No Show: Important School Visitor

15-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Friday, February 10, 1911: We were expecting an important visitor at school today, so some of us swept the school room and washed the black boards, but it was all in vain. He didn’t come. I don’t suppose the teacher cared. He wouldn’t have to do any sweeping this time.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

It is unclear from Grandma’s diary entry who the anticipated important visitor was. My guess is that it was the Northumberland Country Superintendent of Schools.

There was a movement to improve the quality of rural schools in the early 1900s. And many counties installed a county superintendent who was charged with monitoring, evaluating, and improving schools. The county superintendent—and in this era the superintendent would have always been a he—made regular rounds of the schools, and was given the role of inspecting schools and evaluating teachers.

Another possibility is that the anticipated important visitor might have been a school board member. Then, as now, elected boards governed the schools. Amazingly in 1911 there were more school board members in the United States than there were teachers. Across the country many rural schools employed only one or two teachers—yet the typical school board contained 4-6 members. For better or worse the level of community involvement in schools was truly amazing a hundred years ago. (As a strong proponent of parental involvement in schools, I tend to believe it was for the better).

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