Department of History & Political Science
Before Florence Wesleyan University was founded in 1855, students of Locust Dell Academy used the area "neath the giant oaks on campus" for outdoor assemblies. The place also served as a natural vantage point from which to view State Normal School students performing Physical Education activities-ring games of the primary grades, military drills and human pyramids by boys, the Greek friezes of girls, and the "exquisite opening of the rose " maneuver- on the terraced lawn in front of O'Neal Hall. In August 1918 an anniversary pageant celebrating the founding of Florence took place here, and in 1927 aged and tottering members of the Alabama Division of the United Confederate Veterans reunited on the grounds.
The first crude stage was built on this site for the Centennial Celebration of Alabama Statehood in 1919. In that same year Mrs. Susan J. Price, former faculty member and secretary of State Normal School Alumni Association, conceived of the idea of the memorial. Original plans called for an arched dome amphitheater with six columns, one for each student who died in the Great War in Europe. But such a design proved to be cost prohibitive. Employees of the Civil Works Administration, a federal New Deal agency, erected the concrete and steel platform in the Spring of 1934. Total cost for the project was $10,140.66, $2950 of which had been raised by donations by graduating classes and faculty members. Dedicated May 24, 1934 as "hallowed ground," its dedicatory plate reads:
To the Valor and Patriotism
Of the Men of this College
Who Served in the World War
Made possible by the Vision
Of Mrs. Susan Jones Price and
The Generosity of the Alumni
"This is [one of] the most beautiful outdoor speaking place[s] in America," boasted Henry J. Willingham, President of the State Normal College when the Memorial was dedicated. With a seating capacity of several thousand, it has served as the site of visits by Governors Folsom, Patterson, and Wallace, and college presidents J. A. Keller, E. B. Norton, and Robert Guillot were inaugurated at the Memorial. Since the 1920s and continuing for the next forty years, summer school and commencements took place at this location. The Memorial Amphitheater remains to this day a vital part of our historic campus.