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Bessie Fox Truly
This is a copy of a speech given by Mrs. Bessie Fox Truly at Fayette High School in 1936 in which she tells about her first coming to Fayette to teach in 1900 and what the conditions were back then. She also talks about some of her students, many of whom have descendants still living in Jefferson. Mrs. Truly was married to Dr. Bennett A. Truly of Fayette, and their grandson, Admiral Richard Truly, born in Fayette in 1937, was NASA Administrator from 1989-92 and flew two shuttles in space in 1981 and 1983.
Contributed by Charles Dawkins - photo courtesy of Admiral Richard Truly
Adventures in Pedagogy
January 23, 1936
(Asked by the Supt. to give a Chapel Program)
Mrs. Truly says: What I shall tell you now is in no sense instructive or useful, but I think you may be amused to hear some reminiscences and experiences of my first teaching days here.
Immediately before coming to: Fayette, I, little older than some of you now, was engaged solely in having a good time, and at least from my own point of view was making rather a success of it.
But without giving it much thought I answered "yes" to a telegram from the superintendent of the newly organized Jefferson County High School, stating that his Latin teacher had resigned and asking if I would come to Fayette and take her place. I wired "yes", and then began studying maps and asking friends where Fayette was. Only one of my friends had any personal knowledge of the town and he advised strongly against my having anything to· do with the place. But I suspected him of an ulterior motive, and besides, I was tired of play and in the mood for work, and so I came to Fayette and have remained to date exactly thirty-six years, and incidentally have never played much since.
On getting off the train that New Year's Day nineteen hundred,
I was put into a strange vehicle the like of which you have never seen. It met all trains, was drawn by two strong mules, and was commonly known as "the hack", The mules had to be strong, because even then it frequently mired so deep in the bottomless streets that getting it started again was a favorite winter sports. The streets and sidewalks were innocent of concrete or gravel, and walking in wet weather was no more fun than riding, and riding in the hack was no fun at all. One rattled and bounced about in it till it was a relief to get stuck. I don't hold it against him, but "the hack" belonged to Felix Noble's grandfather, who at that time owned a large livery stable here, and considerable other property besides.
Well, I arrived at the Academy about dark, was shown to my room in the old brick dormitory, which was overflowing with teachers and girls. Each little bedroom was lighted by a glass lamp and heated by a tiny stove, and right cozy and comfortable they were too. With so many red hot stoves on cold nights we had frequent alarms of fire.
One bitter, freezing night when it seemed that we would burn in spite of manful work on the part of the whole town to save us, a very large girl rooming upstairs over what is now Mr. Langley's living room, threw her trunk and all breakables out of a window and carried her feather bed down the stairs.
And that reminds me of another fire which occurred up town soon after my coming here. During school we heard the alarm, given in those days by word of mouth and the ringing of bells. My class rose in a body and started for the door. Now I had never left school to go to a fire, nor had I ever seen anybody else do so. On the contrary, I had always looked upon leaving school to go to a fire as something that just wasn't done, and told my class so in such terms that they subsided and we went on with the lesson, to their disgust.
When I finally dismissed them, they marched sedately out of my room and out of my room, then broke into a run, and instead of turning in at the study hall door, galloped, still in line, to the end of the porch, jumped off, one behind the other like sheep, and went on to the fire.
I found to my amazement that everybody else in school had long been there. I saw that I had a lot to learn, and the next time we had a fire, we all went along and enjoyed it together.
Many unimportant little happenings stick in my memory and give me pleasure to recall: as the little freckle-faced boy in my class who defined home as a place to stay in at night--not so far wrong either. And another, who after being drilled by some teacher on the vegetable, animal, and mineral kingdom, told me a chair is a vegetable used to sit on.
Some of the young teachers, I found, were interested in tennis. Incredible as it may seem to you, I had played that game for many years, and so wrote home for my rackets and net, and we organized with some of the townspeople a tennis club and played quite a lot. Our court, the first on the campus so far as I know, was about where this building now stands.
In those days around nineteen-hundred, little girls in school here wore their hair tucked under two huge bows of gay ribbon over each ear. Hair ribbon was as much a necessary part of a small girls dress as shoes, really more so.
Our evening dresses were so much like the ones you see at parties and dances now that one might almost say there is no difference at all, but our daytime dresses with their high, tight collars, and our high laced or buttoned shoes would look very funny to you. Even street dresses were quite long and often had a short train. Naturally one hand had to be given over entirely to holding this up. If, in an emergency, both hands were needed at the same time for something else, it was just too bad for the train but fine for the sidewalk. Nevertheless we felt that we looked quite all right, and really, you'd be surprised!
My old grade books would interest you, for they prove the present twelve years work was done in those days in nine. Ninth grade pupils walked about in dignity, as befits seniors of all times. I find an eighth grade first year Latin roll, a seventh algebra class, eighth algebra, ninth geometry, ninth Caesar, and when a tenth grade was added I taught Cicero also.
In those old rolls, these are a few of the names I find, and these are mentioned because each is the father or mother of some pupil here from the seventh to the twelfth grade. Suppose you stand and answer "present" as the name of your father or mother is called:
Katie Doyle (Williamson)
Demerits were a popular mode of punishment, or at any rate popular with teachers, and I shouldn’t be surprised if my book would show a considerable number of these to the credit of certain substantial citizens of Fayette. I seem to remember that some of them were star pupils in my demerit class: Those same Truly boys, Blackburn Harper, Percy Harrison, Sr., John Noble, Alphonse Hirsch, and in later years, Roy Geoghegan, Bob Noble, Dudley Stewart, and may I add, Catherine Guice.
There is much of advantage to a teacher in having taught two generations. Whereas it may take Mr. Berry, a stranger, some time to learn where it is wise to seat pupils in the hall, I, having taught So-and-So, Sr., know at once that So-and-So, Jr. rates a front seat, very near teacher's desk.
Teaching school for two generations has made me believe strongly in heredity. It has taught me many other things. In fact I am rather of the opinion that I have learned much more from my pupils than they have ever learned from me.