Students help honor school's namesake
That issue has been brought up before, as found in the April 13, 1976, issue of the Paducah Sun-Democrat. One of Morgan's former students, Charles G. Osborn, lamented he could not find his teacher's gravesite because there was no stone.
"I got to talking about it to my principal here (Vicki Conyer)," Sheffer said, "and we kind of decided that it would be a neat thing to see if the students could raise the money to get her a headstone."
Students brought in pennies to help pay for a headstone, bringing in about $375, but the fundraising didn't stop there. Ohio Valley Monument Co., which agreed to build the headstone, agreed to match the students' funds.
The headstone was placed at her burial site earlier in the past week.
"It's something to let the kids know who she was and why the school was named after her," Sheffer said.
Emma Morgan was a teacher and principal for many years at different schools in Paducah, beginning her teaching career in 1880 when she was 20 years old. Sheffer found several city directories that listed Morgan as the principal of Franklin School in 1902, a teacher at Washington High School in 1906, principal of McKinley School in 1910 and principal of Lee School in 1914.
That was her position when she died suddenly in a fire at a home where she boarded known as Ripley residence.
On Nov. 5, 1927, Morgan had just gone to her room for the night while Ripley family and visitors were gathered downstairs around the body of James R. Ripley, who had died the day before.
In the basement, old linens and clothing were piled up behind the furnace and caught fire, engulfing the house in flames.
Morgan opened her door and struggled through the smoke-filled corridor. Reports said she either fell down the stairway or ran down the stairway through the flames to escape the house. She was carried to a neighbor's house and then to a hospital. She was severely burned and died the next morning at the age of 67.
"She was single; she never was married, had no children, which was maybe why she didn't have a headstone," Sheffer said. "But she had worked for Paducah city schools for 47 years."
Sheffer said that school records showed that she was a principal from 1886 to the date of her death except for one year, most likely the 1906-07 school year, when she was made a teacher.
"She wasn't real happy about that," he laughed, "but she was able to get her old job back."
The students worked to help pay for a headstone for their school's namesake and got more help in the process.
"The students brought in $375 in pennies, and Paducah Bank was gracious enough to count all those for us," Sheffer said. "...Ohio Valley Monument Co. was glad to help us and match what we brought in. I think they more than matched us because it's a very nice headstone."
While Emma Morgan earned a place in local history by having a school named for her, it was an effort by that school's students 90 years after her death to provide her burial site with a headstone. Now, visitors to Morgan Elementary School or to Oak Grove Cemetery will know her story, of the love of her former students and the respect of the students of today.