Mather Academy was founded in 1887 in Camden, SC by Sarah Babcock Mather, who decided to create a school to teach children of former slaves for whom no formal educational institution existed. The Browning Home and Mather Academy opened a school with boarding facilities for girls in 1887. The original curriculum consisted of basic educational skills, instruction in social and family living and religion. Boys were enrolled for the first time in 1890 and the school had its first graduating class in 1893. Mather Academy expanded its curriculum over the years, offering grade levels from kindergarten through high school, and accepting applicants from across the nation. In 1928, it was one of the first S.C. schools for African Americans to offer a 12th grade. In 1934, Mather’s high quality of education earned it a Class A school rating—a distinction held at the time by only three other schools in the state.
Mather had a peak student population of 300 in the 1940s-50s. It merged with Boylan-Haven School of Jacksonville, Florida in 1959 and became known as the Boylan-Haven-Mather Academy.
The combination of black students co-existing peaceably and equally with white teachers and administrators during segregation made Mather an “oasis” of race relations. A gymnasium and auditorium in the administration building/girls’ dormitory were the preferred sites in the region for many sporting events, concerts, pageants and plays. The Academy produced some of South Carolina’s most prominent African-American leaders in business, law, medicine and politics, including US Representative James Clyburn.
The Women’s Division ordered the buildings torn down in 1995 and began selling the land. One set of gates is all that remains of the campus. These gates and a historical marker in Camden identify the school’s former location.