Margaret Fuller School days,
Readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmetic,
Taught with a smile and not a stick.
This was sung every Friday afternoon as we assembled on the inside staircase of the school, just before going home. I attended the Margaret Fuller School from September 1929 to June 1934. It was a red brick, two-story school located on Glen Road, very near Franklin Park. There were grades kindergarten through 5. When I first was a pupil there the fifth-grade class was located up the hill in an old Victorian house at the corner of Glen Road and Forest Hills Street.
The fifth grade occupied one room, on the first floor. There were no desks, just an assortment of straight-back chairs, and the pupils piled their books on the floor underneath. Coats were hung on hooks along one wall, and heat was provided by a stove in the middle of the floor. Did people complain? Of course not! In fact, we loved it when we went up there for a special program or something.
In about 1931 or1932, an addition was built on to the original school that allowed for a fifth-grade classroom – and two portables were erected next to the school. The empty lot next to the school that had served as the schoolyard was cleaned up, fenced in and cemented – prior to this we just played in that lot.
I remember the teachers well:
Kindergarten: Miss Sullivan (assisted by Miss Ferry – a pretty young lady, still in Teacher’s College)
Grade 1 (2 classes) Miss Carpenter (also the Principal), Miss Fitzgerald
Grade 2 (2 classes) Miss McPherson, Miss Buxton
Grade 3 (2 classes) Miss Friary, Miss Young
Grade 4 (2 classes) Miss Dorey, Miss Scully
Grade 5 (1 class) Miss Loughran
There was only one fifth-grade class because children living on the other side of Washington Street were required to attend the Bowditch School on Green Street for fifth grade.
Every Monday began with a general assembly. There was no auditorium, so we assembled in the kindergarten room. A large circle was painted on the floor, and the kindergarteners sat around this circle in sturdy little chairs. As a teacher played a stirring march, we filed in, class by class (one pupil in each class carrying the flag), and stood in our assigned places. After the Pledge of Allegiance and My Country ‘tis of Thee, the Bible was read – especially Psalm 24 (yes, the 24th, which we eventually memorized). There was a prayer and then we sang Come, Thou Almighty King. There were the usual announcements, current events, a special story or poem, and we all filed back to our classrooms. I should mention that the Bible was read every morning in each classroom, followed by a short prayer.Quite often James Michael Curley, Mayor of Boston, would attend our opening exercises and our plays. (I think he often worked from home, which was in Jamaica Plain instead of City Hall.)
When the school was enlarged the cloak rooms were removed and clothes cupboards built in the back of each classroom. These had folding doors with panels that became bulletin boards. In the weeks leading up to Christmas the teachers would get pictures (copies of famous religious paintings) from the public library, put them up on those bulletin boards, and we would learn the Christmas story. We also memorized those portions of the Scriptures. Then when Lent arrived pictures of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Crucifixion and Resurrection would be put up and we would learn those Bible stories, too. I remember vividly how the teacher explained the reason for the crucifixion, and the rapt attention of the children. We had children of all ethnic and religious backgrounds, but NO ONE ever complained. The parents, too, enjoyed these religious displays.
In the Margaret Fuller School we were taught not only the usual subjects, but also things that have lasted throughout our lives. Every Monday a “Memory Gem” was written on the blackboard which we recited each day, i.e., If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again; Remember to be kind; A habit is a cable: you weave a thread of it each day until it becomes so strong you cannot break it; and Practice makes perfect.
In my second-grade class, the teacher would bring in a piece of classical music which she would play many times, explaining what each “movement” meant. So, we learned a little music appreciation along the way. I remember Humoresque, The Flight of the Bumblebee, and Melody in F, among others.
We went home for lunch – and on Halloween we were allowed to return dressed in a costume – and there would be the teachers, also in costume, waiting for us in the schoolyard. We would then go room by room in our costumes.
At Christmastime, Mr. Robinet, the custodian, would erect a real tree in each classroom. We would decorate these with paper ornaments, and also the windows. The day before Christmas recess, we would go room to room singing Christmas carols and looking at their decorations. Then, as we left the school, each child was given a little box of Christmas candy (the kind tied with a string). The trees were discreetly given to children whose families otherwise would have had no Christmas tree.
One day after Christmas recess was “Doll Day” (even though the boys were involved, too), when in the afternoon we could bring a toy to school to show the class. A lot of these were homemade (especially doll clothes and trucks). Another fun time.
We had plays for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and very patriotic plays celebrating George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Betsy Ross.
With all of the above happiness you might wonder if we ever learned our lessons. Well, there were seldom any discipline problems – we loved our teachers and were more than willing to pay attention during our studies, knowing that “good times were ahead.” There were rules, of course. Slingshots were not allowed, but once in a while one would appear sticking out of some boy’s pocket. These were immediately confiscated and put in the bottom drawer of the teacher’s desk. On the last day of school they would be returned to their owners with the admonition to “never bring it to school again.” Fighting was never allowed – boys who might get into a fight went to the Principal’s office. Whatever happened there was nothing compared to what would happen when they got home!
Rewards were given out for good work – usually a pretty sticker placed on the paper – and for a special, special thing there was “The Fairy Box” – a tin box on the shelf in the teacher’s closet, and the happy child would be allowed to take out something – usually a tiny piece of candy. However, one day I was especially good and my reward was a tiny wedge of CHOCOLATE CAKE!
One day when I was in the second grade, the teacher came in with a large box wrapped in white tissue paper and covered entirely with red and green string, each piece knotted. (It must have taken forever for the teacher to do this.) She told us there was something very special inside to be shared by all the class. She explained that every time one of the pupils did something very nice, displayed good manners, held the door for a girl/lady, was kind or helpful, that child could snip off one of the strings and when they were all snipped off, she would open the box. Well! Talk about good manners! Talk about being helpful! Talk about being kind! The great day finally came and the box was opened – with all those eager little eyes fastened on the treasure inside. All-Day-Suckers!!!!! Lollipops that none of us ever had, that really lasted all day – and from the fanciest store in Boston (S.S.Pierce) no less! Each child was given one of these HUGE candy treats. What a day! (Mine was in the shape of a rocking horse, lemon flavor).
Of course there were the down-sides of school. We had monthly “head checks” for little critters, yearly physical exams, and monthly dental check-ups. Hardly anyone had a private dentist, so we poorer children were taken to the Forsythe Dental School down in the Fenway, which scared us to death. However, when you finally received that little pin which said “My Teeth Are Perfect,” it was worth it all. (The dental work, cleaning and bus ride cost the big sum of 5 cents!)
In the winter of 1929-1930 they offered inoculations for diphtheria. My mother signed the papers giving her permission. The day for the shots arrived and we were all herded into a big room. No one had ever had a shot before so panic prevailed. Children were screaming and throwing tantrums – the teachers were beside themselves. And the doctors didn’t help matters with trays of needles displayed for all to see. I was practically paralyzed with fear, but you can be sure I’d never scream like that, not even if they were taking me to the gallows. Well, the nurse said, “Here’s a brave little girl who’s not afraid. She’ll go first to show you that it doesn’t hurt.” So, I was first to get the shot (probably the first kid in the school district). There were three injections in the series – and when each time came for another shot the nurse would call my classroom and say, “Send that brave little girl down to show the others that there is nothing to fear.”
We had monthly trips to the Children’s Museum (then located on the far side of Jamaica Pond). What an exciting day that was! We were allowed to choose our own partner instead of the one assigned for every day, and we could take a snack. We walked, with the teacher leading the way – quite a walk, too! – down Glen Road, the whole length of Green Street, across Centre Street, the whole length of Myrtle Street, and then down Moraine Street where we would stop beside Mayor Curley’s house. He would always come out to talk to us, and then call his daughter Mary to come out and bring her dogs to show the children. Finally, we’d reach the museum, where there was always a wonderful program – and then the long (but enjoyable) walk back to school.
On the first day of school each child was given a green pencil (no eraser) and this was used every day until it was just a stub – then you were given a new one. We were also given a box of letters and a box of colored pegs (to use in learning arithmetic). In grade 2 we began to use ink – with a black dip pen.
One day we would arrive at school to see the round holes at the top of our desks fitted with a little inkwell – then the teacher would carefully fill each one with ink – and we’d be taught the perils of fooling around with anything as messy as ink. We each had to bring a little cloth thing to wipe our pen points with – my mother made mine, about 3 inches round, out of grey wool, pinked the edges, and sewed a tiny red button on top. Real pretty – I kept it for years.
Even the last day of school each June was a fun day. We would bring rags and polish to school and proceed to scrub and polish our desks – so things would look nice for the next year’s class. Each afternoon throughout the year the windows were closed, the shades drawn in an even line and any papers on the floor were put in the wastebaskets. We were taught to take pride in our classrooms.
I look back on those days as among the happiest days of my life. We were mostly poor, but you don’t miss what you never had. People shared clothes – and we took care of them knowing that another child would eventually be wearing them, too. We even looked forward to “our turn” to wear something pretty that another girl was wearing. There was no shame or criticism. It was a time of caring and sharing.
And we made it! Out of those classes came policemen, firemen, postmen, politicians, secretaries, nurses, teachers, priests, ministers – even a couple of doctors! World War II played a prominent part in the lives of us all – the boys serving on battlefields from the islands of the South Pacific to the Arctic to the devastated cities of Europe – and the girls in munitions factories and shipyards. And finally home to seek the American Dream.