Saturday, November 14, 2015

School Days Story - Select, Ohio County


Part of Oral History Interview
With my Grandmother, Eva (Smith) Cox
1889 - 1988
November 7, 1976 audio tape
Oral histories are stories that living individuals tell about their past, or about the past of other people.   It was not until the late 1960's when I had become hooked on genealogy that I realized how important it was to preserve oral history with my family members.  It finally dawned on me that all the old family stories being told around my grandmother’s dining table were a critical first phase of genealogical research and data preservation, and so I bought a tape recorder and always took it to my grandmother’s house and to my parents when I visited them. 

In my grandmother’s day, children attended school in between helping make crops on the farm – sometimes going only three or four months at a time.  Grandmother attended Bunker Hill school – a one room framed school house where several grades were taught.  At some point, both she and my grandfather attended a school at Select.

Most of the time the Smith children walked to school about two miles from their home.  Sometimes when the weather was rainy and cold, they went in the buggy, or else stayed at home.  Once in a while her brothers rode their horse.  They carried sandwiches for lunch in syrup buckets most of the time.

School usually started about eight o’clock and lasted until about four o’clock.  Every morning after the teacher rang the school bell, the day began with the Pledge of Allegiance, as the students stood beside their desks facing the flag and reciting.  Lessons included reading, spelling, arithmetic, grammar, penmanship and geography.

When my grandmother first started to school, the first step was to learn the alphabet.  Spelling and reading came next.  Then they learned to print – writing came later.  Number work came soon and it was a terrifying experience to have to stand up at the blackboard to do a sum before all those watching eyes.

Teachers often boarded in homes of residents near the school.

Grandmother remembered that she was punished once because she had her feet out in the aisle and the teacher told her to put her feet under her desk and keep them there.  When she forgot, Mr. Birch Shields, her teacher at the time, made her stand up and hold out her hand, whereupon he applied a wooden ruler to the palm of her hand.  It really embarrassed her.  There were strict rules of behavior in the classroom and punishment for infringement thereof.


One day while some of the family was sitting around my grandmother’s dining table, discussing old times in Ohio County, Kentucky, my aunt, asked my grandmother to tell us about her school days and teachers, and she told the following little stories: “Oh, tell us about your school days at Select and the story about Aunt Ella.”

Grandmother:  “Oh, my goodness, I don’t want to go into that.  Oh, they had teachers down there and everyone they got – the kids were so mean they ran them off.  And they finally got one teacher – his name was Mr. Floyd.  He was tall and had coal-black hair, and dark eyes, and teeth about that long. (Measuring, laughing.) And I’m telling you, when he got there, he told them that he had come to teach that school and they were going to mind him, and he meant it.  And it was grown girls and boys at that day and age.  And he give orders.  And that little clock set up on that table, and you could hear that clock tick all the time.  And that man could make noise…I’m telling you!  That man would pop his teeth and you’d think he was going to break them.  (Laughing.)  Oh, he was strict.  But he went on…he came back and finished that school out; he came back and taught another school.  And us kids then were just about grown.

“In that day and time, they had platforms, and the blackboard was across the front of the room, and it had two long benches, on this side and on that side.  And you had to stand up to read.  Or, if it was arithmetic, you had to go to the blackboard.  Well, Ella was reading, and Ella couldn’t read too good, I reckon…she couldn’t pronounce her words too good, and the teacher got to mocking her.  She just dropped that book and she just looked at him.  He told her to go on reading.  Ella just looked at him, and she said, “I’ll read when you quit mocking me.”

“And he had a cane and he would always pop it real loud on that bench.  And she was standing right up to him, too.  And Mr. Shields – that was your Aunt Evelyn’s husband, he was a teacher and he just happened to be there visiting.  And he got up and….he always loved Ella…always thought a lot of her when she was his size…and he told her, “You can read – go on.”  And he talked to her and got her to go on.  But Ella wasn’t going to do it.  And Mr. Floyd (or maybe she said Mr. Lloyd) told her, “Go on and read like I told you to.”  And she would start and he would start mocking her.  And she just dropped that book.  But Mr. Birch Shields smoothed things over and she read.  (Ella was two years younger than my grandmother.)

“Then one time I got into it for putting my foot in the aisle.  And he told me not to, but I forgot and did it again.  And he came over across my legs like that with his cane.  I thought I was killed.  (Laughing.)  I never put my feet out like that again.  He told me to keep them under my desk, but I just forgot; I didn’t do it on purpose.  I was studying my lesson, and “whack,” he taken me.

“Now Mr. Shields, he was a good teacher.  But when he got the headache, you’d better look out.  He was strict.”

 “Tell us which teacher it was who made Granddaddy march around that stove at school.”

Grandmother:  “I’m not for sure, but it seems to me like it was Birch Shields.”
 “And why did he make him march around it?  Because he had done something?”

Grandmother:  “I don’t remember that.”

(My dad took up the story):  “He put a little coal in the stove, just to be moving around and getting up…to get attention.  But it didn’t need any.  And the teacher told him if he was cold, to sit down by the stove.  And so he sat down by the stove.  And of course it got hot.  So the teacher told him, “Put a little more coal in the stove.  And just march around the stove.”  And then he told him to put a little more coal in.  And of course the stove got hotter and hotter.  And Daddy said in a little while, that stove was red hot.  And he would let him make about two rounds and tell him to put a little more in. And keep marching. It taught him a lesson.”

Tell about the fascinators you wore to school.

Grandmother:  “Oh, yes, in that time, they called them a fascinator.  They were pink and blue and white.  You could buy any color you wanted, and put them over your head and tied them under each end and keep you warm.  And they were pretty, too.  The rest of the year, the girls all wore bonnets.  We had pretty percale bonnets that mother made.  Red, blue and different colors.  Mother made our dresses and slips.  She had a sewing machine and loved to sew.  We bought our shoes at Beaver Dam – went to town in a wagon. “

Now tell about Auntie fighting at Bunker Hill when you started home from school. (Auntie” was my grandmother’s older sister, Mary Elizabeth Smith, called “Lizzie”, who later married Earnest Everett Sandefur).

Grandmother:  (Laughter).  “Well, I was quite small and Auntie was four years older than me.  But from the time we got out of school after we had started home, and there was boys and girls all the way, and they would have a fight.  They chunked at each other, playing, you know.  Not really fighting…just scuffling.  And I think they called it the battle of Bunker Hill.  Auntie would pull off her fascinator and that’s where they would have their last battle on their way home.  They would get her fascinator and throw it up in the trees…so it would catch up in the trees. 

There were three roads and they turned one way and we turned the other.  And she would get their cap - and no telling what she did do with that – probably went higher than the tree, knowing Auntie - (her sister Mary Elizabeth ).”

Jerri:  Where did you go to buy your shoes and clothes when you got ready to go to school?” 

Grandmother:   “Beaver Dam.  Most of the time.  But they had a good store at Select.  They had shoes there, and grocery stores, post office, and a drugstore.”


Class in front of Bunker Hill School in Ohio County, November 5, 1909. Photo by Schroeter, contributed to An Ohio River Portrait Collection by Carmen Kittinger. KHS Collections.

Bunker Hill School where the Smith children went to school.  One of my Grandmother’s teachers was Birch Shields, who later married my grandfather’s sister, Martha Evelyn Cox, daughter of James William Cox and Mary Elizabeth (Mitchell).

~ Contributed by Janice Brown

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