Biography of Charley Ross West

Prominent Educator and former State Senator

Charley Ross West, one of Alabama’s prominent educators and former State Senator from Jefferson County, was born April 17, 1878, at Old Nauvoo, four miles below Belgreen. He is a son of Tinsley D. and Sene (Dickson) West, the former, one of Franklin’s best known teachers, now deceased, the latter still living in Franklin County. His paternal grand-parents were Ben and Emily (French) West, his maternal grand-parents, Joseph and Elizabeth J. (Nelson) Dickson. Michael Dickson, the pioneer settler of Tuscumbia, was his great-grandfather, and Lemuel Nelson, a former Sheriff of Franklin County, was another great-grandfather.

Charley Ross West, subject of this sketch, attended the common rural schools of Franklin County while growing up. When not in school he worked on the farm. Speaking of this Mr. West said: “Highest wage I got was $10.00 per month, usually four months in the year. Most of the time I worked for $8.00 per month which was the usual price for labor in that day.”

In 1898, at the age of twenty, he started to school in Attalla, Alabama, to Prof. J. M. Davidson, who taught what was called in that day the academy. The academy was a school in which the grades, high school and college subjects were taught. In that academy he did high school work. In the fall of 1898 he moved to Huffman, Alabama, near East Lake, and opened another academy. Mr. West accompanied him and kept up his high school work, 1898-1899. In the fall of 1899, Prof. Davidson again moved, this time to Powderly, between Birmingham and Bessemer. West again followed him and did another year’s work.

In June, 1899, Mr. West stood the first examination the State of Alabama ever gave in licensing teachers. He made a second grade certificate which was good for four years. Securing a school at Smith’s Chapel in Jefferson County, he began his career as a teacher July 5, 1899. The salary gave him was $40.00 per month for six months. In those days each school had but one trustee. Dr. R. S. Greene, was the trustee at Smith’s Chapel. When school was out at Christmas, Mr. West went to work for Dr. Greene on his big plantation making a crop for him. Then in the fall of 1900, he again opened school at the same place and at the same price. In speaking of his first experiences as a teacher Prof. West said:

“In those days teachers were paid once every three months. On October 1, 1899, I drew my first pay. Three months all at once. I had $120.00 all at one time which was the most money I had every had in my hand at one time before in my life. I was a richer man than Erskine Ramsey or Breck Musgrove is to-day.”

Since 1899 he has taught school in Jefferson County. At such times he was not teaching he was engaged in other work or in studying. Between 1906 and 1912 he attended private summer schools for improvement. Referring to this he said:

“My salary was small and force of circumstances made it necessary for me to divide generously with my father and mother who were old, and as a result I was never able to save enough money to go to college or a whole year at a time like most boys more fortunate.”

It was in the summer of 1913 that Prof. West entered the University of Alabama. He both studied and taught. Each and every summer from then until 1927, he taught, and at the same time studied in that institution of learning. In the summer of 1924, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in education. When Dr. Denny, president of the University, delivered to him his diploma, he made the public statement that Charley Ross West was the first person in all the history of the University of Alabama to work off an entire degree in the summer schools.

On September 3, 1916, he was married to Miss Maud Earl Clements of Irondale, a suburb of Birmingham. She was born in Birmingham, in 1892. Her foreparents were pioneers of the Birmingham district, having owned all of what is now Southside, including the Highlands and Red Mountain. Her grandparents and great-grandparents bought all of that land from the government at 12 1/2 c per acre. All up and down the southside they had a log farm on which they worked many slaves before the Civil War. Her maternal ancestors were the Brown’s and Basses, two of the old families of Birmingham and Jefferson County.

In 1913, Mrs. West, then Miss Clements, graduated from the Birmingham Seminary. She also attended the University Summer School in 1916 and graduated from that institution with Prof. West, her husband, in 1924.

Besides teaching, Mr. West has been prominent in other affairs. In 1912 he was elected on the board of education for Jefferson County and served continuously for ten years. In 1918 he was elected to the State Senate from Jefferson County and served in the 1919 session of the legislature. He was prominent as a speaker, is an entertaining writer, and takes and active part in social affairs. He is the central figure of the “Bear Creek Outing Club” of Franklin County, a unique society for recreation and the promotion of good will and fellowship.

Source: Source: James, R. L. Distinguished Men, Women and Families of Franklin County, Alabama. Russellville, Ala., Private Publication, 1928. 111 p.

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