Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Corps of Teachers

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, August 30, 2013.

The records do not show any organized public schools in Exeter until 1703 when the town voted to hire a schoolmaster. Three years later, they decided they needed an actual school building. For the next hundred years, the record merely tells us the names of each schoolmaster.

In 1847, the State required towns to create graded schools and also mandated that the school board had to prepare an annual report for the town. That year, the Superintending School Committee created an unfiltered view of the town’s teachers and their schools. It couldn’t have been easy teaching in those early schools. Most classes were large – you might even say huge – with upwards of 50 to 60 pupils attending on any given day. Parents would sometimes send children too young for school to tag along with an older sibling for the day. Imagine how challenging it would be to try to teach a class of 50 students, all at different grade levels, with a few three year olds underfoot.

In spite of this, there were a few schools the report felt were excellent. The classroom of Charlotte Ellis, who taught the primary students at Hall Place, was singled out as superior. Charlotte and her sister, Rhoda, would both serve long tenures in Exeter’s schools and are commended in nearly every school report during their long careers. They must have had nerves of steel.

J. S. Rollins fared much worse in the report. He was an older teacher and seems to have been unable to control the students. “Under such circumstances, when the teacher from any cause, real or imagined,” the report reads, “has lost a controlling influence, and the scholars are disrespectful, disobedient, boisterous and impudent, the school-room becomes a nursery for every unscholarlike and pernicious habit – a sort of hot-house in which all the vices take ready root, and grow with a forced and unnatural luxuriance: for the boundary line between the outward demeanor and the inward character, like some of the lines in Geography, is only an imaginary one.”

Mary Jewell, who taught some of the youngest students, was given a bit of leeway given her inexperience. “It was, however, her first attempt and her children were small – many of them too small to be out of the nursery, and some of them had evidently been ruling sovereigns too long at home to become at once, and without a struggle, submissive subjects at school.”

Of one issue the report was clear: woman made better teachers than men. And the reasons were blatant. “We believe that most of the schools in this town would be better managed and better taught by properly educated females than by males. Besides, while a better instruction is obtained, the employment of female teachers is a matter of great economy to the District. The same money would generally secure the services of a female twice as long as a male.” Hire women, they’re cheaper!

This policy of hiring female teachers was taken to heart in Exeter. There were generally three times as many women teaching than men (sometimes much higher). In 1852, male teachers were paid between $15.00 and $39.00 per year while the women were paid $6.00 to $9.00 per year. By 1889, when there were 2 male teachers – both at the all-boys high school – to 13 female teachers, the men received $750.00 and $900.00 while the women’s pay averaged $216.00 per year. And women were required to leave teaching if they got married, as in 1900 when the supervisory committee reported, “Miss Florence Weeks, after several years of faithful, honest and successful teaching, resigned to be married and her school was taken by Miss Jewell.”

Finding people willing to teach our large classes at low pay was sometimes problematic. In 1900, the report commented, “we had no little difficulty in securing a satisfactory teacher for the Primary school on the Plains. Seven teachers more or less directly refused it. Finally Miss Mary F. Hallier was engaged and is doing well.” The Plains school, on Park Street, was notorious as an overcrowded, dark, airless building with no inside toilets or plumbing. It’s no wonder it was hard to find a woman willing to teach 50 little children for only $250.00 per year at that school.

Some of the women teachers could earn a decent living teaching. High School teachers were paid at a higher rate – mostly because they often had a college degree rather than Normal school training. But it still must have burned Mildred Diman, who had a bachelor’s degree from Brown, to be earning two hundred and fifty dollars less than Donald Wight, who also had a bachelor’s degree, even though she’d been teaching in the high school for eleven years and he was a new hire. It wasn’t until 1937 that a woman in the Exeter corps of teachers finally out-earned a man.

Gradually, in the twentieth century, it was determined that large class sizes did not foster learning. Studies began to show that students needed more time with teachers and less time memorizing endless facts. The school system in Exeter adapted well to the changes. Our teachers today know their subject areas in far greater depth than teachers of previous generations and, much to the relief of students, they are no longer required to follow rules such as this one from the 1860 General Regulations of the Public Schools: “when good order cannot be preserved by milder measures, (teachers) may inflict corporal punishment. And it shall be the duty of all the teachers to keep a private record of all instances of inflicting corporal punishment.”

Photo: The children of the primary class at the Plains School on Park Street on April 28, 1908. This particular day the teacher got lucky and only had to manage 47 students.

The Arrival of Photography

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Tuesday, September 17, 2013.

The technological advances of the industrial revolution touched many areas of everyday life. Along with mass-produced textiles and improved transportation networks, we should not overlook how the advent of photography changed the world. We photograph nearly everything today – I’ve been known to snap a picture of my kids’ school schedule so that I’ll have it, carefully stored in my phone, for whenever I need it. It’s almost hard to imagine a world when this couldn’t be done. Imagine relying on your memory for nearly everything and the difficulty involved in describing places and people without a reliable image to prompt your memory.

Wealthy people could afford to have portraits painted in the early 1800s, but ordinary people could not. The Exeter Historical Society is frequently asked if we have pictures of the town or of its people in eras when photography didn’t exist (we were recently asked if we had any photos of soldiers in uniform during the War of 1812). Sorry to say, the record is slim on images before the 1850s. In 1837, Louis Daguerre and his partner Nicephore Niepce, began experimenting with a camera obscura – a device created to reproduce art – and discovered that it could be used to record exact images. It wasn’t true photography – each daguerreotype was unique with no negative from which to reproduce the image – but it did allow an image to be recorded. It was quicker and less costly than sitting for a portrait and people marveled at this new technology.

In Exeter, in 1841,advertisements for ‘Mr. Plumbe, Professor of Photography’ began running in the Exeter News-Letter. Mr. Plumbe, “proposes to instruct a limited number of Ladies and gentlemen in this beautiful and valuable art, who will be furnished with complete sets of the improved patent apparatus, by means of which any one may be enabled to take a likeness in an ordinary room without requiring any peculiar adjustment of the light.” The technology must have seemed near-miraculous to many people, since Mr. Plumbe had to explain that, “the process is simple; it requires no acquaintance with chemistry and no knowledge of drawing or painting, for the light engraves itself upon the prepared plate.” Imagine that! An image without paint or pen! It reminds me of my grandmother’s marveling at the microwave oven – cooking without heat – imagine that!

Daguerrotypes and their cousins, ambrotypes, caught on quickly and it was most often portraiture that the public demanded. The reasons were quite simple and expressed eloquently in an 1847 ad; “who has not at one time or other vainly endeavored to recall the features that once reflected all our dreams of love and beauty? The smiling lip and laughing eye – the manly brow and thoughtful gaze of some dear companion, parent or friend, and sighed to think that they were lost to us forever? Who does not love, whilst pondering o’er the sunshine and shadows of the past to be able to gaze on the countenance of some dear and early loved, but now mourned and buried friend?” Tugging at the heartstrings sold a lot of pictures, it seems. But even if the language of the ad seems romantic and a bit over the top, it wasn’t hard to sell photographs. Life in the 1850s was perilous. Children died young, beloved family members sometimes moved great distances away. You couldn’t simply keep in touch through Facebook and poorly taken selfies. Freed from the high costs of sitting for a painted portrait, “at an expense so trifling that almost every person can obtain a likeness not only of himself but of every member of his family,” people in Exeter – as elsewhere – flocked to the photographer’s studio.

Photographs, like most new inventions, became less expensive as the technology improved. Daguerrotypes gave way to ambrotypes – both fixed on glass plates with no negative. These were superseded by ferrotypes or ‘tin types’, although as their true name suggests, they were made of iron and not tin. ‘True’ photography, pictures made from a negative image, was popularized around the time of the Civil War. Because they utilized a wet plate negative, true photographs could be easily reproduced. Matthew Brady’s war photographs, as well as his portraits of Abraham Lincoln, were reprinted thousands of times from the original negatives.

Exeter’s early photographers - Thomas Boutelle, George Sawyer, the Davis Brothers and William Hobbs - set up shops all along Water Street. Davis Brothers advertised that “likenesses of sick and deceased persons can be taken at their residences.” If you happen to be leafing through old family pictures and come across photos of sleeping children, beware. They may not be sleeping. Although post mortem photographs seem morbid to us today, for grieving parents the ability to look upon the face of their deceased child was a great comfort.

Until the creation of digital photography, the technology involved in taking pictures didn’t change much after the 1850s. The technology revolutionized the world not only by bringing far-away places into our homes, but by seemingly bringing the dead back to life and allowing us to see our children as babies even as they passed into middle-age.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Community & Education at the Exeter Historical Society

The 375th anniversary of Exeter is an ideal time for us to reflect on our town's rich history and how it shapes our community now and in the future. At the Exeter Historical Society we strive to inspire a passion for our shared past by engaging and educating present and future Exonians. Curator Barbara Rimkunas and I have the distinct privilege of working with this amazing town. As students of local history, we have come to realize that as we enter this community -- whether as infants, high school students, job-seekers, or retirees -- we become part of the town's history. Local history is community; we are the history makers.

Part of our responsibility as historians is to document present-day events in our town. But looking towards the future includes taking advantage of 21st century technology. We joined Facebook in 2009, and maintain a very active page. One of our most popular posts is the “Local history is…” photo series, through which we demonstrate that ordinary aspects of community life are part of history. Last year we created a monthly series on YouTube, the Exeter History Minute; in each brief video segment Barbara explores a different aspect of Exeter’s history. And this month our mascot, History Bat, will be hanging around a number of downtown retailers to help answer Exeter trivia questions. (History Bat also has his own Facebook page and Twitter feed!) In addition, you can find us on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, as well as on our website and blog. Though our doors are not always open in the literal sense, we invite conversation at all times through these online channels.

By offering a variety of learning -- and teaching -- opportunities, we are always seeking to increase our audience. In addition to social media, we share historical knowledge through our written histories, classroom visits and programs. Just a few examples include reprinting Nancy Carnegie Merrill's "History of Exeter: 1888 - 1988" in celebration of the 375th; Barbara's bi-weekly column, "Historically Speaking,” for the Exeter News-Letter; more than a dozen presentations at the Historical Society each year; and educational programs in the public schools.

Despite rumors to the contrary, the Exeter Historical Society is not a dust-covered pile of old books or a collection of unwanted items from Grandma’s attic. Sure, we have a large library of old books and a wonderful collection of artifacts from Exeter’s 375-year history, but we are so much more. We are a resource – an organization that strives to educate people of all ages about our rich local history. But most importantly, we serve as our community’s collective memory. And if you were born, studied, lived, worked, or retired in Exeter, you are part of our story.

by Laura Martin Gowing, Program Manager

This editorial appeared in the September 2013 Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce's monthly journal, Tradewinds.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

August's Exeter History Minute -- Scottish Prisoners of War in Exeter

During Barbara's recent trip to Scotland, she reflected on the origins of some of Exeter's early families, including the Beans and the Gordons. Did you realize that some of these Scottish men came to Exeter as indentured servants because they were prisoners of war? Click here to view his month's History Minute, which was shot on location at Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. 

This Exeter History Minute is brought to you by The Provident Bank in Exeter.