Martha Louise Morrow Foxx
On October 9, 1902, Martha Louise Morrow (1902-1985) was born to Frank and Hattie Morrow in Charlotte, North Carolina. During her infancy, Martha became partially sighted. She entered the Governor Morehead School for the Blind. She remained a student there until her family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1917. Martha became a student at the Overbrook School for the Blind in 1917, graduating in 1927.
Following her graduation from Overbrook, she enrolled at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania. At the conclusion of her first year at Temple, she was given an offer to move to Mississippi to work at the Piney Woods Country Life School. Her task was to teach students at the Department for the Blind on the campus of the Piney Woods Country Life School in Rankin County, Mississippi. The school is about 20 miles south of Jackson, Mississippi — the state’s capital. After making this pioneering, career decision; personal schooling for Martha had to be rearranged. In order to accomplish this, she enrolled at several colleges during the summer months to complete her degrees. She studied at University of Wisconsin, West Virginia State College, and the Hampton Institute. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in education from Hampton Institute.
A Mississippi Historical Marker at Piney Woods School (Simpson County)
Dr. Laurence Jones, the founder of Piney Woods School, added a department to educate black, blind students in the 1920s. Prior to this time, there was no formal education for black, blind students in the state of Mississippi. After the State of Mississippi created the Commission for the Blind in 1928, Mrs. Foxx was hired in April 1929. On May 6, 1929, the Department for the Blind on the campus of the Piney Woods Country Life School opened with ten students—five male and five female students. Martha Louise Morrow was not only the teacher, but was also the house mistress. She was responsible for the 24/7 care of blind students enrolled at Piney Woods. This included their personal care, medical attention, residential needs, and educational services. She skillfully met all of these needs. Later, her title was changed to "principal." Dr. Laurence Jones, founder of Piney Woods School, said of Foxx, "She ministered, not only to their intellectual needs, but to their moral and spiritual needs as well." Jones described Foxx’s relationship to her charges as like that of a mother. "She taught students domestic skills, how to make mats and cane seating, and music. She developed self-reliance in all of her students so that they could eagerly look forward to the time when they could support themselves out in the world," Jones said. 1
In 1937, Martha Louise Morrow married Mr. Alexander Foxx. Mrs. Foxx helped to ensure that her students were afforded the same experiences as their sighted counterparts at Piney Woods. They were taught to complete their assigned chores and job assignments, just as the other students. Mrs. Foxx taught all of the blind students from first through eighth grades. Blind students in grades 9-12 attended classes with their sighted peers at the Piney Woods Country Life School. Piney Woods School formed music groups that performed on tours to help provide financial support for the school. Dr. Jones was knowledgeable about Martha’s background in music and asked her to organize blind quartets. Some of the Mrs. Foxx’s students who performed in these quartets became a part of the famous singing group "The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi."
Mrs. Foxx’s teaching philosophy embraced a very modern dynamic of learning outside the walls of the classroom and of incorporating nature into lessons. She often took her students into the woods in search for plums and to pick wild berries. Utilizing what — at the time — were progressive techniques, Mrs. Foxx taught her students to read braille from the start — in 1929. In addition to braille, the teaching of reading large-print books was added in 1944. The curriculum Mrs. Foxx designed was a forerunner of the present day Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC). She believed in "hands on" teaching/learning, community-based lessons, independent living, braille, the arts, work-experience, and vocational opportunities. She believed students should be taught skills that would enable them to be self-sufficient and contributing citizens to society after they graduated. Her motto was "you learn by doing." Along with basic core, academic curriculum; the vocational curriculum she taught included chair caning, broom making, sewing, piano tuning, shoe making, rug making, and industrial arts.
In 1945, Helen Keller visited the Piney Woods School and appeared before the Mississippi State Legislature appealing for funds to educate black blind students, just as their white counterparts. Between 1948 and 1950, two new schools for blind students were built in Jackson, Mississippi. A school for black students was built on Capers Street and a school for white students was built on Eastover Drive. Martha Foxx was named Principal of the Mississippi School for the Blind, Capers Division and served in that capacity until May, 1969.
Some of Mrs. Foxx’s honors included the 1942 Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Drama Award. Along with this award, came a monetary grant that was used to provide fine arts instruction for blind students. In March 1969, Mrs. Foxx also received the Mississippi Teacher Association (MTA) Award for Outstanding Teacher of the Year.
Mrs. Foxx’s legacy of being a pioneer, innovative educator, trail-blazer, master teacher, trainer of teachers, committed leader should be remembered and applauded. Because of her philosophy, tenacity, and extraordinary work, she was one of the primary building block that laid the foundation for black, blind students to receive an education Mississippi. Martha Louise Morrow Foxx died in September, 1985.
1 Harrison, Alferteen (1983). Piney Woods School: an Oral History. University of Mississippi Press p. 81. ISBN 1-57806-876-2