|Spouse:||Sallie Johnson Cook|
|Place of Birth:||Lowndes, Al|
|Comments:||Hosp Steward Co. M, 6 AL Inf CSA|
Faithful Educator; Superintendent of the Escambia County Public School System(1884-1912)
Submitted by John Appleyard
Nathan Burrell Cook was born in Lowndes County, Alabama, in 1835. Following training as a pharmacist, he served in the Sixth Alabama Regiment, Company M, during the War Between the States, and he saw action in the Virginia campaigns. Following the war he married Miss Sallie Johnson, and the couple proudly raised four daughters and one son. Following the war Cook became deeply interested in education, saying that his wartime experiences showed him the importance of training young minds. Between 1865-1885 he was identified with his original profession but also began offering his services on a voluntary basis as a teacher. Into the 1880s the Escambia County Public School System was in its infancy, with an appointed school board and appointed superintendent. The system, created with the new state constitution of 1867, had virtually no state support and was dependent upon local property tax levies. The first several superintendents, appointed by governors, were not successful in their roles. In 1885 the new school board members (who unfortunately cannot be identified except for chairman George Hallmark) chose Cook as the new superintendent after he placed his name in nomination. That year the entire system had a budget of $5,000.
Cook recognized the need for funding, for teachers with proper training and experience, and a strong effort to bring rural students into classrooms. His recruiting brought such successful educators as Prof. John Patterson, Prof. J. B. Lockey and Prof. J. M. Tate into the system, along with Pauline Reese and the Misses Yniestra, Clubbs, Suter and McReynolds. Cook also was responsible for obtaining quality readers and textbooks for students, and for establishing a curriculum. The first high school was established during the early years of his administration.
A second high school opened ten years later.
During Cook’s twenty-eight years as superintendent, he worked with board members such as A. V. Clubbs, William Fisher, Elijah Ward and H. L. Crabtree. A system of wagon transport for rural students was established, and a cooperative plan was created to bring country schools on board. In this plan parents of a given area would agree to build a one- or two-room building and provide board for a teacher if the school board would furnish the teacher. In that way the system began to expand, despite the fact that farm families would spare their children only limited months each year, times when their work on the farm would allow.
By the turn of the 20th century, in concert with state Senator W. A. Blount, Cook had gained passage of a state bill which provided that all children were entitled to free education through the 12th grade. (This was FREE, not compulsory, education.) Emphasis was made on schools and training for minority children, and Cook consistently pushed for tax reform to gain broader school funding. By 1904 the local system had 5,000 students. However, Cook remained opposed to free textbooks, feeling that children possessed a more critical interest in subjects when they actually owned their books.
Early into the new century Cook’s work, abetted by board members A. V. Clubbs, Elijah Ward, and A. C. Blount, Jr., resulted in budgets which had grown to the point where better qualified teachers were receiving up to $60 per month, and the superintendent himself got $75, plus rail tickets to visit north county schools and feed for his horse for other travel.
Cook continued on, year after year. Then, in early 1912, the legislature passed a bill making the superintendent’s position elective for all counties. Cook qualified as a candidate but refused to campaign, saying, “The people know me and what I stand for.” His opponent was the system’s bookkeeper, A. S. Edwards. Cook, by then, was 77 years old, and perhaps Edwards’ youth was a factor. In any case, the challenger won, and Cook gracefully retired from the position, never to surface in public office again. He died the following year, and was interred in St. John’s cemetery.
N.B. Cook is buried in St. John's Cemetery 2 North Section 21.