Hampton's Old District Schools -- Part 3
By Anna May Cole
(Reprinted in Hampton Union-- June 1972)
Having recently graduated from the Salem Normal School, she had new ideas and ability to interest her pupils. She taught besides the usual writing, reading, spelling, grammar, geography, and U. S. History, a little physiology, English history and botany.
In arithmetic, she did not assign a definite number of problems, but told us to work as many as we could.
My chum, Georgia Brown Coffin and I worked hard to beat the rest of the class.
Georgia would say, "We must do one more so as to beat that hateful Melzer Dunbar! He thinks he is smart." He must have been smart for he sometimes beat us, for Miss Perkins let us sit together to study and we were two against one.
Being so busy in making us like to learn, perhaps she was not a good disciplinarian. Horace M. Lane, the school superintendent, thought so and put Flora Taylor in her place.
She had been to the Normal School since teaching the primary school, was a good teacher and a thoroughly lovable woman.
We resented not having Miss Perkins, and especially so because it was well known Mr. Lane was in love with Miss Taylor. Rank favoritism! So we set out to make her miserable by deliberate disorder.
Some of you remember her as Mrs. Horace Lane and her kind ways which made her so lovable. In looking back, I have always been sorry for my part in what the gang did to make her unhappy. She only stayed one term.
When I left the grammar school in 1880, it was to go with others from Hampton to the Putnam School in Newburyport. The (Hampton) Academy was closed for over two years for lack of enough tuition money to pay a teacher. The last teacher I had in the grammar school was Lydia Watson, who later married Serval Dow.
I am going to name the school customs of early days. Of a few, some of you will say, "I remember that!"
We bought our own books, including a Bible or Testament, and our desk supplies. School opened in Miss Perkins day with singing, Bible reading, either in concert or by each one reading verse. Miss Perkins said in regard to repeating the Lord's Prayer which follows: "In repeating it together, you must say it alike. We will use the prayer in the sixth chapter of Matthew. Notice it begins, 'Our Father which art in heaven', not 'who art' and 'thy kingdom come in earth', not, 'on earth'."
Since we owned our books and passed them down from the older to the younger ones in the family, they were carefully covered to make them last longer. Paper was scarce and written work was done on slates.
As the wooden frames made a clatter against the wooden desks, we were required to have woolen covers sewed over the frames to deaden the sound. To clean the slates, each kept in her desk a bottle of water and a little sponge or a rag.
Sometimes the water bottle was empty and then you may know what happened. Wasn't it dreadful to spit on the slate?!
Drinking water was brought by two boys carrying the pail between them from the Baptist parsonage. After recess, the water was passed by the girls going from seat to seat, all drinking from the same big dipper. "Teacher, please may I pass the water?" shows it was thought to be a favor.
In winter, a boy was hired to run the big coal stove which had to be filled after ten at night and before six in the morning. In summer, the boys brought wood from the cellar and the teacher tended the fire. The girls' task was to take turns in sweeping the rooms and stairs, sometimes at noon, sometimes after school at night.
You have heard the phrase, "They will have to toe the line". I recall an instance of it. For recitations, the classes stood in front of the teacher's desk in a straight line with toes at a crack in the floor. We had a teacher, Eugene Emery, whom we disliked and spoke of as "old red headed Emery". Once he was seated on the platform with his chair tilted back against the wall. One leg was too near the edge, slipped off and the red headed teacher went headlong. Every one laughed, not in simple amusement, but, also with pleasure.
One day there was a class standing for recitations, toeing the line in front of the desk. Mr. Emery noticed one girl was leaning against her neighbor. He touched her lightly with his rattan stick to remind her to stand straight. She immediately fell to the floor in a faint. Wasn't he scared! We were glad he was, but it turned out that the girl, Mamie Lane, had not fainted because the stick touched her, but had been leaning on the next girl because she felt faint.
Why we disliked Eugene Emery, I do not know, he was a Dartmouth man and later principal of a large academy in Vermont. It may be he was put in as teacher to straighten us out after we had been so hateful to Flora Taylor.
It would take too much time to touch on the other district schools or the Academy. There may be errors in these recollections.