Frederick Douglass Alumni to honor teacher Florence Johnson Foddrell

By Lynn R. Parks

Alumni of Frederick Douglass School, Seaford, will hold a reunion Saturday evening. Guest of honor will be Florence Johnson Foddrell, who taught home economics and science at the school for African-American children for 19 years. "I taught there a long time ago," said Foddrell, 91, Parksley, Va. "There have been a lot of changes since then. When they told me they were going to honor me, I just couldn't believe it." Foddrell will be presented with a plaque honoring her as "a teacher with dignity and class." In addition to teaching home economics, she coordinated the school's annual fashion show and helped girls make dresses for their graduations. "It is no secret that she was an excellent teacher who taught the students how to sew and cook," said Geraldine Jones, Dover, chairwoman of the reunion. Under Foddrell's direction, the students managed the school cafeteria, preparing hot meals, canning fruits and vegetables and decorating cakes. Foddrell, a graduate of Delaware State College (now University), went to Frederick Douglass School in 1937 as a substitute teacher, when she was still Miss Johnson. After a week there, she was offered a permanent position. "Seaford and Frederick Douglass were never quite the same again," Jones said. "Miss Johnson, a strikingly beautiful young lady, brought her gifts and talents to the challenge." Foddrell said that as an only child growing up in Philadelphia, she had advantages that few African-American children in Seaford had. "I was able to do things that other people could not do, and the parents in Seaford would listen to what I said," she said. Girls at Fred Douglass, which housed grades one through 11, always wore white dresses for graduation. The first year that she was there, Foddrell said, she noticed that some of the dresses were nice and others "looked like the girls had been scrubbing floors in them." The next year, she bought patterns and material and had the girls in the graduating class make their own dresses.

"Miss Johnson would measure each dress from the floor so that all dresses were uniform," Jones said. "With all those different dresses, there were bound to be hurt feelings," Foddrell said. "I thought it would be better if all the girls dressed alike." Against all odds, Foddrell was able to take an 11th-grade class to New York City for the World's Fair in 1940. The class raised money for the trip for three years, holding dances every Friday night. When they went to New York, the girls stayed with Foddrell at the YWCA and the boys stayed in Yonkers with the sister of the school's principal. "I am still in touch with those children," Foddrell said. "And they all still talk about that trip." "Miss Johnson was a teacher of teachers," Jones said. "She spent long hours after school with her students and performed other tasks for the school. She was gifted and used her talents to enrich and challenge her students." Foddrell was married in 1955 and moved to Wilmington, where she continued to teach. When she and her husband, Lloyd, who was a television repairman, retired, they moved to Parksley to the house that her maternal grandparents had built. They have a daughter, Marguerite Foddrell, who works for the United States Postal Service in Philadelphia. "Teachers leave everlasting legacies with their students," Jones said. "You can tell by the students who have made their mark on society that Mrs. Florence Johnson Foddrell did her job well. She deserves to be commended and recognized for her efforts."

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