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Article: Early Schools of Chemung County
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Article by Helen Mac Dougall Samson (1909-1995) in 1976
Sent in by Walt Samson
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From The Past

By Helen M. Samson

July 8, 1976

Early Schools

The early settlers had little room for non-essentials when they packed up and traveled to their new homes in the wilderness after the Revolution. Each family brought the Bible and perhaps had room for a battered schoolbook or two for they knew that any education their children were to have depended upon themselves.

The first school seems to have been one held in the weaving room of Israel Parshall near Chemung. This was in 1793 and soon after , in 1793 also, a school was taught in the log home of Horsehead’s first settler, John Breese. There may have been an earlier one taught by William Jenkins in a log building near Lowman in 1788.

Some of these first efforts to educate the young operated only in winter as boys were needed in the fall together the crops and again in the spring to help with the planting. Girls were not supposed to require learning except in the arts of home making. Lenient fathers did allow them to go with their brothers and acquire the rudiments of reading, writing and simple numbers. Most early districts required parents to supply wood for the stove in the center of the building and it was usually a certain amount for each child attending.

Teachers were often men. Some of these were fellows who had lost out in other professions and were glad for a job that carried with it a roof over one’s head and meals because all early teachers "boarded around" as part of their pay. Other teachers were young girls who had mastered the work through the eighth grade or even only the sixth and returned to teach in the school where they had been a star pupil. Later, more professional women taught for most of their lives unless they managed to marry their way out. Some of them were remembered as guiding lights and friends to several generations of the same family. Pay was a few dollars a month and in the 1900’s contracts were signed for work in city schools for $300 a year.

Many were the stories told of the pranks played by children in the old days when boys came to school in the winter more or less as a diversion rather than to learn. Often they were older and much bigger that their young teacher. Miss Catherine Miller who was a long time teacher in the Horseheads district told of one such boy whom she was going to punish for some act requiring such action. He escaped by climbing to the roof. He remained there all day and she could see him late in the afternoon as she rode her horse slowly toward home. He decided to come down then and decided he had enough education to last him a lifetime.

In another school on the Ridge Road the big boys were determined to get the best of an elderly man who was in the habit of coming to school with a bottle of whiskey in a pocket and after setting tasks for the children, taking a nap with his feet on his desk and his chair at a comfortable angle. One morning, before his arrival they placed gun powder in cracks in the log siding and perfected a method of igniting it when the time was right. The teacher followed his normal routine and when all was still the trap was sprung. After he picked himself from the floor, the smoke was cleared and teacher tried to discover the culprits for punishment. No one had any knowledge of the affair and the incident entered the stock of neighbor hood tales to be retold for years.

First Added to the Site  on 22DEC 2002
By Joyce M. Tice

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