Schooldays In Northcote

by

Loann Bergh

 

During the late 19th and early 20th, rural schools weredominant in the Red River Valley. One school that still stands out in thememories of many older people is the Northcote School. This school hashad many easy days and many tough days. They may have closed the schoolhousedoors, but they could never close the memories that are with so many people.

The school district was first organized on October 8, 1880. The first three officers were Albert Newcomb, N. P. Peterson, and JohnMcFarlane.

The school term varied with the seasons. As early as 1892,W. R. Ball taught forty students in Northcote. He received two salaries;a fall salary and a spring salary. His fall salary was $55 and his springsalary was $40. In 1893, Mayme R. Foner taught forty-nine students forthe same wages except that he earned $55 in the spring. In 1924, the teachersearned $900 a year. During the depression their wages ranged from $585to $675 a year.

The schoolhouse was a large two story building. It hadtwo rooms, the Upper Room and the Lower Room. In each room there was astove that was covered by a jacket. Inside this stove they burned brickettes. Sometimes the children would heat up their noon lunch by placing theirdinner on the stove.

During the winter, the school remained warm. Mr. Berry,the janitor, managed to keep wood in the two stoves. Beside his regularworking hours (4 p.m. to 6 p.m.) he came to school early in the cold morningsto start the stoves. When the children and teachers finally arrived atschool, everything was snug and warm.

Windy days were real exciting for the children in Northcote. On those days they listened to the shutters batter the wall of the schooland watched the trees lean over backwards. The teacher tried to speak abovethe wind but the students had to strain their ears to hear her. Even thoughthe wind blew hard sometimes, the Northcote School always remained.

The winters were long and cold but everyone dressed appropriately. They wore long winter underwear under their clothes. The girls wore heavysocks to keep their legs warm. Over the socks and the long winter underwearthe girls wore flannel petticoats. The boys wore heavy socks under theiroveralls. Both the boys and girls wore mittens and stocking caps when itwas real cold out. With all of these clothes on, they managed to keep warm.

Once the children got to school, they had a lot of workto do. Some of them had ten classes a day. These included Grammar, Civics,Physiology, Hygiene, Drawing, Spelling, Arithmethic, Reading, Writing, andGymnastics. The Lower Room, which consisted of grades 1 - 4, didn't haveall of those. The three R's (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic) were stronglystressed. By the time the students reached the Upper Room, which consistedof grades 5 - 8, they had to know everything by heart. The upper gradesstressed the importance of historical dates. They were kept busy all daylearning these dates.

Because of all the work the students had to do, schooldays never seemed very long. Most of them looked forward to going to school. It was the only time that they had to see any of their friends. Schoolhours ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Everyday the children had a fifteen minuterecess in the morning and another one in the afternoon. At noon, everybodyhad an hour off. The only time of the day when time seemed to pass so slowlywas after the afternoon recess. By then everyone sat and watched the clock.

Students rarely skipped school. If they did they wouldnever do it again. One time a little boy in the Lower Room had missed afull week of school. Miss Murray, the teacher of the Lower Room, told MissRuth Younggren, who was the teacher of the Upper Room, about the incident. Miss Younggren promised her that she would drop over at the boy's placeafter school to find out what was the matter with him. She asked his olderbrothers, who were in her room, if he was ill. A peculiar look swept overtheir faces and then they told her he had the flu. Judging from the lookon their faces, she knew that they were lying. After school, she hitchedup Lily (her horse) and rode over there. Was she ever in for a surprise! There was a huge still inside of the house. Instead of having a nourishingbreakfast, the little boy drank beer. This would explain his stomachacheevery morning. After that, the boy promptly arrived at school at 9 a.m.

In order to start school, the child had to be six yearsold. Many of the children started older than that. One of the things theteachers did not do was skip grades. It didn't matter if you were olderand smarter than everyone else, you had to complete a full year in eachgrade.

The children learned to write on slates. The slates openedlike a book. They were usually wrapped in a red, white, and blue paperwrapper. They scratched their writing on the slates with slate pencils. They used water and rags to clean the slates when they were finished. Then the new notebooks became popular. They were much handier than theslates and also a lot cheaper. One tablet cost 5 cents. Most of the tabletshad plain writing paper but once in a while a tablet had pretty pictures. It would be an honor to have such a tablet. They also had wooden pencilsto write with that cost a penny a piece. These pencils didn't come in differentcolors. They looked exactly like wood.

In order to pass from eighth grade into high school, thestudents had to take a State Board Examination. Since these exams werebased on facts, the Upper Room teacher drilled and re-drilled the studentsso that they would be sure to pass the examination. The students neverhad much time to do anything but study.

The teachers had great control over the classrooms. Disciplinewas taught by the hand, not the voice. One time Edward Engson, who wasprincipal of Northcote, took some rough sixth grade boys up to the schoolgarret. He rubber hosed their seat so they couldn't sit down again. Thoseboys never misbehaved again.

Another time there were two boys in the class who couldn'tstop giggling. It seemed like all they had to do was look at each otherand they would break up laughing. Most of the time they got other studentsto laugh with them. One day the teacher decided to pout an end to this. She punished the two boys. But the next day they were back giggling again. There were just two boys who were happy all the time.

The school inherited some different kinds of students whenJames J. Hill hire the Hollanders. The children come to school in theirHolland costumes and wooden shoes. They were conscious of their shoes,though. Every time they walked across the room the shoes made so much noisethat they disturbed everybody.

The Hollander children adjusted well with the other children. They learned to play all of the American games. But the one thing theHollanders couldn't adjust to was the climate. They moved to Southern Minnesotawhere they felt the weather wasn't as cold.

There were many pranks pulled at the Northcote School duringHalloween. Finally, the schoolboard decided to oput an end to all of thefoolishness. If anyone was caught doing anything to the school on Halloweenthey were punished. The day after Halloween a little girl came crying tothe teacher. She couldn't get the bathroom door open! The teacher tooksome of the boys out to see if they could open it. They pushed and pulledbut it was of no use. As the school day dragged on, more and more childrenhad to go to the bathroom. Then the teacher remembered that one of theschoolboard members lived right in town. She sent one of the boys overto get him. He finally got the door open and out walked a cow! Everyonejust stood there with their mouths open.

The cow wasn't the only animal they had trouble with. One day they had a skunk wander around the school.

It was a warm spring day. After school was out, Miss Younggrenopened all the windows to let the fresh smell drift through the school. The next morning everyone was in for a surprise. There was no fresh smellin the school, but the smell of a skunk. They had the doors and windowsopen all morning to get the horrible smell out. In the late morning oneof the children spotted the school nurse walking up the road. This wasthe worst day that the school nurse could pick to visit them! Everyonewondered exactly what she would say about the peculiar smell. A littleboy ran to the school nurse as soon as she entered the room. He had toapologize for the terrible skunk smell. They continued with the classeswhile the nurse sat in the back of the room. Everyone was more uncomfortablethan they had been earlier. Not only did the skunk smell bother them butto have the school nurse there too! The children were heartbroker. Finally,the school nurse oput an end to their uneasiness. She told them how luckythey really were to have this smell in the school. No one could understandwhy. They learned from the nurse that diseases had been travelling throughother schools rapidly. The Northcote school was saved from these diseases. The skunk spray killed all the germs. The children were happy to hearthis. The room felt like a cloud had been lifted.

One thing that the children watched for was fires. Theschool wasn't always on the constant look-out for them, but it was betterto be safe than sorry. One time theyl had a large fire in Northcote. Around1895, the school burned down. After is was destroyed, a new building waserected. It stands today as the residence of Howard Dunn in Northcote alongHighway 75.

It was Miss Younggren's first year of teaching. She decidedthat she would give the students two fire drills a week. She told the kidsthat when she yelled fire they were supposed to rush to the door. Row 1goes first, then row 2 and so on until everyone was out of the school.

One day the kids were shocked by the sound of the wordfire. They jumped up out of their desks and ran as fast as they could tothe door. Row 1 was the first one to descend down the stairway. The otherrows followed. When Miss younggren finally reached the stairway she sawthree children lying and crying at the bottom of the stairs. She was oneterrified teacher. Panicking, she ran down the stairway to see how badlythe children had been hurt. The children were only bruised and badly frightened. Miss Younggren warned the kids after that to always watch out for the guyahead of them.

Another common problem of those days was lice. Most ofthe time teachers sent letters home to the parents of children who had lice. The parents had to wash the child's hair with kerosene in the water. Aftera week, the child was permitted to return to school.

Lice fascinated little boys. They didn't know what theywere. They thought lice were something to play with. One day a teachernoticed a little boy playing with his pencil box. At first, she ignoredhim, but when it appeared that it was becoming an obsession, she knew shehad to find out what was going on. She was shocked when she picked up thepencil box. Inside of it were several tiny lice running around. The boyhad been shaking his head to see how many he could count.

Every spring the children pout on an exhibition. Peoplecame from miles around to see what the children had done. The childrendidn't display things that they had accomplished in school. Instead, theydisplayed things that they had built and used in the home. Some of theboys built threshing machine models and other farm machinery and broughtthem for display. Girls brought things like shadow embroidery, cakes, candies,or any kind of fancy work. The children were proud to have their work ondisplay and have people come to admire it.

The Christmas Program was another big event of the year. The children started getting excited about it towards the end of October. About the first of November, the teacher started adding Christmas songsto their daily music. Everyday they sang Christmas carols. By Christmas,everyone was sure to know the songs by heart. The big thrill though, waswhen the students got to rehearse in the church. In those days, schoolsdidn't have auditoriums. They had to go to the church at least two or threetimes a week and spend all morning rehearsing the songs. By the time ofthe Christmas concert, they knew everything by heart.

The Northcote School District #4 closed its doors to thechildren. It was a sad day for everyone in Northcote. But the memoriesof the school remain with the children who have grown up.

 

Bibliography

 

Engson, Edward, Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner,January 19, 1972

McFarlane, Ernie, Northcote, MN correspondence

Younggren, Ruth, Hallock, MN Interviewward, Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner,January 19, 1972

McFarlane, Ernie, Northcote, MN correspondence

Younggren, Ruth, Hallock, MN Interview