Thursday, April 28, 2016

E. L. Moore and The Schoolmarm

I recently came across an unpublished manuscript of E. L. Moore’s on how to build an old one-room school house titled, naturally enough, Village School, that he wrote in 1961. I saw this model at last year’s meet-up and posted pictures here.

One of the article’s more humorous passages deals with how he found and ‘built’ a schoolmarm figure for the model.

I was in a first class quandry [sic] at the prospect of finding and hiring a schoolmarm. In fact, except for Mrs. Spumoni, I didn’t have a prospect. Even so, I gave Mrs. Spumoni the brushoff. Then I met up with this good looking red-headed dame who was either going to, or coming from a dip in the lake. When I broached the idea of teaching she exclaimed: “But really, I haven’t a stitch to wear!” I’ve heard that line handed out before, but she was really convincing. However I airily promised to remedy the inadequacy of her wardrobe. (I did, too, as you can see, with some tissue spotted with blue ink, and some blue thread for a belt).

“Now about the salary,” I began, bearing in mind that $30 a month, in view of rising costs, was not exactly generous. So I proposed $35. I was quite unprepared when she threw up her hands -- er, well not her hands, but she did throw up her voice. “What?” she screamed, “with the Governor of North Carolina slapping on a food tax to raise sixty million for education, you want I should teach eight grades of runny nosed brats for a lousy $35?”

“I apologize,” I said hastily. “Let’s bargain.” So we did, and she compromised for $350. And that’s how I got a teacher.

All this talk of schoolmarms pushed the old memories button. My grandmother was also a teacher in a one-room school house. She was born in 1902, and was more-or-less in the same generation as E. L. Moore: he was born in 1898. And like him, she was born and raised on a farm. 
[Part of her classes in zoology involved learning about and identifying local songbirds, and proficiency required at least being able to make rudimentary drawings of the various species. These are just a couple of pages from her copious science notes taken during teacher training.]

She was an excellent student and went to the Toronto Normal School in 1920 to take teacher training. She graduated in 1921, and soon returned to the country at the ripe old age of 19 to teach grades 1 through 8 in a one-room school. Some of her pupils were 16 year old farm boys, so it must have been interesting times. In E.L. Moore’s model he notes all the pupils are girls, so his schoolmarm had a very different demographic to deal with :-) My grandmother’s teaching career didn’t last long. Turns out the gentleman who eventually would become my grandfather had moved into the area and was working on a nearby farm. They were married in 1923 and she gave up teaching.

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