School Had Financial Problems

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

Sunday, February 18, 1912:  Went to Sunday School this afternoon. The roads are rather muddy. Went over to see Carrie this afternoon. I mean I went to Sunday School this morning. I wonder what will happen tomorrow at school I just wonder if Mr. Forest Dunkel (that’s his name) is going to be stern and terrible.

Grandma would have walked down this road to church--EXCEPT in those days it wasn't paved.

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

Forest Dunkel was going to be the new teacher at McEwensville High School. The previous teacher had quit mid-year.

As I told you several days ago, McEwensville School had a difficult time keeping teachers because of the low teacher salary. Here’s a little more information about the school’s financial problems:

Sometimes the school board was unable to pay the teachers at the appropriate time and could do so only when there was again enough money in the treasury. The McEwensville school board had difficulty collecting tuitions due from the directors for pupils attending from Delaware Township. At one time McEwensville even considered going to court to collect these monies, but concluded that it would not be worth the legal expense involved.

The History of the McEwensville Schools (2000)  by Thomas Kramm

Grandma’s family lived in Delaware Township, so she would have been one of the students that the school was having difficulty getting the township to pay for in a timely manner.

Carrie Stout was a friend of Grandma’s who lived on a nearby farm.

High Teacher Turnover

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

Friday, February 16, 1912: And this is the last day of that wonderful teacher of ours. I wonder how he felt this afternoon. I expected he would give some kind of an address, but he didn’t. Oh well, I don’t think I’ll be sorry of his leaving if the next one comes up to the average.  

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

Grandma wrote the previous Friday that her old teacher was staying for one more week.

I learned a little more about the mid-year change in teachers in the  History of the McEwensville Schools by Thomas Kramm:

. . . The high teacher turnover rate, especially in the high school prior to 1916, resulted in a new teacher almost every year. At least one teacher, and perhaps more, would not return to teach the following school year because the school board refused to increase the teacher’s salary. Although it did not occur often, when a teacher resigned in mid-term it was sometimes a challenge to find a replacement. During the 1911-12 school year, when high school teacher Howard Northrop wanted to resign mid-term, his resignation was not permitted until he personally recruited his own replacement.

Whew, it doesn’t sound like the school board did much vetting of teachers. Hopefully the new teacher will be good.

Rural “Mass Transit” a Hundred Years Ago

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

Saturday, January 20, 1912: Ruth and I went to Milton this afternoon. We both had our pictures taken. I hope mine won’t be any bigger than what I am, but I won’t know for a whole week yet.

Old postcard of South Front Street, Milton. (Source: Milton Historical Society, Used with permission.)

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

Sounds like Grandma was worried that she’d look heavy in the photo. I wonder if she’d gained weight over the holiday season.

The Muffly farm is about 6 miles from Milton—but the sisters probably used “mass transit” to get there.

Ruth and Grandma probably walked the two miles to Watsontown—or  maybe they took the train to Watsontown. (There was a whistle-stop for the Susquehanna Bloomsburg and Berwick Railroad at Truckenmiller’s Feed Mill which was located near their farm.) Once the sisters got to Watsontown they would have taken the trolley from Watsontown to Milton.

It amazes me how many transportation options were available in a relatively remote area of Pennsylvania a hundred years ago. And, how trolleys and passenger rail service vanished a little later in the 20th century as automobile ownership proliferated.

Origins of Fire Prevention Week

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

Wednesday, November 15, 1911: There was a fire near Watsontown about noon or a little afterwards. Four of the boys took the afternoon off and hurried away to find out the happenings. Tomorrow they have some work to do. I wouldn’t like to be they, for part of what they have to do is rather difficult.

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

A hundred years ago devastating fires occurred much more frequently than they do today.  Fire codes often were non-existent—and when they did exist they were less stringent than today.

Many homes and businesses were heated with wood or coal stoves, and if the chimneys weren’t cleaned properly, creosote could build up and catch fire.  And, when a fire occurred, it took longer for firefighters to arrive on the scene—and the firefighting equipment they used had many limitations.

"New" buildings in downtown Milton. These buildings were built after the Great Milton Fire of 1880.

People in towns and cities across the US had memories of  “Great Fires.” For example, in the diary Grandma often mentioned shopping in nearby Milton.  There had been a horrible fire that burned most of Milton on May 14, 1880, so when Grandma went shopping she would have been going into “modern” buildings  that were  only about 30 years old. Her parents and other adults would have remembered the fire–and probably told stories about its devastation.

George Venios in Chronicles and Legends of Milton described the Great Milton Fire:

At fifteen minutes before twelve o’clock the steam whistles at the Milton Car Works began to sound frantically but since it was so near to the noon lunch hour, few noticed the importance of the distress signal. A man on horseback charged down Broadway screaming over and over from the top of his lungs for all to hear–”FIRE! — FIRE AT THE CAR WORKS!” . . .

The fire spread rapidly . . . Buildings were crashing and burning like kindling. . .

In less than four hours, almost all of Milton was decimated. Nearly 125 acres burned, consuming 625 buildings . . . Over 3,000 people were left homeless.

So many disastrous fires occurred across the U.S. a hundred years ago, that there was even discussion of creating another holiday called Fire Prevention Day. According to the November 11, 1911 issue of The Youth’s Companion magazine:

Fire-Prevention Day

Shall we give ourselves another holiday? The suggestion is made that we take October 9th, the date of the great Chicago fire, and, in spite of its nearness to Columbus day, observe it as Fire-Prevention Day.

That course is urged by Governor Hadley of Missouri, prompted, perhaps, by the burning last winter of the Capitol at Jefferson City with many priceless records. It was urged also by the National Fire Marshals’ Association in convention in Albany, New York, where also the state Capitol was recently damaged by fire. . .

If a day could be given to cleaning up waste places, to inspecting danger spots, to punishing those who violate the building laws, to having fire-drills in schools and factories, to installing and testing fire-fighting devices, and in general, to stimulating a keener sense of the waste of fire, it would be so valuable a holiday that it might well be made monthly, rather than yearly.

But would another holiday, whatever its name, be so usefully employed?

It’s awesome  that there was interest in creating a holiday that would be dedicated to the public good a hundred years ago.

Fire Prevention Day never became a national holiday, but the idea eventually later morphed into Fire Prevention Week. In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first Fire Prevention Week.

Now the National Fire Protection Association sponsors National Protection Week each year. It  is held during the week that contains October 9 (the date of the Great Chicago Fire).  During that week schools often have activities about fire prevention, the media publishes safety tips, fire stations hold open houses, and so on.

Pull the Blinds–There’s a Burial in the Cemetery

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

Tuesday, September 26, 1911:  Was in doubts and fears as to how Mollie would act when I commenced to milk her. Pop milked her last night, but I had to do it after that, so I got up early this morning, resolving to come off conquering and I did. Hurrah. She didn’t kick.

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

The calf of Grandma’s cow Mollie was sold the previous day. It sounds like Mollie is adjusting to the change.

The previous day’s issue of the Milton Evening Standard had a front page article about the death of John Sheep, the grandfather of Grandma’s friend Helen  “Tweet” Wesner.  It says that Mr. Sheep died at his home after a long illness.

Milton Evening Standard (September 25, 1911)

I wonder if Tweet was upset—though I suppose that she probably was expecting it.

The article indicates that Mr. Sheep was buried on this date in the cemetery next to the McEwensville school.

My father says that when he was a child attending this same school that the classroom blinds were always drawn whenever there was an interment to keep the children from getting upset. It probably was the same a generation earlier when Grandma was a student.

The brick building in the background once housed McEwensville School.

It seems like it would be equally upsetting to know why the blinds had been drawn but not be allowed to see it—but I guess that people handled death differently back then.

In many ways death was closer to people a hundred years ago. Most people died at home —yet the community apparently tried to protect children from death by doing things like pulling the blinds.

Rode Ferris Wheel

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

Thursday, September 21, 1911: Went to the Fair today with Miss Carrie of course. We took a ride on the Ferris Wheel (a thing I was never on before) and a ride on the Curling Wave. Saw a good many people I knew and more that I didn’t know. I got rather tired walking around all afternoon and sot such a thumping headache. Got home about six o’clock and then had to do all the milking as Ruthie hadn’t yet made her arrival.

The Ferris Wheel at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 (Photo Source: Wikipedia)

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

Grandma and her friend Carrie Stout went to the Milton Fair. According to yesterday’s entry McEwensville High School gave the students the day off to attend the fair.

The rides sound exciting. I checked Wikipedia and discovered that the first Ferris Wheel was at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. It was invented by a bridge builder named George Ferris, and manufactured by Bethlehem Steel in Pittsburgh.

I was somewhat surprised that a fair in central Pennsylvania would have a Ferris Wheel only 18 years after very first Ferris Wheel was created. I imagined that new technology once diffused more slowly than it does today. But I guess that 18 years was a long time—both then and now.

I asked my father about the Milton Fair. He cannot remember there ever being a fair at Milton, but says that when he was young, people called the area on both sides Route 405 near the Arrowhead Restaurant “the fairgrounds”.

School Boards a Hundred Years Ago

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

Tuesday, September 19, 1911: Thought this would be the last day for our substitute, but afterwards learned that he is going to teach tomorrow instead of having it off for the fair.

Recent photo of building that once housed McEwensville School.

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

It sounds as if the teacher had the option of deciding whether to give students the day off to attend the fair in nearby Milton.

I don’t know why there was a substitute teacher for the first several weeks of the school year (the teacher from the previous year was slated to return the following week) — but Thomas Kramm, in his History of McEwensville Schools, wrote:

The election of a teacher from the available candidates sometimes became a serious problem. In 1901, a sixth ballot was required to break the previous five tie ballots. In 1904, seven ballots did not results in the an election of a teacher. All candidates were rejected, and a slate of new applicants was considered. Just before school was to start, the eight ballot resulted in an election. This suggestions that there were probably power struggles within the board membership.

. . . At least one teacher and perhaps more would not return to teach the following year because the school board refused to increase the teacher’s salary.

Throughout the United States in 1911 there were more school board members than teachers. This had both advantages and disadvantages.

For example, in McEwensville there were two teachers (an elementary and a high school teacher)–yet there probably were either 4 or 6 members on the board.

The community was very involved in ensuring that the schools were high quality and met the needs of the community–but they also sometimes micromanaged the schools and perhaps didn’t always make decisions in the best interest of the students (as suggested by the quote above).

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