Okay, we’ve reached the end of summer and what a school year John and Ruth have ahead of them! Ruth will be off teaching and doing an incredible amount of growing up. John is alone at NCC for his senior year. They stuggle with the separation. John’s letters give the best picture of school life at NCC, and Ruth’s give such an incredible view into the world of public school teaching. Letters are year-round from here until June of 1930 so we’ve gots tons of stories – and romance – to go!! The letters get longer and longer and, of course, there are more of them so if you don’t want to read through everything, the pictures and the parts I’ve highlighted will give you a taste of what’s going on. But if you are like me, you’ll get hooked…..
Ruth 9/2/28 Waterbury to Columbus
Just one more day and I will be Miss Benton. It hardly seems possible that I will begin to really teach tomorrow. I have wanted to for so long, in fact ever since I can remember, and now that I am ready to begin I almost wish that I wasn’t. Now I think I would rather go on to college. However I don’t believe I would have ever been quite satisfied if I hadn’t tried my ability in teaching. I have been working at the school building since Friday morning. I never realized before how much red-tape there is to getting started in the school year, getting books ready and plans made for the week. It is rather nerve wracking when one doesn’t know the first thing about it. I am very much enthused aobut our corp of teachers. As far as I can judge now they are as fine a bunch of girls as one could find anywhere. The girl I like best is from Sioux City named Catherine Myers. Only one man in the bunch sides Mr. Bell and he is married. Fortunately (don’t you think?) for he lives at the same house I do. I haven’t seen him yet . They tell me his wife goes to school at Morningside. I was wondering who I was going to find for friends this winter that I could really enjoy after being with a college group so long, but that is no problem now I know. I am going to have a good time with these girls.
As far as my physical surroundings, they are as nearly perfect as I could hope to find. My room is at Mrs. Ellis’s house, first house on the right side of the street from the school. The room is very nice and is furnished very nicely. I have the use of the piano as much as I like. My boarding place is two blocks west and such a boarding place! I’m very much afraid I’ll get fat eating there. The way this lady feeds us I don’t see how she makes anything. Now if you were only closer everything would be tip-top, but if you always write me good letters I can even stand being away from you. I am homesick to see Pres. and Mrs. Carrell. I’m afraid I’ll have to catch a bus your way by Thanksgiving.
With my 37 students I won’t have much time to be thinking of such things. Whatever will I do with them all? But, John, I’ve just got to make a go of it. If I should fail I never could hold my head up again. (Rachel’s note: Ruth is teaching a combined class of 4th and 5th grades)
Have no fear of me getting lazy this winter There is no chance for anything like that. I’m here to say there is something doing all the time and if I don’t make something to do the pupils do. But they are a dear group. I have fallen in love with everyone of the youngsters already, even the one everybody said would be such a mean youngster. I am too happy for words. So far I have not had a bit of trouble with the youngsters, that is, out of the ordinary and the work has gone beautifully. The first morning I thought I was going to get frightened when the bell rang and there I stood before a group of 38 pairs of eyes all looking straight at me. I didn’t know what else to do so I just waded in as though it was the most common thing in the world for me to do. I flatter myself in thinking the pupils do like me a little. The minute I step out on the playground they flock around me like bees Today my one little freckle-faced red-headed boy brought me a big apple. He didn’t say anything but just grinned and I acted like it was the nicest thing that ever happened. I am quite enthused about the work if I just wouldn’t get so tired. By evening I am ready to drop in my tracks. Perhaps I won’t notice it so much after awhile when I get more used to the work. Myers (Rachel’s note: this is Catherine Myers who becomes Ruth’s best teacher buddy) feels just like I do, so tired we can scarcely get to supper. A new pupil came today – now I’m up to 39!!
Last night after school Chester came in to see me and then after awhile here came Dad. Said he just wanted to see how I lived through the day I was awfully glad he came Mother is coming up tomorrow evening when Ralph comes up for band. The whole family is very much interested in my work and in my progress.
My first week of teaching is almost over and I am as happy over it as can be, strange as that may seem. I’m usually blue and discouraged with my attempts at anything, a miserable trait of mine. I wish I could be more like some of these girls who can pass things over in a happy-go-lucky way. I can’t see but what they get just as far in the end as I do with all my concern over matters. Tonight I feel a heavy weight on my mind because I do not have my lesson plans completed for next week. Some of the teachers don’t have as much work done as I have and they don’t seem worried tonight; they are talking of going to a party. I have had to go into my teaching with my whole self as I have to do everything else in order to make it count. I have to be on my feet from 8:30 until 4:00. I can’t do anything sitting down. I didn’t have such a good day today. I simply had to sit down but the mischief begins at once, Ornery little imps! P.S. I left my petticoat at Mildred’s. She sent it to me last week.
Your sweetheart has been a school ma’am for a week and thus far is very much in love with her work. Except for being exhausted. I went home Friday evening. Mother made me go right to bed and that helped. I’ve had a headache today that I’m sure is just because of the nervous tension I am in. Merl warned me I would have all that to go through. I’ve just got to make a go of this or die in the attempt.
To think that NCC classes are starting tomorrow and I won’t be there, It almost turns on the “waterworks”. I come more near being homesick for the college than I ever was to go home from college.
We are all very sad and anxious about Aunt Cecil. She has not been getting any better, in fact has been failing rapidly. She’s in the hospital. The doctor told them that she has a goiter and the quicker she got rid of it the better She just went to pieces entirely and cried and cried. She was so bad the doctor forbid anyone from seeing her except Uncle Willie. They thought they were going to take her to Rochester for surgery but decided to wait awhile and take some treatments to get her nerves back. She was better today so they are encouraged. Give my best to everyone at school.
Ruth 9/13/28 Allen to NCC
What I need tonight is a little of your special kind of comfort. After school tonight I felt like murdering someone. Those little imps of mine let loose today and I thought I’d just about lost control entirely. (Rachel’s note: so much for the optimism!) I don’t know why it is that I can’t control youngsters. I wish someone could tell me how it is done. So far I have tried to be especially nice to them, but it isn’t taking effect so tomorrow if there is no change somebody is going to get a lickin. The minute I turn my back on part of the room then the mischief begins. They are going to find out tomorrow that I will do something besides talk. I hate like everything to do it but I can’t let them tear up the room.
This terrible inferiority complex of mine is coming to the surface again. It makes me want to tear my hair. I know you always believe in me and the folks do but I don’t seem to have the stuff in me to make things swing. Sometimes I feel quite elated with my work and the next thing I know I am completely discouraged. Be patient with me won’t you? I write this to you and you only because I’m sure by this time you have learned what to expect from me. I know it is terrible to tell you all my woes but I always have had to tell you everything and I suppose I always will.
I went to a party last night for one of the teachers. Just we teachers there but it was some party. They don’t hold or give parties here, they “sling them”.
Its almost time to begin another week of teaching and I don’t feel quite ready for it. I know I sounded gloomy in my last letter, but you know my moods. I have such a mob to take care of. Things are going better, I guess the youngsters are beginning to realize that I mean to be boss and I certainly do.
It was a busy weekend. We went to a show called “The Wizard” on Sat night and it was terrible. If you had been there you would probably have gotten right up and taken me home. Catherine went home with me Saturday and we were almost scared to go to bed that night. Sunday afternoon I had to work on my speech. Ahem – yes – Mr. Bell and Miss Benton gave some speeches on education at Springbank tonight. I’m glad you didn’t hear it cause I never like to have you hear me talk. I can’t do it will enough I wasn’t a bit scared and really thought I did quite well.
Catherine made quite a hit with the family I think she surely is a dandy girl I fact I think she and Ralph got on most too well together. Perhaps it is a good thing he is getting out of the country tomorrow. I’m quite sure she likes him alright. This information is for you alone sweetums so don’t mention it. (Rachel’s note: When Ralph and Catherine were in their 80’s and both widowed Dad hooked them up and they got married! Dad was so proud of his role as cupid!)
I simply devour your letters they mean so much to me. I bump up against so many disappointments in this work I have been thinking how much better I could do my work if you were with me. Why must they bar a married woman from teaching when in many cases she could be a better teacher by having her lifelong companion with her? (Rachel’s note: Most school districts would not hire married women in the 1920’s. The assumption was that they would get pregnant.) Perhaps it doesn’t work that way in reality. I don’t think that I am so much in love with this work that I couldn’t give it up for you.
The new Methodist minister moved in donating two boys to my room raising my number to 40!! The room is so crowded there is scarcely room to turn except just around my desk
We received our first paychecks The pay us at the end of the first three weeks and every four weeks following withholding ten percent of each month’s wage until all books are turned in making our salary come in 10 installments. Most of us went to Sioux City the next day and our wages are all gone now. I invested in a new coat and two dresses and the rest goes to board and room and doctor bills left from this summer. “Oh Boy, that’s where my money goes”
There isn’t anything new to write The same old thing day after day – a steady round with the kids from morning until night. Every day this week has been perfectly terrible. The music teacher sent five youngsters up to the superintendent’s office. She always has a worse time with them than I do but I had a little difficulty with one of my fifth graders. Mr. Bell had to handle it, All he did was made the kid sit in his office about an hour and a half and then made him come down and apologize to me. Two of my boys fought on the playground today. Had to keep them in after school and lecture them, They cried but promised to be good sports on the playground here after. If there is any trouble anywhere on the playground or around the school building I am pretty safe in betting some of my youngsters are mixed up in it. Two more families are moving to town, one with four children and the other with one. I’m sure at least one will be added to my classroom.
Hardly seems possible that one whole month has passed that I have been teaching It has been a hard month but I believe the rest of the months will not be quite so hard. Let’s hope. I am facing a new problem. How should I handle the problem of smoking among my boys or is it a problem for me to handle? It is true that a great number of my boys smoke, even those little fellows in the fourth grade. Some of the parents know about it and some don’t. Miss Myers says she knows nearly all her boys smoke. Surely their parents can’t help but know it and if they let them continue what can we teachers do?
The high school boys played their first football game and lost. That evening I heard that about all the boys were drunk, so drunk they could scarcely walk. Why do they do it? There are no young people to speak of that take part in any of the church activities in Allen They all go to shows or dances on Sunday evening. How could they be persuaded to anything else? It’s too much for me.
Aunt Cecil came home yesterday. Josie lost her school and will stay at home to do the work; the doctors told Cecil not to work for a there would be danger of her trouble returning, Perhaps it is best Josie lost her school. (Rachel’s note: Josie and Arvilla are favorite cousins)
I’m anxious to hear about the football game. You can’t imagine how I felt Friday afternoon when I’d think of Central having a football game and I couldn’t be there to see it. Why in the world couldn’t I have gotten a school closer to the college?
John 9/5/28 Columbus
I must be more careful with my rhetoric and writing now that I am writing to “Miss Benton” the school teacher. You certainly do have ideal conditions to work in for which I am happy. You can be very thankful that you aren’t off in the sand hills somewhere teaching in a small rural school. Now that you are teaching I have a greater desire than ever to start school. This morning I planned my course and I thought I would have an easy time this year, but by the looks of my schedule I don’t think I’ll get any vacation. I could drop a subject or two but then I now I think I can’t possibly get along without them. I’m taking US History, History of Friends, History of Education, Advanced Botany, Drama, German II, and Glee Club.
I’m going to Central next Saturday and begin my work in the bookstore. I hope to find permanent work on Saturdays this winter as my expenses will be higher than usual during my senior year.
John 9/13/28 NCC
School has begun but not without its disappointments as well as its joy. We are very, very disappointed with our enrollment. Prospects looked so good this summer until the drought cast its blanket over our students. We will be fortunate if we have an enrollment of 75 students. My heart almost breaks as I think of the needs of our Yearly Meeting and yet we will only minister to such a small number of our young people, and very few Friends at that. We have gotten a nice start with what we have. We have a very fine group, much of the undesirable element of other years we do not have.
I’ve been awfully busy with my work this week getting orders off for books, providing for the needs of my student customers and trying to help every one enjoy themselves and get adjusted as well as try to do a little studying.
Our football prospects are awfully poor. In fact I have just been in conference with President and it looks as though our games will have to be canceled and that we will probably not attempt playing.
Memory has taken me back this weekend to the days that have been. How strange it seems to spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday alone. It is a great consolation to think however that we are coming closer to the time when we can spend all our time together. It won’t be more than a year and eight and one-half months at the most.
I’m always grieved to learn of your troubles, but I want you to continue to share them with me. I know you can handle your situation. I have a world of confidence in your ability. When I got your letter about how badly you wanted to see me I felt like taking the first train your way. It hurts me to know I could help you and am so situated that I can’t do it.
School is off to a good start. I missed you at the reception but we did have a good time. It was one of the best receptions I have ever attended. That will easily be explained of course when I tell you that I was chairman of the occasion. Who should show up but Guy Puckett. He has been staying with me this weekend. We have had much to talk about. He has about decided to go to the University of Nebraska next year for his Master’s degree.
What do you suppose your sweetheart has under consideration now? I’m thinking of buying the car that Guy Solt and I used this summer. Do you remember that I said I was off on cars until I bought a new one? Well, I haven’t forgotten but if I’m considering pastorate work at Community Friends I’ll need a car and, you see, then I could come and see you more often.
It looks now as if we are going to go ahead with football and have a pretty good team. Guy Solt has been getting in some new students who are football material. Our debate prospects are very good too.
If plans could be made where by we could teach or work together next year would you be willing to marry next summer? If I manage well this year I ought not to be in debt a great deal, not more than $125. I’m going to start exploring possibilities. I sit here and figure and scheme and there comes to me the feeling that to be married next year would be possible. (Rachel’s note: Dream on, Dad!)
So glad the late part of the week went better for you. I can always tell by your letter just about what mental and physical state you are in. Needless to say for my sake and yours I hope things soon run smoothly.
Yesterday at noon I left for Omaha to hear Alfred Smith (Rachel’s note: Dad’s first mention of the political world that will become his career. Al Smith was the candidate for president against Hoover). It was a wonderful sight to just see that mass of people all keyed to a high pitch Mr. Metcalf, Democratic nominee for senator, spoke followed by Mr. Fleahearty, candidate for representative. These addresses were splendid, although I don’t suppose I agree with all they said. Then appeared “Al” himself. He is a small, nice looking gentleman. His personality appeals instantly. H spoke frankly largely about the farm situation. The crowd was most responsive and offered a splendid oppotunity to observe mob psychology. I don’t think I will vote for Mr. Smith, but I feel very kindly toward him and recogize him as a keen thinker and an able leader. Everyone is so inquisitive about my opinion of Al. They think I’m an arch enemy of all that is good when I say some nice things about him. I can imagine what Dad would say.
Honestly dear I do get quite lonesome this year. There are only three guys that seem like pals and they are quite busy as I am; the other newer boys take me too seriously. They act toward me like they do their professors and call me “Mr. Ferguson” since they knew me before they came as I recruited them.
Since I wrote last I’ve thought a great deal and the more I think about it I should not have asked you to consider marriage next summer. Not because I don’t’ want to but because of the things you have planned and the things you want. My request was selfish.
You certainly must be having some time with your youngsters for which I am awfully sorry. I don’t think you need to feel that the trouble your boys create is due to any weakness of yours. At about that age all boys are terrors to manage. They are so full of “zip” that they can’t control themselves and it is hard for anyone else to control them. You will find however that the boys of that age have a great sense of honor. They are very careful about what the others of the gang think of them. Do you apply the Honor system? I hesitate to suggest anything because you know more about teaching than I do, but Mr. Thomas at Camp Sheldon was successful in working out a plan whereby the boys worked for honors or rewards and they worked very well.
Two weeks of school have passed and I have scarcely realized it Talk about busy, I never experienced anything like it is this year. With so few older members back it is John Ferguson for most everything. The book store, YMCA, Christian Endeavor, Sunday school, athletic association, football, football manager, etc. I got such a headache I couldn’t attend the retreat after arranging for the program. In addition to the headache I was sore from toes up from the severe workout I got Friday evening in football. I wish I didn’t have to go out for football since I can’t play, but I promised I would help all I could if they would have a team. Midst the rush I have managed to keep happy, think of my sweetheart and have confidence that I will survive.
Just think, only until Friday until our first football game. Everyone is getting pepped up to beat Dana and I think we will. I can hardly wait. How I wish I were eligible to play! And how I wish you were going to be here to help us win!
From as booklet of NCC songs and yells:
They say that the Quakers they ain’t got no style.
Got style all the while, style all the while!
They say that the Quakers they ain’t got no style.
Got style all the while, style all the while —“LET’S GO!!”
Last night the YMCA had their initiation and we had the most fun. We fixed up a wooden goat and gave all the new members a grand ride. We spent the evening in such pranks and then had lunch and formal initiation. Everyone, including me, almost laughed ourselves sick.
You are homesick for NCC and NCC is homesick for you. Today Mrs Carrell told me how much she misses you and hardly knows how she will manage without you. Mrs. Carrell gave me the nicest new curtains for the bookstore. They make such a difference. The Carrell’s are always thinking of the nicest things to do for others. I hope we can be that way too.
I had a wonderful weekend. After I have had happy time I always want to tell you all about them. We defeated Dana College 27 to 0. The boys played surprisingly well. There were 16 guys who played.
I bought Guy’s Solt’s Ford. Horace Mott and I came back in it and it surely runs like a Packard. I gave only $40 for it. It will soon pay for itself it it only brings me to you. Would you object to my coming Friday evening? I really can’t afford to make such a trip but neither can I afford not to.
My roommate just returned from his weekend with his weekly store of eatables that he shares with me. I like him very much. He feels quite happy because in the football game the first down he had ever played in college football he made a touchdown.
After church this evening we invited the ladies over and had a watermelon feed.