The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Number: M209
Volume: 7.20 cu. ft.
Provenance: The bulk of the material was donated by Emily Cook Bickerstaff and her daughters, Mary Libby Payne and Emily Ann Raspilair, between 1983 and 1991. A videocassette was donated by the Teaching and Learning Resource Center of the University of Southern Mississippi in 1991, and a bound copy of The Diary of Joe Cook, First President of Mississippi Southern College was transferred from the Mississippiana Collection in McCain Library and Archives in 1992. The remainder of the collection was donated in 1993 by Dr. Joseph Cook, son of Everett Cook.
Joseph Anderson (Joe) Cook was born on November 16, 1862 in Artesia (Lowndes County), Mississippi. He was the middle child of five children born to William Henry Cook a native of Baldwin County, Georgia, and Martha Harvey Cook, who was born in Oglethorpe County, Georgia. There were three boys, a girl, then another boy. The oldest and youngest boys died in infancy, and the little girl died as a toddler. Joe's father was a plantation overseer. His mother was a homemaker, but she also assisted the plantation owner by supplying his family with poultry, eggs, butter, bacon, hams, and vegetables, as well as acting as hostess when he brought guests to the plantation.
Joe Cook's early education was accomplished at the township school in the small sawmill village of Farmersville, near his home. He entered Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee in October 1878, shortly before his sixteenth birthday. He left college in about 1880, due to the death of his mother. In the intervening years, he took college course work on a correspondence basis, and attended classes during the summer months. He finally was awarded the Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt in 1898. He did some graduate work at Peabody Teacher's College in Memphis, but never completed requirements for a Master's Degree.
In 1885, Cook married Martha Blanche Harvey, at Artesia, Mississippi. Four children were born of that union -- Bessie, Albert Bledsoe(A.B.), William Harvey, and Ann.
After his marriage, Cook made several land purchases, which, when combined became a small plantation named "Three Oaks." Following several years of prosperity, he incurred financial difficulties, and in 1893, he sought employment to supplement income from the farm. He secured a teaching position at the school in Artesia, thereby finding his calling. He felt so strongly about the teaching profession that in subsequent writings, he referred to himself as "Teacher." He soon become principal at Artesia, and remained there eight years.
Martha Cook died in about 1893, and in 1894 Cook married Miss Lizzie Harris at Woodlawn (Yazoo County), Mississippi. Five children were born to this marriage -- Emily, Joe, Jr., Everett, Harris, and Elizabeth. To their children (and later to their grandchildren), Joe and Lizzie Cook were "Pappy" and "Muddie."
In 1902, Cook was elected Superintendent of city schools in Columbus, Mississippi, a position he held for ten years. The family lived in Columbus during the school year, and summers were spent on the plantation, near Artesia.
In 1908, Cook was selected as the first president of the Artesia State Bank, and remained in that position for five years, working only on Saturdays.
Beginning in 1907, Joe Cook served as president of the Mississippi Teachers Association, and in that capacity , he worked relentlessly for establishment of a Normal College to train state teachers.
In its 1910 session, the Mississippi Legislature passed an act allowing establishment of Mississippi Normal College, and in May of that year, Governor Edmond F. Noel appointed Joe Cook to the original Board of Trustees. Hattiesburg was chosen as the site for the new school, and at its December 27, 1910 meeting, the Board of Trustees selected Henry Whitfield, president of Mississippi Industrial Institute and College in Columbus (now Mississippi University for Women) as the school's first president. Whitfield declined, and the position was then offered to W. H. (Corn Club) Smith, the state supervisor of rural schools. Smith and the board worked out an agreement whereby Smith would supervise preparations for the new school on a part-time basis, with no salary, until February 1912, when he would assume the full responsibilities of the presidency. However, after only eight months, Smith resigned, and the board chose Joe Cook to succeed him. Cook accepted the position, at a beginning salary of $3500 per year.
Cook oversaw construction of the first buildings on campus, and worked with the City of Hattiesburg to have the streetcar line extended to the school. During his tenure as president, he guided the growth of Mississippi Normal College from a two-year college to a four-year, degree-granting institution on the brink of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Enrollment increased from 220 students to some 1600 students during the Cook administration, and in 1924, the school's name was changed to State Teachers College.
Tragedy struck the Cook family in 1925, when Joe Cook, Jr. died of complications following an appendectomy. Cook rebounded from his sorrow saying "... The boy cannot come back to us, but thank God, we know where he is and one day we shall go to him."
In 1928, at the behest of Governor Theodore G. Bilbo, the State Teachers College Board of Trustees voted to dismiss Joe Cook as president. Rumors abound as to the reason (or reasons) for this move. While the official reason given was age (Cook was 65 at the time), many people believe that it was a political ploy. Cook and Governor Bilbo had been political allies in the past, but enmity may have developed between them over the fact that State Teachers College did not support Bilbo in the gubernatorial election of 1927.
In October 1928, Cook was replaced by Claude Bennett, Superintendent of Biloxi, Mississippi city schools.
Irrespective of his age, Cook was elected state senator from Lowndes County in 1931. He served two consecutive terms, and was elected for a third. Throughout his legislative career, he continued to work diligently for education in the state.
Illness prevented Cook from taking the oath of office for his third term in the legislature, and on February 4, 1940, he died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Ann Cook Spurlock. Mr. Cook is buried in the old family cemetery at Artesia, Mississippi.
Joe Cook was active in church and civic organizations. He served on the Official Board of his local Methodist Church, was Past Grand Master and Noble Grand of the Odd Fellows, and was a Master Mason and a member of the Knights of Pythias.
Cook wrote The State of Mississippi: A Supplement to Peterman's Civil Government, and co-authored The Century Speller.
On July 11, 1940, Joe Cook Memorial Library, on the Mississippi Southern College (formerly State Teachers College) campus was dedicated in his honor. The college soon outgrew that facility, and a larger, new library was constructed. On October 22, 1960, the new building was named the Joseph Anderson Cook Library. An oil painting of Joe Cook , presented to the school in 1930, is displayed in the main staircase of that building. Joe Cook Junior High School in Columbus, Mississippi was named in his honor in 1962, and an oil portrait of him was also presented to that school. As a special tribute, "Joe Cook Appreciation Day" was held at the University of Southern Mississippi on July 12, 1991.
Joe Cook was a pioneer of education in Mississippi, who provided college educations for all of his children at the school of their choice. He was committed to the common people. He disdained social amenities, saying they "smacked of aristocracy." He has been described as dynamic, outgoing, pleasant, and enthusiastic. Alma Hickman, in Southern As I Saw It describes him as "... honest, fair-dealing, fearless, and a treasured friend to all who worked with him" -- an altogether fitting epitaph for the man who has been called the "Father" of the University of Southern Mississippi, and was affectionately known to his students as "Daddy Joe."
A copy of The Diary of Joe Cook, First President of Mississippi Southern College is available in the McCain Library, call number F341.C66 D53 1900z.
This multi-faceted collection consists of materials that encompass the entire Cook Family, but the principal subject is Joseph Anderson (Joe) Cook, first president of Mississippi Normal College at Hattiesburg, Mississippi. (It should be noted that the aforementioned institution has experienced three name changes since its inception -- State Teachers College, Mississippi Southern College, and the University of Southern Mississippi).
The collection is divided into five series:
The first series is comprised of a brief biography, obituaries, correspondence, speeches, resolutions, newsclippings, and a selection of miscellaneous items. Items of interest in the correspondence are letters to Joe Cook from his father while he (Joe) was a student at Vanderbilt University, a letter to Miss Lizzie Harris from Joe Cook, and letters between Joe Cook and his children and grandchildren. A separate folder contains letters of condolence to Mrs. Joe Cook after her husband's death. There are four speeches written and delivered by Joe Cook, and a speech presented by Ann Cook Spurlock at Joe Cook Junior High School in Columbus, Mississippi. There are resolutions from faculty and students of State Teachers College on the occasion of Joe Cook's ousting as president, and resolutions from the Mississippi House and Senate and the Grand Lodge of Mississippi Free and Accepted Masons, on the occasion of Mr. Cook's death. The resolutions are followed by newsclippings, newspapers, and a copy of The State of Mississippi, which was written by Joe Cook in 1928 as a supplement to Peterman's Civil Government, for the purpose of bringing state government to the level of school children, in order to make it more teachable. Completing the section on Joe Cook are miscellaneous items, including a tribute to Cook written by A. T. McIlwain, who was cashier of the Artesia State Bank when Joe Cook was president of that institution, and items pertaining to "Joe Cook Appreciation Day" in 1991.
The second series consists of a broad array of materials relating to the Joe Cook Family, including such nostalgic items as Emily Cook's memory books covering her years at Hattiesburg High School and Mississippi Normal College (these were photocopied because the family wished to retain the originals); a speech written by Joe Cook, Jr.; a booklet of poems written by Elizabeth Cook and dedicated to her mother; a group of diplomas and certificates; and mementos such as, one of Emily Cook's wedding invitations and a pressed flower (possibly a wild honeysuckle) found in Elizabeth Cook's junior high school literature book. Another item of interest is a scrapbook kept by Everett Cook. It is comprised primarily of newsclippings concerning Joe Cook, but also contains photographs and other items of memorabilia. One of the most interesting items in the scrapbook is an essay entitled, "Joe Cook, Educator", written by Becky Hill in 1962. The series also contains correspondence, newsclippings, and magazine articles. Correspondence in this series includes letters from missionaries who had been guests in Emily Cook Bickerstaff's home (apparently, this was a common practice in the Bickerstaff family).
The third series is an extensive collection of photographs depicting the Cook family from approximately the late 1800s through the 1980s, including several photographs of Joe Cook, spanning the years from his youth to shortly before his death. Of particular interest are a photograph of Emily Cook preparing for the presentation of a bouquet of flowers to President William Howard Taft when he visited Columbus, Mississippi on November 2, 1909 (this has been photocopied because the Cook family wished to retain the original), and a 16" x 20" pastel of Everett Cook, done by his wife, Irene Griffin Cook in about 1961.
The photographs are followed by a series of books which belonged to various members of the Cook family. Among them are a Holy Bible presented to Joe Cook by his Bible class (Christmas 1924); a New Indexed Bible, which was Emily Cook Bickerstaff's study Bible from the time she was a bride in 1923 until the 1950s; a copy of Training of State Teachers College Faculties, signed by the author Dr. Harris Malone Cook and presented to his parents; The Influence of Court Decisions in Shaping School Policies in Mississippi with a personal inscription to Joe Cook from the author, Jennings Burton George; Red and Black by Grace S. Richmond (presented to Elizabeth Cook on her fifteenth birthday by her mother); and a copy of The Diary of Joe Cook, First President of Mississippi Southern College. The latter is written in anecdotal form, and provides insight into the character and personality of the man who called himself, "Teacher." A large portion of the books in this series belonged to Everett Cook, youngest son of Joe and Lizzie Cook. Titles include The Human Comedy (Vols. I & Iii, 1983); Roget's Thesaurus of English Words (1879); David Copperfield (1910); and The Doctors (1909). The Doctors is especially notable because of its unique leather binding.
Rounding out the collection is a series of items of memorabilia. Notable among these are a large aluminum canning pot, a cone-shaped aluminum strainer and stand, and a small wooden pestle. These items are said to have been used by the Tomato Club, which was organized at Mississippi Normal College by Joe Cook in 1912, and existed on campus until approximately 1921. Other unique items are a 15" snare drum said to have belonged to Everett Cook when he was a member of the State Teachers College Band, and a maroon and white Wedgwood plate engraved with a likeness of the University of Southern Mississippi Administration Building. The series also includes medals, baby shoes, wall plaques, and -- the piece de resistance -- the bunting, hat, and pins worn by Emily Cook when she presented flowers to President William Howard Taft.
This collection portrays the lives and times of a closely-knit, somewhat privileged family, headed by a man of high moral principles (his only vice of record is that he chewed tobacco incessantly) who was dedicated to the cause of education. It also illuminates the social and political cultures of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One example is Emily Cook's high school memory book, which provides a clear image of the pleasures and pastimes of a high school senior in 1919.
Provenance: Dr. Anita StamperVolume: 2 items
Dates: ca. 1918
Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).
Form of Material:
Two-piece gym suit worn by Emily Cook, daughter of USM's first president, Joseph Anderson Cook, while a student at Mississippi Normal College (now USM). The suit consists of a white, long-sleeve cotton middy blouse and navy, knee-length denim bloomers.
Because of his status as a former president of the University of Southern Mississippi, materials relating to Joseph Anderson Cook may conceivably be found in a number of record groups in the University Archives. Specific collections that contain items directly related to Mr. Cook are: