- The First Seventy-five Years in the Sanborn Community (1878-1953) -
School Days Franklin No. 9
By Nina Mitchell Manley
Franklin No. 9 was the Mitchell school, so-called. My uncle, John P. Mitchell was the director of this school for many years, and the teacher usually boarded with my Uncle John and Aunt May. This school was not far from my old home, the Wally Mitchell place, but across the road, so not in immediate proximity to either of the Mitchell farms.
I believe I am right in saying that the Mitchell school had quite a bad reputation about the turn of the century, and there were times when no teacher wanted to tackle it; but this condition prevailed in many of the large rural schools of the earlier days, and was probably partly due to the long-continued attendance of older boys, grown men in fact, who never completed the eighth grade, but who went to school during the winter months only, and stayed at home in fall and spring to help with the farm work. Thus they were in school spasmodically until they reached the age of twenty years or more; and when a dozen or two of these husky country lads were bottled up in a crowded little schoolroom, a riot was bound to result.
Memory is defective, and many of the names of the older pupils who attended our school have left my mind completely. I believe the Jackson boys, Homer and Harlan, went for a while, but soon went to town to school; I recall the names Telcamp and Oldenkamp. There were six Mindens, three boys and three girls. Della was my special pal, though she must have been 16 or 18 an I was 6 or 7. We sat together in one of those old double seats with desk-top which raised on a hinge, and made a good cover-up for mischief. Della and I spent hours polishing our gold (?)rings on our aprons, exchanging rings, giggling and whispering.
Nellie Kennedy was in the beginners’ class with me; we were only five years old, so would be excused early, and roamed the school-yard looking for wild flowers. When we spied one, the competition was terrific, and the race to get it resulted in a tie and two bumped heads.
The Leemkuils lived on the Geo. Andringa place, and about six or seven of them must have been in school. John might have been too old, but I am quite sure of Herman, Ed, George, Harry Minnie, Anna and Margaret or Maggie. (Their mother made the best bread I ever tasted, and we would trade cake for it any day). Harry, as a beginner, stood up in his seat and told the teacher, “You can boss me not!” I remember Ed and George the best, as they were nearer my age. I remember the Seatons, my cousin Bert, the Gorgans, and later, the Cains, Johnsons, the Merchants, the Ed Burns family, the Mack Taylors, the V.S. Daniels family, the Boyer girls, the Pratts and Clarks. I remember Alice Carpenter Burns vaguely, hoping she’s miss a word in a spell-down so I could spell it. We had little spell-downs on Friday afternoons, and big neighborhood spelling bees on winter evenings, but I was seldom chosen to take part in the latter, as I was too young. We had basket-socials too but mostly before I was old enough to take part. The proceeds were used to buy library books, which suited me fine. We had drills in school to help us learn our tables, and “ciphered down” on Fridays also to gain speed in adding and subtracting. Some times, for “opening exercises “ we gave quotations. I liked that. My mother had some old books which contained many usable quotations, and we would comb them carefully. I remember Ed Leemkuil coming up with this, “The man who blushes is not quite a brute”, and was his face red as he gave it amid applause.
We had no water supply at the school, so it was a coveted privilege to be allowed to go after water to one or another of the homes. Often the recess or noon hour was too short, and those who went came back late. (It didn’t bother them much to miss an hour of school). Everyone would be thirsty, hands wave, “May I pass the water?” and someone not in class would pass pail and dipper around. There was little worry about germs, though I can remember that some tots dripped disgustingly over the pail. The germs must have been benign, for most of us were healthy, I think. We had to be, for the life was rugged. Long walks to school, inadequate lunches often frozen solid on winter days, no good galoshes or footwear; even so, we had great fun romping in snowbanks, snowballing, etc. In the spring and fall we went barefoot, until we got too big.
“Pullaway” was one of our favorite games, or sometimes wood tag, and other tag games. There was little organization to the play. Those big boys were fearfully rough. They would take the fire out of the stove and hurl it in a snowbank to hear it sizzle. Hall doors stood open, the blackboards spotted with melting snowballs. (The teacher was usually the target). The room was a shambles when the bell rang. The younger children’s feet were freezing. Sometimes all hands adjourned, we went to the ice and skated all day (until our parents found us out). The teacher was probably relieved to have peace and quiet. Sometimes the games changed, we would stay indoors during the intermissions; we played pussy-wants-a-corner and such, invariably leading to much scuffling and rough horse-play by the older boys. Sometimes the boys ran on top of desks, jumping the aisles a la Eliza. The little ones had to keep out of the way or get hurt. Sometimes the big boys felt romantic and began indiscriminate kissing, the girls responding with scratching, kicking and biting. It was commonplace to get a hasty kiss in class, while the teacher happened to be looking elsewhere. Remember, Ed? (And this is letting you off easy.) My braids were much abused. I was constantly hauled around by them, or tied to a desk, or they were stuck in the inkwell by the boy behind me, and then flung around in my face.
In the very early days, the older ones brought pails of coffee to school and at morning recess would set them on the big heating stove to warm; the coffee would soon start simmering, and a tight can would “blow its top” and scatter scalding coffee all over the room, and sometimes us.
I can barely remember our first County Superintendent, Nellie Jones. She brought us a big wooden box of books, and made a little speech about reading. She hoped by the time she came again that each of us would be able to say we had read on book, as she held up one long finger. By that time, I was quite a book fiend, so felt confident I’d do better than that, once we got the lid off the box. If we had some of those books today they would be priceless, the Alger books, “Sink or Swim”, “Strive and Succeed”, and many, many more. After Miss Jones cam J.J. Billingsly. He didn’t discuss reading; his theme was invariably the condition of the “privies”, and their condition was always bad. Years later, when I was teaching, and he was still the Superintendent, it was always the same theme, same speech.
I remember several of the teachers. I thought Miss Wientz was my first teacher, but have been corrected on that, and was it Carrie or Hulda who taught there? I recall Myrtle Lloyd, Miss Henderson, Myrtle Sloan, Bea Downs, a Miss Perkins, and Jessie Mullins. Jessie Mullins was from Sheldon, I think; she could draw anything, and we all loved the beautiful pictures she made on the blackboard with colored chalk, ladies in trailing pale-green dresses, and what-not. We all learned more about drawing and “art” during her short term than from all our other teachers together. And we loved her so much she had to chase us home every night.
At Easter time one year, the teacher colored eggs, and brought them to school in grape baskets. She set the baskets on her desk and told each pupil to come up and take and egg. There were goose and duck eggs, as well as hen eggs, but the larger pupils who went up first chose the big eggs, of course, so by the time the little ones went up, only plain old hen eggs were left. Well I remember my sinking heart as I saw all those big beautiful eggs disappear. A childhood tragedy, never forgotten. Sometimes there were other treats, especially for Christmas, sacks of hard candy, pop corn balls and apples. We seldom had Christmas trees; we had boxes covered with colored paper, having a wide slot in the top where we put in our gifts.
Well, I left Franklin No.9 as a pupil in January, 1907; my sister and I entered the last half year of the 8th grade in the Sanborn school. What greenies we were! We had been to town only a few times in our lives and didn’t know just where the school building was; it took us so long to find it, after putting our horse in the livery stable, that we were tardy. I was hard to face the inquisitive eyes of about 7th and 8th graders, all turned on us at once. Miss Mae Francis was our teacher, and a good one, too, but her stern face made our hearts quail; that same day, she took a young man to the cloakroom, and dire sounds reached our ears; he returned to the room with a very red face, and was a good boy the rest of the day, and maybe the rest of the year.
Our rural school went on for some years; my brothers and sisters all went to school there through the grades, then to town to high school. Franklin No. 9 schoolhouse burned to the ground about 40 years ago, and was rebuilt. Before that we used to like to go there sometimes during vacation or when we were cleaning the building, and snoop through the records giving names of teachers, pupils, days attended, grades, etc. But these old records were destroyed in the fire, along with those cherished old library books. I believe everything was lost. In later years some of the teachers were Minnie Patton, Alta Dick, Nelle Mason, Alice Farrell, Lloyd Sweney, Miss Lashley, and myself, although not in that order. I came to Montana in the fall fo 1913, taught here a year, then taught the next year in the home school, 1914-15. After that I returned to Montana and also went to Washington and taught, but went back to Iowa and was teaching the old school in the fall of 1918. I daresay that the Mitchell school was the only school in the whole country which remained in session all day on Nov. 11, 1918. About 11:30 in the morning we heard bells ringing and whistles blowing all of a sudden, so the whole school rushed outside, thinking there might be a fire. As no smoke was visible, we went in to finish our morning session. During the noon hour I noticed several wagons and buggies passing with more speed than usual; it suddenly dawned on me, “Children, the war is over”. We decided that was it and cheered feebly, but ate our lunches and had school as usual all afternoon. That night a straw Kaiser was hung at the peak of an old barn on Main street, afterward burning barn and all. (We at our house didn’t see all the hanging ceremony, I remember, because we were delayed by the milking).
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