Volume III, No. 3, Spring 1976
JESSIE BURLEY - LEBANON HIGH SCHOOL 1899
Edited by Carla Roberts Interview by Kathy Hawk and Carla Roberts
My name is Jessie, and I don't like it at all.
Oh, you don't?
No, I don't. But they don't call me by my name anymore. They just call me by my capital J. J. Burley.
Do you spell it J-A-Y?
No. That's jay bird. Just capital J. That happened when I was getting ready to go to college. Mother was making all my clothes and the waists and things. She'd just turn the material in and just make a J period and Burley. My bothers thought that was kind of clever and they were the ones that started it. But I've had a letter or two spelled J-A-Y--jay bird.
I'm the only one in my family left. No, there's a nephew that lives in St. Louis. But I get terribly lonesome when I get to thinking about it. You know I'm nearly blind. I can't read. I have to be read to. That's terrible when you get so you can't even read--or write.
My father was an insurance man. My uncle came out here from Illinois and built a nice home--it's still over there. A couple of years afterwards, my father followed him out and brought our families. And then we all lived in Lebanon all the rest of the time. It wasn't near as big as it is now.
Can you tell us about your high school experiences?
Of course I started in the first grade. But it was a few years after that--I think three or four years--before they had a high school, but I wouldn't want to say for I forget. When I started it was just a grade school. There were not many graduating classes before mine.
What year did you graduate?
1899. You wasn't born, was you? When we started in to school, everybody went to that one little school. There wasn't any place else in Lebanon to go but that one building. They just tore it down a few weeks ago.
You mean the Old Adams Building?
Yes. And the high school and the grade school were all underneath that one little roof. Not such a little roof, just one building. The only one there was for the kids and graduates and everybody.
Now we started down in that grade school down in the southwest corner and we ambulated around in there till we graduated in eight years in the same building. If it didn't rain they could have school in the basement, but if it rained, there was a little brook that just ran from the front to the back, so the little kids would have to go upstairs and just sit around any place till it got dry. They didn't want us to get our books wet.
What did the building look like?
That was the funniest looking old building, with that kind of tower and then this just plain stove pipe coming out one end of it. That's the way they got rid of the smoke in that tower room.
They had a little old stove in that room and the smoke all had to go out this stove pipe hanging out the side. That was later on when I taught music up in that little room under the bell tower.
Each room had great big old stoves that burned long sticks of wood in them. They had plenty of heat, wasn't any steam or anything like that--just wood stoves.
Did you have running water, drinking fountains or restrooms?
Yes, later we did. We didn't have anything much at that time--the first years.
How did you have your drinking water?
I don't remember till they got water in the city. I guess they must have had buckets sitting outside. I don't remember. Maybe I didn't drink any!
Did you have little outhouses?
Yes, they had places like that. They were way down there on the lot on the back--going toward the cemetery. But it wasn't too long till they began to put them inside. That was one of the things that was such a drawback till they finally got some sewage in there and got that over the town. Why then, it was all right..I can remember when they turned the water on in town. I don't remember what the year was, but I was in high school before that happened.
Did you have lockers or desks or a place to keep your books and coats?
Not till a little later on. After we got the new high school  they began to build lockers. But we just had desks that we had to slide things in. And two people sat at each desk. Wasn't like it is now. At each desk in each room we had a seat that had a top on it, then had a desk to put everything in down below. Each seat had one of these. Oh we were kind of high faluting.
Then not very many people went to high school when you went?
NO, they didn't. place much for them. There wasn't any They just hadn't commenced it like they did finally. But it wasn't too long before they began to come in from the country and they had lots of them--all they could take care of. My class had seven. Isn't that a sight! Just seven people. That great number seven was about the size of it.
Did most of the kids that went to high school live in town?
There were country kids and they were getting to be country kids more and more. Course they didn't have buses then--like they have now. They'd come in with the horses and mules hitched to their wagons and things. We had a good many country school children later on when I was teaching. Some of them rode horseback. But it was quite a while before they had any cars to ride in.
Now, I lived in town, over across the railroad tracks. We never did live in the country. I always wished I could. I never did get to live in the country.
We had a whole hour for noon. Us Burleys had a long way to walk. We came home to dinner always. Lots of kids brought their lunch and then a lot of their parents came after them and brought them in the morning. We didn't have a lunchroom. They just ate in their rooms--whatever room they had.
When you went to high school what sort of subjects did you take?
We took geometry, we didn't take arithmetic. We had geometry and we had English and we had about four subjects and four teachers for the whole high school. I can't even remember what subjects they were. That tells how old I am. But everybody had to take the same subjects. We just took what was on the schedule--what we had to.
Did most of the students attend school every day? Did anyone skip school?
Well, no. They usually came every day or they got into it. We got pretty good attendance. Course with some people, the weather in winter was bad, so they couldn't all get there.
Some of the teachers were strict--not so terrible bad. I never got a licking with a stick or anything. I wasn't a very bad girl. I was pretty good. But they tried to keep pretty good order just like they do any time. They usually gave the boys a licking if they did something bad, even some of the big ones. Well, of course, they were punished a good deal by having privileges taken away from them. They couldn't do this and couldn't do that for a certain amount of time. But taking it by and large, I believe we had a pretty good school as far as behavior was concerned.
One bad privilege was having to stay in at recess. You could go to the toilet, then you had to come back and stay. They were punished that way and sometimes they switched them with a switch. That was usually done by the superintendent himself.
Besides the regular studies, did you ever do anything for fun or competition like having spelling bees?
Yes, we had spelling bees. And, I tell you what we just loved to do. If we had a good week, sometimes they'd let the whole grade go down to the colored school and have a spelling match with them. And, oh, I thought that was the most fun!
There were some nice colored kids went to school, too. Their school was way over there in Old Town--up on a hill over there. They had what they called a high school. And they had teachers all through those grades.
When we went over there it was usually just one class cause they never had a very big school over there. It was kind of an honor. If you had good work all week and made your grades good, why, you stood a chance to go if you wanted to. I enjoyed that. I thought it was a lot of fun. We just talked and visited. They had some nice teachers--two or three men teachers, I believe over there. Colored people they were. We seemed to mix and get along very well together.
Did you have any clubs that you could join?
Clubs? No, we didn't have much of that kind. It was just straight school for us. That is when I was in high school. Then later they developed clubs where they would learn school yells and all that kind of thing.
We had a good many parties. We played games and we danced. Those that wanted to dance got somebody to play the piano for us, then they'd dance just plain ole round dance. We had parties, a good many. We always had a Christmas party. We had just about a social life like any would that lived along then, but it wasn't connected with the school. The girls could go with the boys. They didn't have to be chaperoned as I remember.
Did you have physical education in school?
Yes, but you didn't have to take it then unless you wanted to. Later on you had to. I took it. I needed it. I was a skinny ole long thing. I didn't have any flesh on my bones. I thought maybe that'd help me out. I couldn't see much difference though.
The girls played volleyball and we had tennis and we played hop scotch. Did you ever play hop scotch? We played that. I don't know what all we did play. I ,can't hardly remember. Oh, we had a good deal of marching and things like that with music.
Did the kids have any sports?
Oh yes. They were beginning to play basketball. The girls and boys both. And they had tennis outdoors then. The boys played baseball. I believe that's about all the games we had.
Did you play other schools?
Well, we hadn't hardly gotten along to that. They did, of course later, but they just had to grow into it all. They got so they had basketball. Not at first. We had to wait till we got our first big school and our big gymnasium  before they could have much of that kind of thing. But they did. They played basketball and volleyball and baseball.
In physical education classes did the girls wear gym clothes or did they play in their dresses?
Yes, we had gym suits. They were dark blue, that I remember, and they were knee pants. Then they had a kind of blouse, I guess you'd call it, trimmed in white braid. They were quite neat looking things. They looked nice. We didn't wear stockings as. I remember it. We just went barelegged and wore gym shoes like tennis shoes, that had a little different sole on them, but they were that type of a shoe.
Where did you change?
Well we had dressing rooms where we could go. They were awful little and awful crowded, but we had to go in there to change our dresses and put them back on. I guess it was in the basement.
After we got the indoor toilets installed, they fixed little partitions down in there where the girls could hang their clothes and go to change them. But they got so they were so crowded that they had an awful time. Some of them had to go someplace else.
Can you tell us how you dressed when you went to high school?
We didn't have any uniforms or anything like that. Our dresses were pretty long. In those days you wouldn't be caught out in a short dress if you was some size. They didn't come clear to the floor--about ankle length, mine were that I wore to school. Some of them were wool and some of linen and some cotton. Just everything.
I wore high knit stockings that my grandmother had knitted. I remember one pair was blue and white, and one red and one plain white. Then we wore high top shoes with about ten little buttons on the outside and you always had to have a button hook hanging on the top. Everybody had a button hook fastened on the outside. Well, if your shoes'd come off, you couldn't fasten them without running that hook through the loop.
We'd like to know about your teachers in high school?
Well, let's see. I think I had, I believe there was four teachers in high school and in the grade school they had one for each grade. We had a few men.
We had a man principal and a man superintendent, but we didn't have many of them. They were nearly all women.
They had a practice teaching class, but I didn't know much about it 'cause I wasn't interested in teaching then. I didn't have anything to do with that.
When you graduated did you have class rings?
Oh yes. I don't know what's become of it, though. I haven't seen it for years. They began back there to have the class rings if you wanted them. We had pictures. I don't know where one is. Of course for my class, the senior class, that was only seven people. It wasn't very many.
When I graduated we didn't do anything special. We didn't have a party or trip or a year book. When I graduated there were four boys and three girls, counting me. I believe we all got four years in. Wasn't that a sight, just seven people. When we had our commencement every one of us had to get up and read an essay that we'd written. All of us had to do that. Our teacher helped us choose the subject and helped us out. She didn't care if we got help from other people. We had to say them by memory. We couldn't read or anything. But it was so that all of us could have our little speech to say.
When we graduated, we had to have our graduation program in the old opera house. There was not any big enough place over at school. It was on the second floor of the Sam Farrar Drug Store and then the Masonic Lodge had the third story. There was one woman that wrote a note and said she was sorry she couldn't come to graduation--her nephew was one of the members of the senior class--but she said she just had visions of that floor breaking through and people running around in Farrar's Drug Store with pieces of bottles sticking in their faces. So she was afraid to come.
How come you decided to go to high school?
Well, I just was like anybody else that wanted an education. I went to college after that, but anybody that grew up and graduated from the grade school had to make up their own minds about whether they were going to college or going to high school. It wasn't hard for me. I knew I wanted to go.
I went to Christian College in Columbia. It's name's changed these last few years. It's called Columbia College now. I'm sure strong for that school. It certainly did a lot for me.
There was another big girl's school in Columbia--Stephens College, that Baptist School. And all of us, Stephens and christian, you couldn't go down town to buy a spool of thread unless you had to put on one of these long, black broadcloth gowns and a three cornered hat with a little tassel hanging down off of it. And you couldn't go to town--if you went to town on the days we didn't have school--but some teacher dressed the same way had to go right along at your heel, if you didn't want to buy any more than a spool of thread. I always thought that was the craziest thing.
The gowns were a regular cap and gown. Then when you graduated we had white silk ones. And along about April or the last of March, you'd begin to watch people's caps because if the little tassel on it was turned white and put on the cap, that meant you'd received an honor. And sometimes they had three or four. I never was smart enough to get but one on mine. And it wasn't in music at all. It was for Latin.
But here's the way the boys would do. You see the Stephens College girls wore the long black gown, but they wore a square cap with a tassel instead of the three cornered one we had. That's the way the boys could tell the difference. They'd go out and pass notes to them as they went back and forth to the programs over to the University [of Missouri] at night. And if they wanted to pass a note to a girl, they'd look and see what kind of cap she had on.
The girls that went to the University were loose to do as they pleased. Oh, I hated those ole robes--those ole broadcloth ones. They were so heavy and so long. They came clear down to your ankles. I hated to go anyplace with one of them on, but you couldn't go anyplace without wearing one, unless you went with your family somewhere. You didn't have to wear it to class, but to church and everyplace else.
You couldn't go out by yourself? You had to have a chaperon?
No, no. Somebody might eat you up! Even if you went shopping the teacher was with you. You could just look back about half a block and see her along there. She'd pretend to be looking at something else, but she was watching you.
One time when she was following me I came to a great, long thin table covered with a beautiful cloth and it was just covered with little used books. I came to a long table that said music, so I got right busy. These little books didn't have more than two paragraphs in them. Well, there was a little poem in there about music and I've had that little poem next to my heart all these years that I've been teaching. Would you like to hear it? I don't know who the author was but...
Music tells one's secret of the
Through which thou goeth
To work with morning sun
And to rest with evening bell.
Life is in tune with harmony so
That when the notes go lowest
Thou still canst lay thee down in
And sleep for God will not forget.
I always thought that was the prettiest little poem. I memorized it and I've used it lots of times. But I got out of that store--bought that book and got away with it--my teacher never knowing. And there wasn't any boy that flirted with me or followed me or anything.
When did you decide you were interested in going into music?
Not too long after I graduated from high school. When I went to college a couple of years and then after I came home, they got after me to teach music in the grades. Not in the high school. And that's when I really got into it. I went to school then, two or three more years and then I took over all the grade school music.
I had some high school music, too, but when the band man came along, he took the band and the orchestra and the high school chorus. I didn't have to do that then. And that's all I taught for forty years was the music. Sure was a lot of fun.
I believe I was the first music teacher in Lebanon. Anyway, I taught down in all the lower grades when I started in and later they offered it in high school. I was the first high school teacher in music, too.
The high school kids just came into class like they would in any other classroom. But we didn't do anything but sing. Sometimes we'd meet every day, but sometimes they wouldn't meet but three times a week. Things got so crowded, you know.
we sang everything. We had lovely song books and they had love songs in them and folk songs and cradle songs. Just a regular song book was what we used. Course it was prepared especially for junior high school and high school. They always liked to sing, "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "America the Beautiful." They're two patriotic songs. "The Star Spangled Banner" was kind of hard. They kind of shied off from it. But I taught them all kinds of songs about everything.
Where did you hold your music classes?
In the bell tower. It was built originally for that, but they just used it for a classroom. You see, this tower went in right with the level floor of the second floor. Then the bell part of it was way up high and they never used it for a bell. But they put floors in there and used that for a classroom.
They were always sticking things on top of that tower, flags and all kind of things for these rival football games and things. Well, anyway, one morning I went to school and opened that big door in my room and I never in all my life smelled such a smell! They'd come in to put a flag upon the tower. And outside in the hall there were long seats where they'd had lunch. One thing they had that they didn't want was a can of salmon. They opened that can and they just flicked it all over my piano. It was the stinkingest thing I ever smelled. Oh, the superintendent was so mad when he found out. He made them come in there and take brushes and clean every spot of that off and scrub the floor. Now wasn't that something? I'd never thought of taking a can of salmon with me to throw around.
Did you put on plays and musicals while you were teaching?
Oh, yes. And I gave some beautiful plays up there, musical things when I was teaching high school. The town would just look forward to it. We always had one pretty big play with lots of dancing and lots of costuming. And boy, that's when I had to work to get ready for that! By that time we had the new Wallace High School then . It was a pretty big building and had a stage big enough to use. But of course, years after that they began to get so many pupils that they had to build some more schools.
We called those musical plays operettas. I gave lots of those and I directed. I didn't play any part. They always had a good deal of chorus singing, too. for boys and girls.
There were so many boys in class. When they commenced to try to sing, their voices sounded like young bullfrogs trying to croak. We had a lot of fun, but I made up my mind I was going to teach those boys to sing if it was the last thing I did. So we did, and we had operettas and pretty plays and we had double quartettes for the boys and for the girls and had lots of pretty music then. I think for the type of school we were, we had pretty good music and a literary background.
Would you like to hear some funny things that happened while I was teaching? One day while I was teaching in the third grade in that old building--I did all the teaching in that funny ole building. We were going to have a public meeting that night--wasn't PTA, there wasn't such a thing then. But we were going to have something for the parents. So my children in the third grade were learning some songs and they had beautiful little song books, had the prettiest pictures on them. They were sitting three in a seat and two in a seat, anywhere they could find room. Finally one little boy jumped up in the middle. He said, "Teacher, can I go to the basement? I have to go to the rest room." And I said, "Well, it's all right. There's a door right in the back of this room. You can go down into the basement. You don't have to go out in the hall." But I said, "I think it'd be nice if you say, 'May I.'" So, he looked me up and down and he said, "Well, can I go to the May I?" And I've never lived that one down. The teachers got a hold of it. They'd meet me out in the hall and say, "Can I go to the May I?"
Another time it'd snowed and did just like it did last winter for about two weeks. The tops of the trees were broken out. Everything was covered with sleet and snow. I just ran out of songs about snow. I made a song about skating on the Horseshoe Pond and going coasting out there. All the song books that had any songs about winter, I'd used them up. So, I went in the room, first grade, one morning. I said, "Now children, there are a few things nice about winter. And we're going to sing about some of them. One is the lovely little snow bird. And you'll see them out here on these awful old limbs covered with snow and hear them sing. They chirp, they don't sing much. They're awful nice birds and I'm trying to learn them. I've learned the nuthatch and the chickadee and snow bird." And with that a little boy just the size of a snow bird and great big clompy boots on--must of belonged to his grandpa--he got out and stomped down the front and turned around and faced me. He said, "Yes, snow birds is nice birds. I killed one once and et him feathers and all and he sure was good."
And down he sat, and I couldn't laugh. I was just about to have apoplexy. The first grade teacher was sitting in the back behind the big book. She could laugh all she wanted to. But now such things as that, they were funny.
You've spent all your life here and taught generations of students. Do you ever see them or recognize them after so many years?
Oh yes. A man came to our house the other day to visit Miss Owens. She's the other lady that lives where I live. And he said, "Miss Burley, do you remember a double quartet you had that I sang in?" I said, "I can't see you. I don't know who you are." He told me who he was and who his grandmother was and said he'd come back to Lebanon to live. And I said, "Well, boy, I'll never forget that second tenor voice of yours." I sure did remember, but I couldn't see his face. And I run on to them all around like that. They'll say, did you know I sang so and so and I was in so and so.
You went all your schooling in the Old Adams Building and did much of your teaching there, too, didn't you?
Yes. I hated so bad. I told this new superintendent--he goes to my church, Mr. Slaughter. I said, "I hear you're going to tear down my old schoolhouse." He said, "Yes. There's not many people left that went there long ago. But there's been several of them that have come around and almost cried about it." I said, "I could."
I haven't been down past there yet. Course, I'm getting where I can't see. I'm almost blind. But I want to go by and see how that place looks. I didn't want them to tear it down. It had too many memories for me.
Girls, I'm awful glad you came to see me. There's probably things I ought to tell you that I didn't.
But I'm so glad I got to know you. I hope you can come back. I think you're gaining a good deal by
getting all this information down and writing it up. It's taking a good deal of your time.
The first school building in Lebanon, now known as the Old Adams Building, was built in 1871 for elementary grades. It stood on the campus of the present Lebanon Junior High School for 104 years serving thousands of Lebanon and Laclede County students as grade school, junior and senior high during its lifetime.
The building made room for the first high school students in the late 1880's, housing them until 1912 when a new high school building was completed on the same campus. Relieved of the older students, it continued as the elementary school even after three new elementary schools were built in different parts of town. When the fourth school was completed in 1961, the last of the grade school children left the campus.
But as the press of junior and senior high students increased, in spite of the addition of two other buildings on the campus (1926 and 1939), the numbers necessitated using the Old Adams Building again for high school classes. In the last year its' eight rooms were filled to capacity. Finally in the fall of 1975, when the latest new high school was ready, senior high students left the historic campus where education in Lebanon began. The Old Adams Building was torn down.
The building's high decorated ceilings, tall transomed doors and Victorian architecture gave it a stately look even though the plaster was cracked, the bare pine floors were worn and the old radiators rumbled. As I attended the last classes taught in the building, I could imagine right beside me students like Miss Burley in some of the first classes. When it was torn down last summer the community breathed a sigh of sadness. Now nothing is left save the great rock steps worn over the years by the feet .of thousands of boys and girls.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.
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