The 20’s may have been roaring for F. Scott Fitzgerald and the elite Great Gatsby crowd in some of the big cities, but it was hard times for most folks in western Georgia in the 20’s. Cotton prices were low and people were struggling to make a living.
The trustees for the Fourth District Agricultural and Mechanical School in Carrollton met in the courthouse in Newnan and made a decision on April 22, 1920 to hire a new leader for their school.
Some of the trustees said Irving Sullivan Ingram was too young and they had doubts about his qualifications for the position.
Ingram was young. And he did lack some formal credentials, but he had character.
The affable educator was 27 years old when he was hired as principal of the A & M School (the forerunner of West Georgia College) by the trustees. His salary was $2,400 plus living quarters. Although h e had been teaching since he was 16 and had been a school superintendent, Ingram had the equivalent of a junior college degree. (He later earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.)
His father died when Ingram was 19 years old. Ingram supported his mother and five younger brothers and sisters. When his father died, he also left a debt which his son elected to pay off. (Ironically, one of the trustees who selected him as principal was the man who had been paid back by the son.)
This young man, molded by difficult circumstances, proved to be a great choice in guiding a young school going through difficult circumstances.
In 1921 he married Martha Munro. During the 1932-33 academic year while he was granted a leave to study for his master’s degree, his wife served as acting principal. With the help of a few faithful assistants, she also was responsible for transforming the campus grounds. She planted a wide variety of flowers and shrubs at no expense to the school. Her dedicated work laid the foundation for the basic landscaping patterns for the campus today.
Throughout the 20’s the Georgia legislature and educators proposed, debated and tried several models for rural education, high school consolidation, and junior college and college education. All of these deliberations and actions greatly affected the focus and direction of the A& M school at Carrollton. But Ingram kept the school moving forward.
The A & M enrollment increased even though cotton prices and the local economy continued to decline. He revamped the curriculum and expanded courses. In 1925 the school constructed one of the largest poultry plants in the Southeast, its incubators having a capacity of 20,000 eggs. Students won some literary meets. The athletic teams were doing well.
Unfortunately while the school was progressing, state funding for education was not progressing. State funding was very limited and unpredictable. The report of the athletic association for 1928-29, for example, showed the 1928 football program was losing money even though it was winning games. In six home games the cost of playing these games including equipment and officiating was $396. Income from athletic fees was $168. These deficits along with other expenses occurred at a time when the school was producing some solid teams.
Coach Curits Luckey, an all-conference football player at the University of Georgia, came to the school in 1927. One player, Harris (“Hoot”) Gibson, is said to have established a high school record when he punted over 70 yards in a game against Decatur in October 1929, a game which the A & M Aggies, as they were known then, won 14-7.
During these difficult years, Principal Ingram managed to maintain excellent relations with the community. He also was successful in bringing a number of prominent politicians and public officials to the campus. One of the highlights for 1929 was when Ingram arranged for Governor Franklin Roosevelt of New York to be the commencement speaker.
Ingram led the school from 1920 to 1960. He guided the institution from its agricultural school days until it was recognized as a senior college. His administrative tenure is one of the longest in the history of higher education in Georgia. His impact throughout the community and Georgia is well documented. Not bad for a fellow that some thought was too young and inexperienced to be the principal of a rural high school.