Volume III, No. 3, Spring 1976
MORGAN HIGH SCHOOL 1939
Edited by Kathy Hawk
Interviews by Carla Roberts and Kathy Hawk
I started high school in 1935 and graduated in 1939. I went to Morgan High School, a country high school located about nine miles east of Conway. One of the buildings still remains that was here when we had high school. Now, I wasn't in the first class. It started as a Job high school in 1930. The Job School Law allowed an elementary district to have a two year high school by drawing students from surrounding districts.
It was just a continuation of grade school, and I think nearly every one of us liked it for we had a good time. We knew everybody. We had good friends we went home with and stayed all night. There was no class consciousness there. Some kids didn't have much, but we were all happy, for it didn't take much to make you happy at that time. Everybody was in the same boat. Nobody had any money, but no one Was hungry. Everybody had food and warm clothing. It might have been hand-me-downs, but there wasn't anybody in our community that was that bad off because everybody was just about the same.
I was glad that my girls went to Lebanon School in a sense that they had an opportunity to take a lot of courses that were not offered at Morgan because of finances and the lack of number of students. If we'd had more students and more state aid, we could have offered more courses. But we didn't have any typing or home economics. But basically, if there hadn't been any other high school, I would have been willing for my girls to have gone to a school like Morgan.
When they started the school at Morgan there was only going to be a two year high school. There was one boy who had already had one year of high school, so he went one year to Morgan and they had a graduation service for him. But by the time they had gone two years, they had gotten it to a four year school.
The first year I went to high school we were in a two room building. That's all the room we used because we had only two teachers. However the school had started with one teacher. The elementary school building there was larger than most ordinary country grade schools, since the Morgan School had a large number of children. The first year they had the high school they built a little room on to this large grade school for the high school students.
The first teacher was Mrs. Jessie Beard. She was Mrs. Jessie Steinberg then, a brilliant woman, and she was a widow woman and a school teacher. Since she needed a job, she was an instigator of this school and taught there several years, though I didn't go to school to her. I've heard her say she hauled cement and anything under the sun in her old Chevrolet to help build this one little room on the side of the elementary building. She started with one boy who had gone one year to Conway and a group of freshmen.
When they started I remember the school board went over the country and talked to people, to farmers and families, anybody that had a child old enough to go to school and they encouraged them to come.
When I was in high school there were two teachers in the high school the first three years. They were a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Hartzell. They both seemed old to me then when I was thirteen, but I think she was about forty-five. They had both gone to college and were well qualified. She was really the better teacher, but he made the classroom so interesting and told so many stories. We could get away with murder in his class. If we decided to have him tell us a story, the next thing we were off on something, but he was a good teacher.
He would teach a math class while she taught an English class. The other students would be studying in the same room, but they wouldn't be having a class. We had four classes. Each teacher was teaching something all the time, but it wouldn't be to the same students. Maybe freshmen and sophomores would be in one class and juniors and seniors in another room. If it was freshman English, the sophomores would be studying and when they had their English then we'd study.
For three years we had these two teachers, but the last year we had the third high school teacher--Doyle Jones. His father was G. C. Jones who was county superintendent of Laclede County for I don't know how many years. This was his first year to teach school. He was about twenty-one years old, just out of college, was handsome and he had a new car. You talk about excitement! He taught my American problems class. That year we moved into the other building. They just moved the children. They moved the elementary into the two room building we'd had for high school and they moved the high school into the building where there was three rooms.
We had four subjects. I know we had an English course each year and the first year we had algebra. We had history courses. We had agriculture and geometry and advanced arithmetic and American problems among other courses.
We had the required number of credits to graduate and when we went through this country high school we could go on to college if we could pass the required entrance exams. As a matter of fact, some of the people did go on to college, one even becoming a college professor. So you see, it doesn't matter where you go. It's what you learn and what you can do with it otherwise.
At that time in our community there was a small percentage of people who went to high school. Back then if you came into the town schools you had to pay tuition. I know that these little high schools really served a good purpose. We lived twenty-one miles from Lebanon, and when you consider the cars were Model A's and some people were still driving Model T's, it took a while to get there. Most of the children who came from the rural school districts to Lebanon to high school roomed with someone. My older brother came into Lebanon and that is what he did. He roomed with people--a cousin or so. He had to pay for that, which made it very expensive to get an education at that time. They had to buy their books and pay tuition on top of that. So these country high schools were really a wonderful thing, especially when you remember that during the 30's was during the time of the depression.
My sister was just older than I and we went the four years together. It was the custom back in those days when you went to elementary school and passed the eighth grade examination, that quite often the people that graduated the eighth grade would go back another year or two to elementary school. My sister did that to wait for me to finish so we could go to high school together.
The high school wasn't very big. My class, the freshman class of the fall of '35 was about twenty-two or twenty-three students and that was the biggest class in the entire history of the school. But the class just ahead of us, the sophomores, I believe had three or four. And then the junior class might of had five or six. There wasn't a senior class, so there wouldn't have been over forty students in the whole high school.
Attendance was pretty good. i can't remember anybody skipping school--like coming to school and leaving--the whole four years I went. We just didn't do it. Well, for one thing, where would you go? Now we could walk to Morgan, but we just asked, and the teachers were very lenient, and if we needed to go to Morgan, which was a mile from the schoolhouse up to the store, you could walk there and back in an hour's time. You could either go during physical education or noon hour. There wasn't a lot of kids that would go.
One of the boys from Santiago District had a kind of roadster. He built on a box over the trunk, and he brought the kids from his school district in that car. But even with that, he didn't take the car and leave the school ground. Maybe once in a while he would take that car and go to Morgan. And if he did everybody would get permission, piled on and went. But when you got up there, those people at the store knew everybody in the school and if you were there and were supposed to be at school, why they plain tattled on you. When Mr. Hartzell came through they'd say, "Did you know these kids are coming up here during school hours?" Everybody would get scolded so we didn't do it.
The teachers cut our grades just a little bit if we did something like that. That was all the punishment we ever got. Nobody ever got expelled and whipping was unheard of. Mr. Hartzell gave one. Of course, he was kind hearted, just as tender hearted as he could be and knew everyone personally--knew your mother and father. He was interested. He knew what sacrifices mothers and fathers were making. But there just wasn't any discipline problems really. The greatest punishment was just getting grades cut.
Our teachers used to make rules. We wrote notes and they had a rule about that. Everybody had a boy friend or a girl friend and you wrote him a note and shoved it across the aisle or across the desk. It was wrong, but you got it to them. I remember another rule we had about the cars. Now those teachers were not really old, but they seemed it and they were interested in our moral conduct. You just didn't do the things a lot of kids do now. It was just unheard of. A girl would not smoke a cigarette on the school ground, and the boys went to their privy and smoked. They referred to it as the smoke house. They were urged not to, but there were a few of the boys that smoked, and everybody knew they smoked. But Mrs. Hartzell had this rule that you couldn't sit in a car with a boy. If a boy and a girl sat in a car, there had to be at least three--two girls and a boy. That's one of the rules I can remember.
We used to laugh at their grading system. There was one boy--he was an intelligent boy, but he just didn't care. There are kids that don't care whether they go or not. They're just going along because their dad's making them go. Our teacher'd feel so sorry because his dad was making a big effort to send that kid to school, that he couldn't fail him. So consequently, if he gave him a passing grade, he had to make everybody else's grade up a little bit higher than his--the ones that were trying. So once in a while--and by the way he graded E and S+ and S and M's and I+'s and I-'s--so that this boy could get an I and be under the nose, some of us got E+'s, because we'd got up so much higher than he was. So we always laughed to ourselves and said we were graded by this one boy because Mr. Hartzell felt sorry for him.
If the boys needed to work at home, if they needed to gather corn and in the spring when it was plowing time, they stayed at home. They didn't have to send an excuse. I can't ever remember taking an excuse to school. If you were sick, you told them when you came back that you were sick or you sent word by somebody.
When the high school first started they built this one little room on to the elementary building and then later they built another building for the high school. That new building was just a long building that had a partition in it. By the way, that partition was removable. When we had our plays we laid that down and that was our stage. We Put sawhorses under it and we had an old curtain that was the kind that rolled up and down. We sold advertising to get that. J. L. Brooks who owned the hardware store at Conway, and Doctor Traw, a dentist in Lebanon, had given some money on this curtain and their names were printed on it.
We put on plays and charged admission. I feel like now a lot of people miss out on that. Everybody could be in our plays if they wanted to, and if they just plain didn't want to, why they could get out of it, but everybody liked to be in the play. That was just the highlight of the year.
We had pie suppers and a school carnival, too, every fall which were other highlights. All the little country high schools had them. At times we went to other schools to their carnivals. I remember one year how we selected the carnival queen. We sold tickets on something for ten cents a chance. The girl who sold the most tickets was elected queen of that class. I remember one year the PTA organization made homemade chili and brought it to school and sold it for supper. And there they'd play bingo. Back then it was legal to play bingo. That was a big drawing card. It made quite a bit of money then.
We'd also have a country store. Somebody would come in to Lebanon and would go to Conway and ask the merchants to contribute something--anything that they would give them. Sometimes they would give cash donation, but more often it was like the grocery stores would give canned goods, the dime stores would give them things like vases--ten cent vases or what have you. And they'd sell those at the country store. Most of the money from these things were used for equipment.
Our playground equipment mostly was two or three ball bats, two or three softballs, one basketball, one volleyball and a net. That was about it. We had an outdoor basketball court and an outdoor volleyball court. When it got cold and snowy and raining, we couldn't play outside. Sometimes the boys played marbles inside the building. They scooted a desk over and shot a game. I remember one time the state inspector came and caught the boys playing marbles. He did comment that he was very glad to see us doing something. At least they were busy and it was in a play time.
We had an hour for lunch. Everybody took their lunch and in the summertime we sat out under the trees. There was a real pretty grove of hickory trees down around the well and other shade trees on the school grounds. We sat under the shade trees and ate our lunch and then got up and played.
During our physical education period you didn't have to play if you didn't want to, but the teachers liked for you to. And if we didn't feel like playing, we simply told our woman teacher that we didn't feel like playing today and we got excused. You didn't have to have a note from mama or anything.
We had a basketball team and we played baseball in the fall and in the spring we had a volleyball team. We had both girls and boys teams of softball. The girls had a pitcher that was absolutely marvelous. she could wind up like a professional. She was really good and our girls won lots of games. Now we were not in a league like the bigger schools are now, but we competed with local schools like Conway--oh we could beat the socks off of Conway playing softball: And we played Northview and Grovespring, Phillipsburg and Competition. We played ball on Friday afternoon after we had the lunch hour. We matched a game with somebody, we'd go there and they would come back to play us.
Everybody would go though we didn't have at the time a school bus per se. We went to the ball game in the back end of a pickup like you see people haul cows to market. It cost us a dime.
When we went to a ball game, Coy Lindsay and his boy would take us there--they had the general store at Morgan. They all liked to play ball and enjoyed watching ball games. And even though he had a country store and did a real big business, he would take the time to take his pickup (or his son would) and take us to the ball game. We had a pickup and my brother took us many times. Usually there were two pickups that would go and take the kids. We stood up--just loaded us in like cattle--and we stood up and rode to Northview or...and Northview was a long way about forty miles. We went on old 66 which was really a lot longer than the new highway is now.
Then when we had ball games the people in the neighborhood always turned out to see the games, especially around Morgan. It was a little country village with two stores, a post office and a mill.
It didn't cost anything to get in the games, except later when we'd go to basketball games. If you were a player you didn't have to pay, but if you were a spectator sometimes you had to pay a dime to get in the game in schools that had gymnasiums. Conway and Northview had gymnasiums.
Now Competition High School had a gymnasium at this time. My husband went to school there. And by the way, one of their basketball teams back in the '30's took second at the state one year. Those boys could play ball! When their school first started their basketball boys were playing in their overalls, and the thing came up, could they have regular athletic shorts to play in. Some of the school board thought their overalls was good enough to play in. But someone won out and they did buy them some gym shorts and shirts to play in.
When we were in high school we wanted gym clothes, too. The year previous the girls had made gym clothes. Since our colors were blue and gold, they had taken feed sacks and dyed part of them blue and made bloomer type bottoms and midi-type tops out of gold.
Sears and Roebuck carried a little sleeveless gym suit with a V neck that buttoned on the shoulders. They were a brilliant bright blue. So several of us ordered our gym clothes from Sears Roebuck. Because our gym teacher was very old fashioned, she would not let us have ordinary shorts. So we had to get the kind that had elastic in the legs, but we could pull them up and they kind of bloused over. They were not bad looking. But the girls in Conway played in shorts and it was our desire to play in shorts, but we were not allowed to. Now we didn't play in gym clothes when we played at school for those clothes were saved for when we went to Conway or when we went to Northview.
The basketball boys had shorts and a jersey, but the baseball boys didn't. They just played in overalls.
For ordinary school we wore skirts and sweaters--not many slacks. I remember one girl wore boot pants and boots that laced up. My sister and I had what would have been like cowboy boots. We wore knee socks sometimes and then sometimes we wore long cotton hose. The boys didn't wear blue jeans back then--just overalls.
One thing stands out from the experiences I had in high school. During my freshman year in March a tornado came through. It was a large storm. Usually tornadoes don't go for miles and miles, but this one started around Marshfield and came pretty near as the crow would fly from Marshfield down through the country. It blew a country school away at Rader and came down through Morgan and on to Oakland. The grade school teachers saw this storm coming and they dismissed their children for they thought it was going to be a big rain. So they let their children go home before the rain--about the last recess.
During the storm I remember our man teacher held the door to. I remember it moved that building on the foundation about four or five inches. The building was a stucco building and there were cracks in it afterwards. One family of the elementary children got home and the storm blew their house down. If they had stayed at school they would have been saved, but they went home and got blown away. They weren't killed but they were injured. That storm went on and it did kill some people. It really was a bad storm. But it was over quickly because they don't last very long.
I can remember that I thought the world was coming to an end. We huddled. There was no place to go as we didn't have a basement. Now-a-days storms are so frequent that you are told to go outside and lie in a ditch or do this, but then nobody knew what to do. We didn't even know it was a tornado. We just knew it was stormy. The roar was so terrific. I remember that I went and got my sister's and my coat and lunch pail and we sat at our desk. She cried. I didn't but I was absolutely scared to death. Later it dawned on me that I thought the world was coming to an end when this storm was coming through.
We heated our building with wood stoves, one in each room, but we only had one flue that went right into the partition between the two rooms with a hole on each side of the flue. And whichever fire he built first was the one that drew the best and that room stayed warm. Sometimes it would be chilly in one room.
We didn't have to pay tuition at Morgan, because our home school district paid it. But if we came to Lebanon, we had to pay tuition. Students in districts surrounding Morgan could come to Morgan High School without paying tuition.
However, we had to buy our books. There would have been a way to get books if we couldn't pay for them, though. These two teachers wanted to see everybody get all the knowledge they could, and they would have seen they got books. I know you girls will think this is terrible, but I know some of our books we got for thirty-five and fifty cents. They were used, and had been used, probably when they first started the school. We didn't change books like you do now when you use a book maybe three or four years and then go to a different one. We got some in a book store here in town and I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't use some books that maybe Lebanon wasn't using anymore. I know the algebra book that we used was the same book my brother had used who had graduated before us.
Some of those old books had really been through the mill. They had been written on and worn, but most of the pages were there, so we went ahead and used them, and then we sold them. As soon as school was out, we got rid of our old books to whoever was going to take that course next year and looked for somebody else's. A few times we had to buy some new books.
My sister and I shared books the whole time that we went to school. People who sat together would use the same books.
We could share books because our desks were double desks and two people could sit in a seat. Did you ever see those old desks where the seats fold up and down? I believe we had a few in there where the seat was divided. In other words, somebody could get up and raise his seat up and his seat mate could sit down. My sister and I always sat together because we studied out of the same books. Best friends would sit together as a usual thing.
The first year I went to high school we would come in and use the same desk all day. It did come a time where the children moved. We'd stay in one room until physical education was over and then the next class maybe We'd go into the other room. We had one main desk that was ours for we didn't have a locker. We put our books, all four of our books, and notebooks and drinking cup in our desk.
By the way, our water was a well and we had a bucket and everybody had drinking cups. I remember several times the well would be pumped dry, and we either had to wait till the water ran back in, or there was times when a couple of boys would take two buckets and go to the neighbor's and bring water over so we could have a drink. We kept the water in an insulated cooler that held about two buckets of water. The boys'd bring it in a bucket and put it in a cooler which had a little faucet on it.
I was going to tell you about our buses. The first year I went to high school my brothers drove us, my sister and I and a cousin next door and a boy that lived a little ways from us. We had a Model A Ford pickup and drove to school in that. And they came to get us as much as they could. Otherwise we walked. We were about three miles from school. But if the boys possibly could, they came to meet us. Then the other years there were routes the driver would pick us up in regular cars--not buses. There was no limit to how many they could take. They could haul anybody they could get in. There were five or six children our driver picked up before he came to the top of the hill where we lived. It was just up a real long hill. So we walked there and met him. We had to pay the fellows that drove our bus and I can't remember what we paid a month, whether it was a dollar a month. It might of gotten up to a dollar and a half.
The year I graduated, 1939, had the biggest graduating class that ever graduated from Morgan High School. After that the classes got smaller and the school only lasted a few more years, for there weren't enough children. Schools like Conway could reach out farther and they began to get real buses. That was just before World War II when Hitler was on the move.
But our class really had a graduation. We were the first to have a class ring, first to have invitations sent out and first to have caps and gowns.
Some of us girls wanted caps and gowns but our teachers did not want us to have them. They pointed out to us that they thought they were for college graduates, and besides, it was extra money. They didn't like to see children run around in caps and gowns the last week of school. It was the customary thing in the country schools when they got their caps and gowns, that the seniors wore them the last week everywhere they went. Our teachers didn't want us to do that. But we kids, 'cause other schools had caps and gowns, we wanted them. So we wrote and ordered them overruling our teachers. They told us if we did get them there was one thing about it, we couldn't wear them anywhere except baccalaureate and graduation. We just got to wear them twice, but it was worth it. That way we all looked just alike. That was the biggest graduating class and it was the nicest.
Then it wasn't just the common thing to have caps and gowns. Now everybody has them, everybody has invitations, everybody has senior pictures and that is just part of it. Of course, our teachers were looking at our dad and mom's pocketbook and they thought we were spending a little money we didn't need to.
After graduating I could have gone to college as far as being prepared is concerned. Some did go and didn't seem to have any trouble. I do know that if Morgan High School had not been there I doubt that ten per cent of the kids who attended would have gone anywhere else to school. I doubt if I could have. It served its purpose. When it closed, all the children went to Conway, Phillipsburg or Grovespring High Schools, for the buses came after them then. Morgan was located too close to about four other already established high schools to continue any longer.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.
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