Dr. George Perley Phenix was born in Maine in 1864. He graduated from Colby College with a Doctor of Science degree and became a principal of the State Normal School at Willimantic, Connecticut. He moved to Hampton, Virginia in 1904 to teach at today’s Hampton University.
His exemplary service at the Institute earned him immediate notice and promotion. In 1908 he rose to the position of Vice-principal. He further earned the responsibility of overseeing the Institute's summer-school program.
In 1928, Phenix succeeded Dr. James Gregg as principal of Hampton Institute. Dr. Phenix was the first to use the term president and he remained president of the Institute until his death in 1930. During the later years of his life he tirelessly campaigned before the State Board of Education in an attempt to encourage them to construct a modern facility for the Negro youth in the county.
He was successful and in 1930 construction started on the new school. After many months of construction delays, the Phenix School opened the week after Thanksgiving in 1931. Unfortunately, Dr. Phenix drowned in a swimming incident six months before the school opened.
The school was named in his honor as the George P. Phenix Training School.
HAMPTON INSTITUTE CAMPUS
1932 - 1962
GEORGE P. PHENIX TRAINING SCHOOL AND HIGH SCHOOL
The vision of George Perley Phenix, a grant from the Virginia State Board of Education and financial support from Hampton Institute led to the construction of the George P. Phenix Training School. The new school was a three story building that housed grammar and high school students.
When the school opened in 1931 the students were transferred from Whittier Elementary and Union High School. The new school was intended to be a “teaching laboratory” for college students. The Hampton Institute students were required to teach as student teachers at the school to earn their degree. The students marveled at the new opportunities that the school offered such as shop classes, home economics, and a business area including typewriters. Phenix had the only symphonic orchestra among black high schools in the state and their choirs were outstanding.
By the mid-fifties, the school was bursting at the seams with overcrowding. Every available space was being used as a classroom and the auditorium and cafeteria could no longer adequately serve the students. It was time for a new school. The old school for thirty-one years would stand as a monument to what black students could accomplish.
1962 ~ 1968
George P. Phenix High School
The social climate in the city was changing. After the U. S. Supreme Court struck down the separate but equal segregation laws with Brown vs Board of Education in 1954, Hampton was slow to respond. Black citizens urged the city to build a new high school for black children.
Hampton Institute forced the issue to the forefront when it refused to allow the Hampton School Board to renew the lease to use the Phenix School building. An agreement was structured to allow the construction of a new high school on LaSalle Avenue to be named the George P. Phenix High School. It cost $1.5 million to build the school and the first students moved in during the fall of 1962.
Despite Brown vs the Board of Education, the new Phenix High School was still predominately black. The new school had an auditorium that seated 1400 people. The business classes had electric typewriters, and the new gym provided ample space for the championship teams. The class of 1964 donated the Phenix High School sign in front of the building.
Finally, in 1967 the Hampton School Board decided to fully integrate all public schools. A resolution was approved that no high school could be named after a person and that all high schools would be named after the district that it was located in. That was their way of saying that Phenix would have to change its name for the sake of integration.
But many believed the decision was based on an opinion that bussing white students to Phenix ( a predominately black School) would cause civil unrest. Although George Perley Phenix was white, many stigmatized the school as a black school.
During the summer of 1968 the school's name was changed to Pembroke High School. The school would eventually close in 1980. As a concession, the school board re-named an elementary school after George Phenix and that too was demolished in 1984.