My Early Days in Pike County
Gladys Smith Wagner
By her grandson Jeffery Wagner. January 1986, Quincy, Illinois
My grandmother, Gladys Smith Wagner,was born in Pike County on December 4th, 1898, near New Hartford. The oldest of 11 children of Louisa and George Rowley, she attended grade school at the Prairie School (near Pittsfield), and high school in Summerhill. She then passed the certification to become a school teacher, teaching between 1917 and 1924 in several Pike County Schools: the Prairie School, grade school in the Dutch Creek area and in Rockport, and at the Toll Gate School. In 1923 she married Joseph J. Wagner, an emigrant from a German (Danube-Swabian) community in Hungary. They had two children, both born in Pittsfield: Joseph John, Jr. (Born 1924), my father, and Arlene (born 1935).
After moving with her family to Quincy in 1939 she became an active, life-long member of Immanual Baptist Church. A careful keeper of records, she served devotedly as the church clerk from 1948 until 1988, when she was honored by the church for her lengthy service and named Church Clerk Emerita. She was a member of the church's womens group, seniors group, and a quilting group, The Primrose Circle. My grandmother also worked as a home health aide in Quincy, and tutored many children in reading and grammar. She died in 1990, and was buried next to her husband, who had died in 1966, in Perry Wells Cemetery in Pike County.
In 1986, I interviewed my grandmother in her Quincy home on 13th street, and recently transcribed the sum and substance of the interview, below. She was among the sweetest, kindest people I have ever known, so I found it a bit hard to imagine that she would use a switch on school kids in the early 1900s, as she describes below. Knowing my grandmother, it must have been absolutely necessary! There was so much warmth and laughter as she recalled her early Pike County days. You can hear it on the recording, but that tone is difficult to put into a written transcription, though I've put the indication, [laughter]; from time to time to convey the spirit of our conversation.
Her memory was legendary to us family members. She could cite from memory the amounts of doctor's bills paid 40 or 50 years before, the names of people she'd known in her youth, extended Bible verses, poems, and many other facts and figures. I never once found her to be inaccurate, so I believe readers can be confident of what she recalls here.
Park Ridge, Illinois
The boy is Jeff's father, Joseph Wagner, Jr. (1924-1986)
The adults are Jeff's grandmother's parents, George R. Smith (1870-1937) and Louisa Rowley Smith (1870-1958).
Photo taken in the 1930's near New Hartford in Pike County
Q: Tell me about your early years in Pike county?
A: We lived out in the country in several houses, always about a mile or two miles from town, either Summerhill or New Hartford. When I first started teaching in 1918, I lived at New Hartford, a wayside town about 7 miles south of Pittsfield.
My mother and father did everything to support me and my ten brothers and sisters. We were a happy family, Jeff. We played together, went to school together. Never had much trouble. In the mornings we';d walk to school, maybe a mile, or two miles, or when we lived in New Hartford and went to school in Summerhill, we walked three miles each way: three miles morning and evening, six miles altogether. And young Clark walked six miles all the way to Nebo to school and graduated from High School there. Six miles to that school. Each way!
Q: Do you still think about your parents.
A: Yes. Yes. Oh my, yes.
Q: What did your parents give to you? Values, ideals?
A: Everything. Everything good. I owe my parents a great deal. They were careful of us, watched over us, took the best of care of us, bought everything that they could for us.
Q: Tell me about your father, George Smith.
My father was a farmer. And if he earned thirty dollars a month, my, that was a lot. He would usually get paid 23, 24, 25 dollars, but that was a good month if a farmer would hire my father for thirty dollars a month, and maybe furnish a cow to milk, too. I think only one farmer in my recollection furnished a hog, too.
Q: Tell me about your mother, Louisa Rowley Smith.
A: She could shuck as much corn as my father could. In the fall, at harvest time, I would stay home and take care of the younger children, so that my mother could go in the fields to work with him. So she was paid, and he was paid. Made a little extra money.
My mother raised chickens, too. And they'd wait until the chickens went to roost and then go sort 'em out, and sell what they could get along without. She sold lots of chickens. She had that little wagon that my father had built, and she'd tie up about a dozen chickens, hens roosters or young ones - tie their legs together and put them in that little wagon, and haul them to a grocery store in Summerhill that bought 'em. After the grocer man bought those chickens, we spent that money for groceries.
Once mother sent us with the chickens, and wanted us to spend the entire amount on outing cloth. Whatever we got for the chickens was to be spent on outing cloth. Well, they came to quite a bit, and the lady who was in charge of the grocery store said, She surely doesn't need that much outing cloth. Well, we didn't think so either. So we bought a lot of other stuff, and only a little outing cloth. Well, mother didn't like that, I'll tell you, not one bit. We got spanked for that. She was strict! When my parents told you what you ought to do, you'd better do it!
Another time the grocerman's mother-in-law was accused of greasing eggs. If you grease an egg, it won't hatch. And my mother bought a setting or two of eggs, and when she got them home, she found gobs of grease on them. So she went back to the store and told them off! Well, the grocer man's wife said, My mother never greased those eggs. That grease got on there accidentally! So, that's all we ever knew. [laughter]
Q: Where was the farm your family worked?
A: My parents lived in several homes, moving from one place to another. My father was a tenant farmer. He worked for 17 years on the Shinn farm. The Shinn family was quite a prominent Pike County family. Well, he got 23, 24, or 25, dollars a month, and finally 30 dollars came. Oh, that was a magnificent salary!
My grandfather Rowley was a Civil War veteran and he never used his pension; just let it accumulate. When grandpa died, there was enough money to divide between his children about four of them left. One of them was my mother, she bought home that house near Nebo with the money. That's the house you visited with me to see Bill and Clark.
Q: Was there a good deal of hard work?
A: You bet there was, oh, yes. We worked pretty hard. I remember one hot summer day, there was a plot of ground in the garden, and my mother wanted it cleared. It was so hot and dry outside. She said, If you'll clean up that plot of ground, you can go get groceries. So I cleaned, and I worked, and got that all done, and then walked two miles to the grocery store, and back.
When I started earning a salary as a teacher, it took every dime I made to help them, and the family. After my first year of teaching I remember came home for the summer with one dollar. My mother needed some butter, so that dollar was gone. So I had nothing left that summer, not a dime. I had to go out and work in somebody's kitchen.
Q: Did you have time for recreation?
A: Oh, yes. We had time to play. We had an attic when we lived in the old Polsten house, on the road between Summerhill and New Hartford. And the stovepipe went up through that attic, so it was warm enough to play up there even in the winter time. Played up there in the winter time. We had our dolls and little stove and all kind of toys to play with.
And we always had Christmas presents. I'll tell you, where there's a big family like ours, there's where the Christmas is. Christmas was really an enjoyable season. I remember the presents, and Santa Claus. Finally finally finally mother told us there was no Santa Claus! And we were pretty disappointed, because we went to be early, and wouldn't have gotten up for anything, since we knew Santa Claus was coming.
Q: What was dating like?
A: We girls weren't allowed to have any boyfriends. No sir, that was out! That would never do. My parents didn't like my husband, Joe one bit, at first. My dad said, You chose him instead of me! Well, why not? I said.
We girls all had long hair, all down close to our waist. After supper, I'd have to get the Coleman brush and brush Florence's hair. Her head was so tender, she'd scream and yell and carry on about it, but I'd comb and braid her hair. Then we'd put something on our heads, so we wouldn't mess our hair overnight.
Q: Did you mostly have horses and buggies to drive you around?
A: Yes, I remember once how I drove by myself about four miles to Pleasant Hill to some kind of program. I had bought a ticket, or maybe it was that something had happened so that the people I was staying with could not go. They were perfectly willing to let me use the horse and buggy and drive to Pleasant Hill. So I hitched that horse and buggy, drove to Pleasant Hill, drove back home when I guess it was close to midnight. Unhitched the horse, put all that harness away. Well, I couldn't do that now. I wouldn't know which end to start on! [laughter] But I did that, I actually could do that! Oh, I used to drive a buggy quite a bit.
There was one other time, when we heard that my Uncle Alvin was missing in action (in World War I). We weren't told very much, just that he was missing in action. Well, I said to my mother Let's go see if we can find out anything in Pittsfield. And we started out, using the horse and buggy of the people I was working for, but that horse was afraid of water. We had to cross a little creek, and that horse ran away, turned the buggy over, and broke some of it. I managed to get out all right, mother got out all right. But she had a jar of pickles that she was taking - I guess it was for her mother - and it was broken. My father managed to fix anything that was damaged, maybe some of the harness, and drove it back. We took it back to the owners, and I said I'd be glad to pay work and pay for any damage to the buggy, but I didn't have to. That was one of the worst spills.
Then one other time we rode to high school, about two miles, and the horse ran away, throwing the driver out from the buggy. I managed to hold on to that horse by the reins, and finally got him stopped. I don't remember if anyone else was in that buggy with me. Lines were dragging, there was nothing to do but just to hold on. It all worked out, but it was kind of serious until I got things under control.
Q: What happened when the weather got bad?
A: We never knew what a pair of overshoes was like. All we had was our everyday pairs of shoes. We had no overshoes. And when the snow was real bad, we just had to stay home.
Q: Did you have telephones?
A: Yes, an old wall telephone. That's all we had. And when it rang, you took down the receiver, and that's where you got your news. Yes, a couple people would be talking, and another woman would be listening. That one phone line would serve maybe a dozen homes. They'd talk for an hour, maybe.
Q: Did you recall the end of World War I in 1918?
A: When WW1 ended there were no televisions, no radio, only the yak-box on the wall. The telephone rang about eleven o'clock one morning at my aunt's, where I was visiting. We had closed school because of the influenza. I recall that it was a rather muggy day. My aunt took the receiver, listened, and turned to me and said, The war is over. And that was the first we knew of the armistice, that it had been signed. We were so glad. School opened for awhile, then closed again in February due to another outbreak of influenza.
My mother's youngest brother, my Uncle Alvin was missing in action in France. I believe he perished in the Marne campaign. That's all we ever knew. When you asked me about him a while back, I wrote to Washington, D.C., but all I found was that he was missing in action. So many were, and now look at how many are missing, and they are trying to locate them in Viet Nam. And Korea. I wonder how we got into those wars. The Korean conflict and Viet Nam. There is quite a bit of mistrust and doubt.
Q: Tell me about your brother and sisters.
A: Well, my parents had 11 kids in 22 years. After several children maybe it was after Chester was born, my mothers sister was taking care of her, and my mother said to her, By George, I'm not going to have any more. This is it! And Aunt Sally laughed and said, Well, if you have any more, it had better be by George. [laughter]. Father's name was George, you see.
Here we are with our years of birth: Gladys (1898) , Florence (1900), Kittie (1901), William (1903), Chester (1905), Mildred (1908), Melvin (1910), Lucy (1912), Clark (1914), June (1918), Jane (1920)
Kittie's married name was Morton. And Florences was Walton. William Robert came next. When your dad was a little guy, he asked me, Why didn't Uncle Bill get married? I said, Your grandma wouldn't let him. [laughter].
Q: Was there truth in that?
A: No, well maybe there was. I don't know. She [my mother] said, when I asked her later, I didn't have anything to do with that! [laughter] Of the four boys only Chester married. He married an older woman, and he had a very happy life with her.
Mildred came next. She married Oscar Ruyle. And Melvin was the next one. He became an ordained southern Baptist minister. That was a local ordination. I still think he is still faithful and attending church, but he doesn't preach any more. He did have a church in Winchester [in Scott County], and several others.
Lucy must be the next one, the 8th. Lucy married George Ruyle, Oscar Ruyle's son. She's a licensed practical nurse. Lucy lives in Alton, and she takes care of older people. She works in a hospital. She had some of her training in Barnes Hospital in Saint Louis.
Clark came next. I don't know if my mother stopped him from getting married, either. but something did! Those guys were satisfied to just live at home. [laughter]. I sure loved my brothers; such nice guys.
Then June. Her married name was Roberts, and she lives in Jerseyville, not very far from Alton.
Jane is the last one, born about 20 months after June. Jane lives in Alton. I was 22 years old when Jane was born . She had two children, a son and daughter. Gravett is her married name.
All six of us sisters are all widows. None of us ever remarried.
Q: Did you know your fathers parents?
A: My fathers father was Samuel Anderson Smith, and he lived in the vicinity of Pleasant Hill. Grandpa Smith was Quaker Dutch, and had come from Pennsylvania. My grandmother was Elizabeth Ellen McCleery Smith. They called her Betsy, and she was Irish. I never knew Grandma and Grandpa Smith. They were gone long before I was old enough to really remember. They were hard-shell Baptists.
Q: Can you tell me the story about the death of your Uncle Hershel Smith?
A: Well, My Uncle Hershel Smith was in church one Sunday morning [in 1909] and he asked, when songs were requested, for Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown? So they complied with his request, and that hymn was sung. He stood up to sing, and then fell over from a stroke after it had completed. He lived only three days more, while paralyzed.
Q: Did you know your mothers parents?
I knew Grandma and Grandpa Rowley real well. Oh, I loved them and I used to say with them in their home in the Black Oak neighborhood, not far from Pleasant Hill.
Grandpa Rowley went with President Lincoln's last call for volunteers from Illinois in early 1865. His ancestors were English, born in this country, but just where I don't know. My, were they proud of their ancestry. His ancestors went back to American revolutionary times, so through him I could be a DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution. I don't have any pictures of him, but he was the sweetest old man. He had pretty blue eyes, and he was so mild, and so good to us. He was just a loveable, good looking old man, as far as I remember, always kind and gentle. I never saw my grandfather get the least upset about anything.
I'd visit my grandparents, and grandpa and I would always spend time together. I'm sorry to tell you sorry to tell you ... that he was injured in the Civil War. A tent pole fell and cracked his skull. I think there was a metal plate in there. But he lived to be in his 90s, and Grandma had died quite a few years earlier. There was just no one to take care of him, so he went to the hospital at Jacksonville, which was kind of a nursing home, in a way, for some people. I believe his injury in the army and his status as a veteran qualified him. The last time I saw him, Jeff, his mind was just as clear as mine. I had driven over to Jacksonville to visit. He had good care there.
His wife, my grandmother, was Hannah Leandra Blaine. Everyone called her Hanner. I'm not so sure where she came from, but she is Canadian-French and Indian. One of her parents may have been an Indian. She had been married before and had children by her first husband, John Flanders. Grandma died at 66.
Grandma and Grandpa had ten children. Let's see, let me try to name them.
There was Euphemie, and Madeline, then Warren and Leonard were twins who got diphtheria and died within a short period of time of each other. Then there was Louisa, my mother; Homer, Aunt Elizabeth; Lilly; and Alvin. Now count; 'em, Jeff. If that's ten, then we've got them all.
Grandma had children by her previous marriage. My Aunt Sally was her daughter by John Flanders, and Sally married Uncle Ed O'Brian. He was kind of happy-go-lucky and we had good times together. They lived near Pleasant Hill. Most of my fathers folks and mothers lived in and around Pleasant Hill. Uncle Ed and Aunt Sally had no children.
Q: Do you remember your Uncle Alvin, who was killed in action in World War I?
A: Yes, I remember Uncle Alvin well. He wasn't very much older than me. We sort of grew up together. He'd come and visit often. Missing in action was all we ever knew of his fate. But they must have been were reasonably sure, because the government did pay the insurance.
All of my aunts and uncles are all gone now. Not one of them living. I guess Aunt Lilly was the last one that passed away.
Q. When did you get married?
A: In 1923, on March the fourth, 1923, at 2:00 PM in the Methodist parsonage, Vermont Street, right here in Quincy. I wore a navy blue silk canton crepe dress, and black shoes. And I had a black velvet hat with a lot of plumes. We returned to Pittsfield in the evening, where we had rented an upstairs apartment right on the town square. My first child, Joe, was born when we lived in that apartment on the town square. We later lived on West Jefferson Street in Pittsfield. I remember that my second child, Arlene, was born there.
Q: Did you have a honeymoon?
A: No honeymoon. Joe had gotten a good job, and he had to be at that job. I guess he didn't even have a car at that time.
Later, of course we got a car, and his work throughout his life was mostly that of a car mechanic. I never learned to drive a car myself. We used to get out and ride around a great deal. We liked to go over to Missouri. I always enjoyed taking off and being carefree, going over to Missouri or parts of Illinois.
Q: How did you become a school teacher?
A: In the hill-billy country where I grew up, there were only two things for a young woman to do: if you were lucky enough, you could to become a school teacher, or you could otherwise work in somebody's kitchen. Those two things were all there was for young women. That was all there was, nothing else, really. So I wanted to be a school teacher, and my mother did so want us to be educated, and then to use our educations.
To be a school teacher, two years of high school was all that was required. And if you didn't make your examination the first time, you might get an emergency certificate in those days, because there was a shortage of teachers because of World War I. So many men left their teaching jobs to go into the service, and most of them never came back to teach school.
Q: How much training did you need to become a teacher?
A: Many a teacher graduated from the 8th grade, wrote examinations, and passed the examinations, and became teachers without a day of high school. Some attended high school for one, or two years. Finally then, laws came along, and they began to tighten up. After that you had to have two years of high school to be a teacher. Two years is all there was [for high school] in that community.
I had attended high school in Summerhill. I had Mr. Shinn for algebra, and I don't think he ever had a day of high school, but he had studied on his own and worked things out for himself pretty well. Mr. Shinn taught all that algebra by one rule, you might say. I had two full years of algebra. Now today, or even the day after that I finished that class, I forgot everything. Xyz was just xyz to me! I made good grades, but I think I gave my book to somebody else, because I never had any use for it.
During World War I, quite a number of school teachers left their jobs, and went to Washington D.C. to work in government offices. There were good jobs there. I took a course of study for that, passed the examination, and could have gone to Washington, D.C. with other friends and had a government job, but my father did not want me to. He said, You've put in time trying to be a school teacher, and now you've got a school. You've no business leaving it! So that;s why I never got to Washington, D.C.
But teachers were so needed. Teachers were scarce because of the war, and emergency certificates were granted if they had made a certain grade, and maybe had failed in only one subject. I can tell you those examinations were plenty stiff. They were given in the county superintendents office in Pittsfield, and they were graded by the county superintendent. In those years all of the childrensyear-end examinations in the spring were all graded by the county superintendents, too.
So I wrote my examination in the county superintendents office. I don't remember exactly what I wrote about, but I think we had to write on the various subjects that would be covered by grade school teachers: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Geography. We even had a course in agriculture. I've got an old book somewhere on agriculture. Agriculture! Imagine teaching that in country schools!
Q: In which Pike County schools did you teach?
A: I believe my first year of teaching was 1917. My first job was my own home school, the Prairie School, not far from Pittsfield. The school was about two miles east of New Hartford. [note: it's on County Highway 8 southeast of Pittsfield]
In that first school, I had twelve kids, and some of them I'd gone to school with myself! They were younger than me. I had one in the first grade, and that first grade youngster learned the multiplication tables. Didn't have a whole lot to do, so he learned the multiplication tables. I taught all the grades, including the 8th grade. 1st through 8th, inclusive. You might not have had one in every grade, and I don't remember in that school just exactly if I had all eight grades.
For that job I stayed at home, living with my folks, until they moved somewhere else in the spring. Then I boarded for about a month. I walked to school every day, two miles. Two miles there, and two miles back. My pay thirty-five dollars a month.
And then I went next fall to Dutch Creek, where I taught for three years. That's not far from Rockport. It was a one room country school. The second year I was there, a school burned down, not very far from Dutch Creek, and children were sent to our school from that one. I think maybe 5 or 6 of them came to Dutch Creek. And the next year they rebuilt that burned down school. It was a modern school that had everything that they didn't have before: indoor restrooms, and water piped in. I was offered a job at that school, but I had promised to stay at Dutch Creek, so I turned that offer down. Since my sister, Florence, needed a school, she took that job at the new school.
Then we both then went to Rockport to teach after that.
Q: Do you remember any of your pupils?
A: I think I must remember all of them. I saw in the papers that one of them just passed on, about two years ago - I didn't even know that he worked in Quincy. That boy had put more gray hairs in my head than he did his own! Oh, he was a bad one. He was terrible. And he smoked. When I went and talked to his mother about that, she was laughing so hard the tears just rolled down her face. He gets it [tobacco] out there in my garage, I raise it right there. So what chance did you have?
In those country schools, we had what they call exceptional children now. We called them sub-normal. They just went to the country schools, because they had no other schools for them. I had one girl for three years during which I just did everything I could think of, but I don't believe that she knew any more the last day of the third year than she did the first day of the first year. She just couldn't learn. We did what we could to help them. We just had to do what we could. Her younger sister was better. She graduated from the 8th grade and, I think, from high school. But that oldest girl just couldn't learn anything. It was just pitiful. Big strong healthy girl, but mentally she was way down the line, I'm sorry to say.
I also remember a boy from the last school where I taught, the Toll Gate school. That boy was sub-normal, too. He just couldn't learn, but he caused a lot of trouble. I don't know why children are like that.
Q: So there were quite a few challenging pupils?
A: Oh, my yes. In the Rockport school I had another tough one. Oh, he was pretty smart, and his family was paying tuition to come to the Rockport school. But he was just one of the meanest kids I ever knew. He's gone on, I believe. I see the obituaries in the paper.
And it wasn't just the boys, either. No, sir. In Martinsburg, there was a young girl. Oh, she was bad. She wrote me a nasty note. Two nasty notes. Too nasty to even repeat. I asked her, Why in the world? and she just looked at me, just brazenly. So then I said, I have a notion to talk to your parents. She said, Talk to 'em, I don't care![laughter]
We had to spank kids once in awhile. Oh, my yes. You bet I did. In Rockport we had a German professor who was the principal teacher of the school, but he didn't think that using the switch was the thing to do. I was trying to keep the kids in line one time going through the door, and I had a yardstick. I whacked one kid. This professor thought that was awful, and I never had such a lecture. By the time he was through, he was crying and so was I. So we reached out and we shook hands.
Well, anyway the fact is . I couldn't get along at that school without a switch! [laughter] So I pinned the switch up under my coat, and got it upstairs, and used it. There was one boy, long since gone to his reward - I saw his obituary there - who was paying tuition to come to that school. They needed every bit of money they could get, so they accepted him, and he did nothing but cause trouble. He just caused trouble, and trouble, and trouble.
Finally came examination time, and final examination papers had to be sent to Pittsfield. We didn't grade them. And we didn't conduct the examination. I think a teacher from another school supervised that examination, and then those papers were sent to the county superintendents office to be corrected. And that boy failed - failed miserably. And another girl did, too. On her final examination paper, she wrote, opposite each question, I don't know, and I don't care. Yet her mother expected her to pass!
Well, your grandfather took me to Pittsfield to see what I could do about those two. Well, there was nothing I could do. The papers had been graded, there was no question about it, they had failed. So I went back to Rockport and reported back to the parents. The mother of that little girl was going back to Little Rock to live. She had come from Little Rock, Arkansas. Well she said, I'm going to take her and put her in the high school in Little Rock. So I guess that's what she did, put her in high school in Little Rock. Well, anyhow, that's all there was to it.
Attending school was not always compulsory, by the way. It was not compulsory until quite a little while after I started. Before that, fathers could keep their sons out to help with the farming, and nothing happened. And when it became compulsory, what a commotion! Well, they just raised the roof. They felt it was their right to keep their sons home, but they were arrested and had to pay a fine, and were even sent to jail if they couldn't pay that fine. Well they just had to lay out in jail for not sending their children to school. It was pretty rough in the beginning, but nowadays I don't think there are any such problems.
Q: Did you teach during the flu epidemic of 1919?
A: Yes, and my school was closed twice. When the armistice was declared, my school was closed. It was in November, wasn't it? Yes, November of 1918. My school was closed because of influenza. .
One of my students died of a ruptured appendix, but I don't believe I lost any to flu. But in the area we lived, people were dying all over. And in the service, many man died of it. There were no drugs, there wasn't anything. Nowadays, there are serums, and all kinds of help.
Another disease we used to have was scarlet fever. I believe there is no such thing as scarlet fever anymore. In that first school where I taught, there was a small library, and it was filled with old books. Periodically scarlet fever would break out, and they destroyed those old books and that old chest, thinking to stop the fever. But the scarlet fever came back anyway.
Nowadays, doctors say that scarlet fever isn't spread by scales. But back then, I believe it was. The child would be burning up with fever, and the skin would be scaley and those scales would get in the air, and others caught it, from scales. It was prevalent. And smallpox the same way. Diphtheria, scarlet fever, whooping cough. They were all around, back then.
I caught whopping cough from one of my pupils. He had gone to a big public meeting of some kind. They didn't know at first that he had whooping cough, but about the second week of school he just started coughing and he just couldn't stop. There was one day the coughing was so bad, you just couldn't take it. I finally just wrote notes and sent the children home, and asked the parents not to send them back until they were better.
There were other difficulties that came long. I remember family of children who walked all the way over from that river town [on the Illinois river] of Florence. They had to walk several miles on the hard road. They wore their coats in the school room all day long, because they had such thin clothing . Even though we had a warm fire, they were cold. One day they were crying their frozen feet hurt so much, so I put those childrens feet in a pan of cold water. Cold water is good for frozen feet. And let them just sit next to the fire, next to the stove - we had a jacket furnace type of stove. I wrapped their feet in my coat, they were so cold, and had so little.
One day I recall the other teacher in the school came in and said, Have you ever seen a head louse?I said, No, but if there is any around, I want to see one.Well, she said there is a little girl in my room and something is crawling on her head. So I went in to see her, and sure enough lice were just crawling all over that little girl's head. So we dismissed school, but first we examined all of the childrens heads, and sent them home with notes. There were quite a few of them that had head lice. Well, coal oil is a pretty good remedy, and that's what parents use on their children's heads. Those children where we found the head lice came back to school the next day with their heads almost shaved. Their hair cut just as short as it could be.
Well, it's quite a life, an old country school teacher. You have to watch 'em. There might be a group of good-sized girls that you'd better look out for. Or boys. You'd better watch them everywhere, even in the old outdoor toilets. See, that's all we used to have. I'd make the boys scrub and clean up, rub the ugly, nasty words off the walls.
Q: Did you room with a local family?
A: Yes, you were there the whole week, including Sunday or Saturday.
Q: You couldn't go home for the weekend?
A: No way, it was just too far, and it's unbelievable to remember how bad roads were. Roads that nowadays you would just zip over, were back then just mudholes. Wagons would get stuck, horses would get stuck. The drivers would whip those horses and try their best to get out of those mudholes. Sometimes they would just be there all day.
Q: Were any of your sisters school teachers?
A: There were three of us girls, before there were any boys. One sister taught school for eleven years. And the one that lives in Huntsville, Missouri, Florence, taught for twenty years, so she gets a pretty nice pension. They had to teach 20 years in order to get a pension. You had to teach 20 years in order to retire and receive a pension. But you had to pay into that. It became a law July 1st, 1917 that every teacher had to pay into that pension fund. Of course, it didn't cost much. I think it was a dollar a month, and then it gradually increased, then it was more, as time slipped by. But my sister paid in, and finally it got.
Q: Were there four year high schools I Pike county?
A: Yes, there was two year high school in Rockport. So when you finished there, you could go on to Pittsfield where there was a 4 year high school. I think Pleasant Hill had a four year high school.
Q: Why did you go to Macomb for study?
A: It was called a Normal school then. It is now a university [Western Illinois University]. I went there or two summers because it became compulsory for teachers to have more training. When I went there in 1921, I think, there were 600 students. We had to board out wherever we could find a place.
The first summer I was there, I boarded in a home. I had breakfast there and she fixed our lunch. She'd make us bean sandwiches with oleo that wasn't colored, looked just like lard. And here we were paying a pretty good price for board. But anyway we got our bean sandwiches, and I guess it wasn't too bad. We got along all right. Some of the boys boarding there wanted fried potatoes for breakfast, but she wouldn't fry potatoes for breakfast, so they left, and found a place where they could get their friend potatoes. [laughter]
If you were lucky, there was one place on the campus, [Caroline] Grote Hall, where students could stay. If you got in early enough you might get a room, and get to board in the school. We did eat in the cafeteria, just the noon day meal, the second summer I was there.
Q: What courses did you take?
A: I had History and English, those were my favorites. I also had Geography, and took the writing in my spare time.
When I was up there, there was a man that was a professor at Macomb there whom I had known in grade school in Pike County: D.P. Haas [sp?] had been the county superintendent in Pittsfield, and he'd visit the grade schools [in Pike County], so I knew him. I was in his class, a social education course, social science, or something like that. Anyhow, he was sitting on his porch one evening in Macomb, and I was walking by with another friend. He called me over, and said, I felt you didn't understand this morning really what we were talking about. So he had me come up on the porch and sit down and talk to him. And that helped so much. I just felt sure I wouldn't pass that course. It was difficult. I remember sitting in the study room one day, while he was grading our papers. He started to frown, and I thought, Oh, he must be grading my paper. But, you know, I got an A minus credit on that paper. So I never did get anything lower than a B minus, I think. I maybe got a B minus on one paper.
Q: Did you teach school after you married?
A: When your dad became six years old [in 1930] I just had to go back and teach. I just had to teach school at any cost. Your grandfather was patient about it. He had more patience that I deserved. So it was all right with him. And I started out in the fall into the countryside, and I talked to directors, but they were against married women teaching.
There was an abundance of teachers at that time so it was pretty hard for a married woman. And directors told us frankly that we just don't believe in married women teaching school. There were too many young single women that would take the jobs. But nowadays here in Quincy 95% of the women teachers are married. At that time they thought married women had other means of livelihood, husbands to take care of them, so they didn't need a job, shouldn't take up a job.
So I came home worn out, glad enough to give it up. So I never did try to find a teaching job again.
Q: Tell me about how you tutored children.
A: I did in Pittsfield quite a bit. I spent hours with some of them. Usually they could go right on in the next grade. The tutoring was to help them to go on instead of having them stay in the same grade. I've tutored children here in Quincy, too, and I'll say to this day that you can take a child, sit down with them alone, and do more for him than you can in a school room, where he's nervous, if he's that type of person. Sometimes they just need a little more attention than they get in the classroom.
The Quincy schools paid me a nice piece of money to tutor. One girl had rheumatic fever, and could not go back to school in the fall. She needed a tutor, since she couldn't go back to school with fever. So I went to her home and spent hours with her. When she went back to school eventually, she just started right in, never lost a minute. Nowadays Quincy College sends out young men and women to tutor. They can get someone to help from the college. But back 30 years ago, they had to have someone like me. I had my teaching certificate, I kept it for 50 years.
I had one little girl she was so nervous she just couldn't get anywhere. So I spent a good many hours with her. And there was a boy that needed a little help just in one subject, and he didn't want anyone to know that he was having extra help. He came here without anyone knowing. And he got along fine.
I had one other boy that couldn't even read his own name, Jeff. I taught him to learn to read. They need it so badly, to learn to read and spell. Reading and spelling are two things that are sadly lacking. I believe I spent 30 hours with him one summer. Well, he went on and I believe he graduated from high school.
Q: Did you go to church with your family every week?
A: The only church near us, in New Hartford, was the Christian Church. My mother was a hard shell Baptist, and had no use for the Christian Church. When I became interested in going to the Christian Church, really interested, my mother said, Don't you try to get Florence interested, too!But my sister and I, and maybe some of the others, attended church services there.
Now my father was a hard-shell Baptist, he'd sometimes go over to the Black Oak Church, which was one of those old kinds. But he would also go to the Christian church when there was a revival or some sort of special service. He never saw a Campbellite preacher that would keep him awake, but he'd go occasionally, though my mother never would. We lived a pretty good Christian life, in any case. We had prayers at meal times, and read our Bibles. We had a good spiritual upbringing.
So my sister and I started to Sunday school at the Christian Church. I think I was thirteen before I ever saw the inside of a church. My mother thought we had to be dressed up to go anywhere, and good clothes were hard to afford. We didn't always have what she thought we should wear. But then, in country churches, kids are criticized. Well, it was surprising, the well-dressed people you could find in that small country church. So my mother could never think that we were dressed well enough. My mother felt that we had to have the nicest of clothes. She did not think she could send us to Sunday school until we had them. But finally finally when I was about 12 or 13 year sold, she let us go to Sunday school.
We had to walk a mile to the New Hartford Christian church. We were both baptized there, my sister, Florence, and I.
Q: You were not baptized as an infant?
A: No, the Christian Church and the Baptist churches don't baptize infants. As far as I know, the evangelical churches, the Methodist churches, do.
Q: What were the church services like?
A: A lot of brimstone! It could get mighty warm in there! [laughter]
And that church was well-filled. There was plenty of people in the community that attended that new Hartford Christian Church. There were also several weeks of evangelistic meetings, revivals
When that church was organized I have a history on it there was a good strong Methodist Church in new Hartford, and they were opposed, very much opposed, to the Christian Church being organized. And it was a rainy day once, and the Christian Church people were not allowed into the Methodist church, they would not let them in out of the rain. And then there was a hot summer day that they were trying to get together. But the Methodists said, Let 'em stay out, they are too green to burn! Well there were the two churches for a long time, and I guess they got along all right, but now there is just the one church, the Christian Church. My son, Joe, was baptized in the First Christian Church in Pittsfield.
Q: Was there music in the services.
A: Oh, yes. And an organ, though not a pipe organ. There were no pianos.
Q: What were the hymns you sang?
A: Same as we sing now: Old Rugged Cross Take Time to Be Holy, How Great Thou Art