America is Divided After Reconstruction -
Those With Opportunity and Those Without

Upon the withdrawal of federal troops at the official end of Reconstruction and the adoption of “Jim Crow” laws, the equal rights African Americans gained after the Civil War were being taken away. The laws created two separate systems. The opportunity one system offered far exceeded the other. There was little hope to reverse the trend. From the end of the Civil War until 1900, 28 African Americans served in Congress. After 1900, it would be another 28 years without a single African-American elected.
While select black colleges and universities were being established, support for the elementary and high school system for African Americans was failing. Opportunity for advancement and equality was being legislatively extinguished.

A Force For Change From An Unlikely Source
Appalled by the existing conditions of the Native Americans and African American communities, Katharine Drexel, a wealthy Philadelphia socialite, made numerous appeals to American leadership for change. Additionally, she petitioned the Catholic Church to provide assistance. Finding insufficient support her cause, Katharine finally obtained an audience with Pope Leo XIII. Once more she made her plea for assistance. Pope Leo's response provided for change if Katharine herself would lead.
"Why not, my child, yourself become a missionary?"
While she was initially stunned by the suggestion, slowly Katharine began to realize the impact the Pope's words would allow. Katharine could now follow her heart, establish her own order of nuns under a direct suggestion from the highest official of the Church, and focus her efforts and resources on improving opportunities, without the need for approval every step of the way.

Katharine Drexel devoted her life and fortune to developing a school system of her own - a system with standards at least equal to any other school system in existence. Ironically, she chose a location only 30 miles from the capital of the South to build her first.

100 years ago, Katharine started spending her inheritance, an estimated $25,000,000 fortune, building an educational system for citizens placed at a growing disadvantage by the laws of their own country.
Many of these students went on to become lawyers, business leaders, community leaders, doctors, nurses, entertainers and other contributing members to our society.
America has undoubtedly benefited.
St. Francis de Sales, in Powhatan Co., was one of the first and is one of the last in existence.

The Beginning Of A New Century And New Opportunity
St. Francis de Sales Institute opened in 1899l. Shortly thereafter, the school received its state high school accreditation. The school was equipped, furnished, and designed with only the best. The atmosphere was one of privilege, one designed to promote dignity, self-respect and a high degree of learning. Tuition was $60 a year.  Scholarships and half scholarships were granted to those who could not afford the fees.

St. Francis de Sales (named after Katharine’s father) served as a model for her 55 schools for disadvantaged African Americans. In all, Katharine spent approximately 25 million dollars building her system. Her faculty and administration - The Sisters from her own order, stretched those dollars exponentially. The system continued to grow as graduates from these schools returned home as teachers and taught what they had learned.

Katharine Drexel's system created opportunity and improved the life of hundreds of thousands of Americans. But she is largely unheralded and forgotten for the great American she was.
St. Francis de Sales and St. Emma’s, the African American men’s military school adjacent to St. Francis de Sales in Powhatan Co. were two of the first and most successful of Katharine Drexel's schools. For over 70 years these schools created opportunity where there was none. Over 20,000 men and women attended the schools between 1895 and when they were closed in the early 1970’s.

St. Francis de Sales -
70 Years of Accomplishment

- Reflections
- Notable Alumni
- In The News

St. Emma's Military Academy-
75 Years of Accomplishment

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The Equal Rights Amendment, desegregation laws, courageous leaders and a restructured public school system made Katharine's system seem obsolete. Now, almost all of her historic schools have vanished. St. Francis de Sales closed in 1970 after a long, dignified and successful stand for equal opportunity .

A Lasting Legacy of Helping Those In Need
Graduates of St. Francis de Sales and St. Emma still get together for an annual reunion. This year the proceeds of the reunion were donated to the rebuilding effort of Xavier University (another one of Katharine Drexel’s schools) after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.