day before the start of the school day:
I am a Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy student.
This is my school and these are my brothers.
I am committed to Scholarship in being the best student I can be.
I am committed to Service in making my community stronger.
I am committed to Success in being my brother’s keeper.
I am responsible for my actions.
I am respectful of my family.
I am dedicated to my school.
I am a leader.
In keeping with its history, the school retained the following features: the proscenium which is part of the old auditorium stage that’s been converted into the “cafe” for lunch and to house many of the school’s library books as well as the gymnasium on the second floor. The building also retains its original terrazzo floor tiles in the hallways and original wood flooring in the classrooms.
How many people have walked these same floors as we do today?
As Jared Cross (class of 2017) said during the school’s re-dedication ceremony,
In 1986, Wake County rehabilitated the Thompson building for use as a community services center...known as the Thompson Center. While it was a center for Wake County’s Health and Human Services, the people served were helped to learn to function at their highest level of independence, just as we students who now come here to learn each day are challenged to learn and perform at our highest level.
WYMLA prepares to graduate its first class.
If you have a WYMLA or A. A. Thompson story to share, please contact a member of the WYMLA Historical Preservation Committee via PTA President, Geri Cross: . We look forward to hearing from you.
The WYMLA Historical Preservation Committee would like to sincerely thank the following people and sources that contributed to the collection of historical facts about our school and its history:
Kim Anderson, Archivist, Audio Visual Materials Unit in the State Archives of North Carolina;
Jared Cross, WYMLA student, class of 2017;
Deb Pelligrini, former member of the WYMLA Historical Preservation Committee for getting the ball rolling;
Ginny Young Kellum (09/28/2013) in comment to the Internet article: A Regal Sentinel: Raleigh’s Thompson School - and
Karl Larsen, publisher and history editor of the website, Goodnight Raleigh.
Written and Internet Sources:
A Regal Sentinel: Raleigh’s Thompson School 8/28/2013 via Internet:
“Beloved Teacher Made a Difference,” Original article 1/23/1937 and re-ran with additional notes on 11/27/2012 –
North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Dictionary via ncarchitects.lib.ncsu.edu/people/)P000086)
Historical Sketches of the Raleigh Public Schools 1876-1941-1942 by Jennie M. Barbee
“Single-sex schools on the move: All-male academy relocates; girls home expands” (date not available) by Keung Hui – News and Observer
Wake Academy Gets New Start in Old School Building by Keung Hui -
Stories from the War: Session 1: Carried into War
Wake County Public School System featuring WYMLA:
North Carolina and the Civil War: They Were There -
Sophia Arms Partridge -
Dedication plaque, front view of WYMLA and A. A. Thompson School symbol photos: Chris Rinehart, WYMLA Historical Preservation Committee
Images of A. A. Thompson building courtesy of the North Carolina State Archives
Sophia Arms Partridge gravestone - “Beloved Teacher Made a Difference,” Original article 1/23/1937 and re-ran with additional notes and photos on 11/27/2012 –
Image of the A. A. Thompson building’s sign “Pro Bono Publico” -
WRAL: Wake men’s academy gets new start in old school:
Wake County Public School System: Wake Young Men's Leadership Academy holds ribbon cutting: