Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Kennewick Teacher’s First Job was Combing Pupil’s Hair

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, September 18, 1960, page 9

It was in December, 1892, at Kennewick, then Yakima County, now Benton County. School had just been called as the pupils entered. The teacher said, “Will all the boys be seated to the right and all the girls be seated to the left. All be seated,“ was the next command. Consternation reigned in the minds of all the students as the teacher wore a long white apron. In one hand she held a fine-tooth comb, in the other a bowl of water, under her arm a white towel and on her face an expression of indecision. Her next command was, “Will all of the girls unbraid and take down their hair.” When this had been done, the teacher approached the first girl on the front seat, placed the white towel around her neck and shoulders, bent her head forward and began to comb her hair from the back of the neck over her forehead holding the bowl of water in front to catch anything that the comb might jar loose. Then, cleaning the comb, she proceeded to the next girl until all the girls heads had been combed. The teacher told the girls to re-braid and arrange their hair.

The teacher then placed the bowl of water carefully behind her desk and filling another bowl with water, said, “Now boys, it is your turn,” and she proceeded to give them the same treatment that the girls received. The task, however, was much easier than the girls because the “tony fellers” wore their hair like the new heavyweight boxing champion of the world, James J. Corbet, which was then called a pompadour style and resembled our present day crew cut. The boys who were not “tony fellers” wore their hair “punkin cut.” This style got its name from the old story which was told that in earlier times the mothers would scoop out a half of a pumpkin, place it on the boy’s head and with the sheep shears, clip off the hair around the edge of the pumpkin. There were no Elvis Presley or Ricky Nelson haircuts then.

By the time all the boys heads had been combed, the girls had their hair braided in one or two pigtails with ribbon tied on the end of each pigtail, which they wore down their back as this was the style in those days. There were no ponytails then except on pony horses.

The teacher having finished her operations, said, “Will all the pupils return to their own seats.” While this was being done, the teacher took off the white apron, folded the towel and carefully placed them behind her desk with the first bowl of water. There was a change in the expression on the teacher’s face. In fact, she seemed to be having trouble to keep from laughing. The pupils did not know what the score was. In fact, the teacher was the only one who did. She conducted the school’s classes as usual. At recess, no one would play “Duck on the Rock” or “Dare Base.” They collected in groups and talked over the hair combing they had received and speculated on the outcome.

When the teacher dismissed the school at 4:00 p.m., the pupils did not tarry a moment. They all struck out for home to tell the news to their fathers and mothers. At 4:05 p.m., the Clerk of the School Board met the teacher and they took the evidence to the wealthy angry mother who was going to have the school closed and the building fumigated. The evidence was this, that in the entire school, her own daughter’s head was the only head where “pay dirt was struck.” The wealthy mother was chagrined and sent her daughter away to an exclusive girls school. The mother went East on an extended visit. The affair caused a great deal of amusement throughout the country.

The teacher, Miss Elsie Farrel, was very popular. She was a beautiful girl, the type known in those days as a “Strawberry blonde.” She was a graduate of the Ravenna Park Academy of Seattle, a very fine old finishing school long since closed and torn down. She had a clear beautiful trained voice and was a virtuoso on the guitar.

After finishing her teaching contract with the Kennewick School she went to Yakima where she taught the eight grade in the old Central School and married the superintendent of the Yakima schools, Mrs. St. John.

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