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Day 167: Readin' and Writin' and 'rithmetic

Thursday, June 16, 2011

No hickory sticks, tho.

From the local weekly newspaper, August 1895:

"Miss Anna Cobb has been engaged to teach our district school."

That's all it says. What it doesn't say is that Miss Cobb was herself a bright student who hadn't been afraid to tackle tough courses such as Greek History, Economics, Physics, Advanced Composition, British History, Plane Geometry, Algebra, and Geography - in each of which she earned 90% or above.

When she completed her high school education she went to the Oswego Normal School. She earned her teaching certificate - I haven't been able to find how long it took, but I would guess a year or a little less - then came home and applied to her local schoolboard. They hired her for the grand sum of $5.00 per week, but in that time and place, especially for a young single woman, it must've seemed a fortune.

She taught in a one-room school, on her own, and got her experience on the job. She was responsible for all levels, all subjects, for students who ranged in age from 5 to 16. I suspect one of her favorite subjects to teach would have been drawing, as advanced art was another class in which she excelled during her own school years.

Miss Cobb directed spelling bees, recitals, and even short plays. She taught them games - outdoor activities as well as the so-essential indoor games, necessary for many winter days when there could be no recess outside. They sang songs, memorized poems, and practiced their sums; she taught them to read with McGuffey's readers, that quintessential primer for American schoolchildren.

She provided books to make a small library, and introduced them to botany, teaching them the names of wildflowers. They studied birds, butterflies, and astronomy - another of her favorite subjects. They learned penmanship and wrote essays about their lives on the dairy farms. She kept the woodstove stoked, filled the water-pail to prime the pump, and swept the place clean every day.

At the end of each school year she would give the students what was known as a 'school card.' The district would take photographs of the teachers at the one-room schools in its charge, then have them made up on a type of postcard, together with the names of the students who were enrolled during that term.

In 1959 one of her former pupils had a visit from her old teacher. Jennie Vincent recalled that Miss Cobb was the best teacher she'd had, kind, friendly, interesting, and so encouraging to these rural country kids, many of whom would never travel more than twenty or thirty miles from where they grew up. Jennie proudly showed the original school card she'd been given 62 years before.

Miss Cobb was dedicated, committed to her students and to her profession, but at the end of five years she had to make a choice: leave teaching, marry, start a family of her own... or stay in teaching, and remain single. In those days married women were not allowed to teach.

Every summer she would take a trip - to Niagara Falls, to Saratoga Springs, even up into Canada - and visit distant relatives and friends who had moved away. Her last summer of teaching she went to Ontario for a month, to stay with cousins. And it was from there she wrote a letter to her 'best beau' to tell him yes, she would accept his proposal.

From the local weekly for the week of 29 March, 1900:

"The social event of the season was the marriage of Miss Anna Cobb to Foster Thomas. About sixty-five invited guests met at the home of the bride Wednesday, March 21, to witness the ceremony performed by Rev. W. H. Bentley, uncle of the bride. Miss Pearl Thomas played the wedding march. John Cobb acted as best man and Miss Belle Thomas as bridesmaid. The bride wore blue trimmed with white silk and carried white carnations. The bridesmaid wore white and carried pink carnations. The groom wore conventional black. After congratulations an elegant wedding supper was served. Many beautiful presents were left in token of the high esteem in which the young couple were held. The newlyweds left on the evening train for Syracuse amidst the best wishes of their many friends. They will be at home after April 1."

Miss Cobb - hereafter Mrs Thomas - taught me the alphabet, the rudiments of reading, and how to write my name. She was a remarkable woman. I know, because she was my great-grandmother.

Goodnight, Sparklers, wherever you are...
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  • POPSY190
    How fortunate you are to have known such a woman and to have such memories of her. I am constantly amazed, when engaged in family history, at the quality of women in the past, many of whom had hard times and family tragedies with which to contend.
    2858 days ago
    How wonderful to know so much about your great-grandmother! I didn't know that you couldn't be married and teach back then. How awful a choice to make. I also love the way you write. Are you working on a book perhaps? And if not, maybe you should be! emoticon

    2858 days ago
    That's fantastic stuff! How great to know so much. It seems as if you can directly trace much of your mood, personality, interests, and dispositions to her. I love learning about family histories. It's great to have a direct link to the 19th century.

    I see that her hair-style was all the rage at the time; I think I've heard that it was a fashion rage started by Princess Mary or Teck, later to be Queen Mary of England, in the late 19th century.
    2859 days ago
    Gosh! That is so nice to be able to remember your grandmother this way. She was such a beautiful woman. I enjoyed the story and she must have been a wonderful person to knoe.
    3452 days ago
  • PROT358
    Upon further reflection, the rule against married female schoolteachers really irks me. Is it because a married woman might, gulp, inadvertently hint toward unseemly sexual things and "corrupt" young minds, or does it go back to gender roles and the woman is supposed to be housewife and mother? I lean toward believing the latter. Either way how absolutely infuriating.
    3455 days ago
    great story
    3456 days ago
  • PROT358
    What an amazing story! Thank you for sharing.
    3456 days ago
    My grandmother was also a teacher in a one room school house---she had a summer training course which prepared her for her job----can you imagine that? She roomed with a family that lived near the school house. One of her students ---a little girl---came to school badly beaten one morning---her mom was dead and the father was a violent man---Mommom sent all the other children out to play while she bathed the child's wounds and then had them all give her their coats and she made a soft bed by the stove for the little girl---my mommom could not say anything to the man as she was afraid the little girl would get an even worse beating---and this man had the nerve to try and court my grandmother----she soon sent him packing---her father was justice of the peace in a town near her assignment so he left her alone. She had to leave teaching when she married my grandfather. One day at the mall, my grandmother went out the wrong exit(the place was new) and was looking for her car---a man pulled up next to her and asked if he could help----he was a former pupil or hers----like 40 years before this event. I have her metal lunch pail from this time period.
    3456 days ago
    My mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse when she was young (around 19 or 20). It was such a different experience than what I or my son have gone through. I could hear her voice as I read your description.
    3456 days ago
    How blessed to have memories of one's great-grandparents. I know, because my own great-grandmother was only 60 years older than my big sister... quite a young great grand-ma. Of course, back then, marriages at age 15 or 16 were not that uncommon. She married at 15, her eldest daughter (my grandmother) at 16.

    Grandma and Grandpa ran away from high school on their lunch hour and lied about their ages the next county over... her dad, a minister, made them get married again the next weekend and tell the truth about their ages... so when they celebrated their golden Wedding Anniversary they wanted to count it as 100 years... fifty since each wedding!

    My own parents began the descent into older brides, mom was 19, dad 21 when they wed.

    But the long and little of it was that I had great grand parents into my 30's, while they lived into their 90's. My great grand-dad taught me many things... like how to shuffle and bridge a deck of cards, and how to dance a waltz. Great grand-ma offered up the joys of technology... my first exposure to TV game shows... The Seven Keys and Queen for a Day and The Price is Right.

    Ah, what a memory lane you sent me down, Kasey, with your own memories of a great-grandmother!

    emoticon emoticon
    3456 days ago
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