New Orleans in Orleans Parish, Louisiana — The American South (West South Central)
Gilbert Academy and New Orleans University
By R. E. Smith, March 2, 2008
1. Gilbert Academy and New Orleans University Marker
5318 St. Charles Avenue
The site of Gilbert Academy
New Orleans University,
Under the auspices of
The Methodist Church
1873 to 1949
Erected 1993 by Gilbert Academy Alumni Association.
Location. 29° 55.659′ N, 90° 6.698′ W. Marker is in New Orleans, Louisiana, in Orleans Parish. Marker is at the intersection of St. Charles Avenue and Valmont Street, on the right when traveling east on St. Charles Avenue. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 5318 St. Charles Ave, New Orleans LA 70115, United States of America.
2. Gilbert Academy and New Orleans University Marker
sectionheadg>1. The education of black New Orleans - Gilbert Academy: A look back by Angela Johnson, contributing writer for the Louisiana Weekly Publishing Company. Original article published February 21, 2005.
When Gilbert Academy opened its doors in New Orleans as the elite school for young black students seeking college preparatory education, it had come a long way from its modest beginning as a colored orphanage.
In 1863 when the country was in the midst of the Civil War many children were left orphaned when their parents went away to fight. The tragedy was particularly hard for black children, because there were no orphanages established for them. The Colored Orphans Home was established to take care of these children.
Louise DeMortie, a free woman of color from Virginia, was sensitive to the plight of the children and relocated to Louisiana to help run the Colored Orphans Home. She became one of the primary forces behind securing adequate accommodations for the orphanage. Her efforts were successful when she secured a building to house the orphanage, a large mansion on Esplanade that had been abandoned during the war.
Racial tension and resentment forced them to have to move out of the former confederate mansion after the war, however. DeMortie began to raise money and with the help of the Methodist church, the orphanage was relocated to Baldwin, Louisiana in 1867.
The home started to accommodate the children's educational needs and in 1875 opened a seminary on the same campus in Baldwin. The La Teche Seminary was the name given to the orphanage school and the neighboring higher educational facility.
The school complex continued to grow in spite of funding problems and had plans to continue operating until a hurricane in the late 1870s devastated the already financially strapped school and orphanage.
At that point the seminary was forced to close because of the financial difficulties. State support had been denied the school and during this economically depressed period, private support was scarce.
A bright spot came in the early 1880s however when a wealthy philanthropist from Connecticut, W. L. Gilbert, gave the school $5,000 to rebuild the campus. He later contributed another $5,000 for a building that was named Gilbert Hall and in his will donated another $40,000 to the school.
A few years later in 1884, after the campus reopened, it was renamed Gilbert Academy in honor of his support.
Gilbert Academy was incorporated into New Orleans University in 1919. New Orleans University, along with Straight College, were the two higher education institutions for blacks in Louisiana during this period.
After more than 60 years in Baldwin, Louisiana the school was relocated to New Orleans in 1935. Gilbert Academy occupied a site vacated by New Orleans University on St. Charles Avenue for the next decade.
Gilbert Academy had grown from being an orphanage for black children from the Civil War period to the premier private school for blacks in the city.
After World War II, Gilbert was sold in 1949. The school was closed and eventually torn down. The needs of the community had begun to shift as public high schools for blacks had become available such as McDonogh 35 and later Booker T. Washington.
Elise Cain, a 1945 Gilbert alumnae and author of a history of the school, remembers her time there well and the most important thing with which she came away from the school. "I got a very, very good education," Cain said. "We had some of the best instructors and got a well rounded education."
— Submitted October 20, 2008, by Kevin W. of Stafford, Virginia.
Credits. This page was last revised on March 12, 2017. This page originally submitted on October 19, 2008, by R. E. Smith of Nashville, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 2,791 times since then and 25 times this year. Photos:1, 2. submitted on October 19, 2008, by R. E. Smith of Nashville, Tennessee. • Kevin W. was the editor who published this page.