Teacher Was In Control In One-Room Schoolhouse

An old one-room schoolhouse meant students respected their teacher.

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Mom belonged to a generation who, if you finished high school and took six weeks of summer school, you were considered good teacher material. She would teach a dozen or so pupils and be paid $40 a month. Not in a bargaining position, she accepted the challenge. She did, however, have control of the students in her one-room schoolhouse.

The school board treasurer was a young single farmer in the district. Many of the people in the district were either Polish or Bohemian. Some spoke no English. They were poor - very poor. Routinely the school lunches were dark bread with a slathering of molasses. Not enough clothing and in fact, just not enough.

Mom noticed that Johnny did everything he could to pester Wally, his kid sister. One day Mom had it with him. While now she would be arrested for child abuse, the whack she gave him told him that was enough and more.

The next morning Johnny's mother drove up in a rickety old buggy and motioned Johnny to her. They headed for the school Mom shook. The woman made a statement in Polish. Johnny translated. "Miss West, my mother says she wants to know if you've had trouble with me." Mom drew a long breath. "Tell your mother I did have, but I'm sure I won't any more."

His mother listened to Mom's words as they came through in Polish. Then she added an explosion of words.

"Mother says that if you can't take care of the trouble, tell her what is wrong and she'll take care of it for you."

"Thank your mother, Johnny, tell her I think we'll get along fine now."

A big smile, a loving pat on Mom's shoulder, and Mom knew she had an ally if she needed one. She didn't. Johnny became her good friend.

Mom was very lonely in this then-isolated area. Then things changed. The Post Office was in the house where Mom boarded. Somehow the young farmer came for his mail more and more during the hours Mom would be there. If nothing else, they had the bond of loneliness. Probably the two best educated people for miles, they became fast friends.

Both went home for Christmas. Mom broke off with the fellow who had been her High School beau. Her friend, during his time at home, broke his engagement. It seems they both had other dreams and they carried them out.

School ended in April. Mom came home with glowing eyes and many plans. June 3, 1914, and the teacher and the school treasurer were married. Mom never taught again, except for her daughter and in Bible School. Mom had only one complaint. "Before we were married that nice young man gave me a check every month, but he stopped!"

Betty Dernell
Balsam Lake, Wisconsin


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.