Dr. T. W. Wood, who was reared in Cannon County and who is past threescore and ten, says: "I have heard
my father speak of having studied Dillworth's speller and Johnson's dictionary. I used Webster's speller (which
has never been surpassed), Kirkham's grammar, McGuffey's reader, Smiley's arithmetic, Walker's dictionary, Davies's
algebra,, and Mitchell's geography and arithmetic." Dr. Wood adds: "It was nothing uncommon for free
schools to last only six weeks or two months. Teachers were paid from $20 to $30 per month, frequently holding
forth in log cabins with dirt floors and wooden benches without backs. The writing desk consisted of a broad plank
attached to the wall. More attention was paid to penmanship, reading, spelling, and arithmetic than
to-day. The true basis of education is more neglected now than then." John K.
Bain wrote in his eighty-seventh year: "From 1836 to 1842, or later, there were no free schools in my section
- all subscription. The teacher took his seat and made each scholar stand beside him to say his lesson. He kept
a long switch, fully four feet, sticking up over the door. There were no classes. The books used were Webster's
speller, Smiley's arithmetic, McGuffey's readers, and geography. One of my teachers was Glasgow Harper, who finally
became a Methodist preacher and moved down near Liberty or on Smith's Fork." Dr. J. B. Foster gave this information
in 1914: "The schoolbooks sixty and seventy years ago were Webster's speller (my copy, however, was yellow,
not blue, and I recall having written on the inside 'bird foster'), McGuffey's readers, Smith's grammar at Liberty
and Kirkham's at Smithville, Smiley's and Pike's arithmetics, and Olney's geography. There were others for advanced
pupils. At all old field schools two pupils would choose spellers and have a 'spelling battle' on Friday afternoons.
When a pupil wanted to 'go out' in some instances he (to keep tab) had to carry a crooked stick, and on his return
he hung it back on a nail in the wall. The presence of the stick meant 'all are in; now you can go out.' It was
a sort of passport. Blackboards were not then in use. Big and little were whipped when the teacher thought they
needed chastisement. The pupil who reached the schoolhouse first 'said' his lesson first; 'recite' was not used.
At the writing hour the girls practiced first and then the
boys. Goose quill pens were common. Vials took the place of inkstands. In each was
a piece of cotton, holding the absorbed ink in case the bottle was turned over, and when not in use the bottles
were suspended on nails by strings. The larger pupils were allowed to sit outside and 'cipher,' study grammar,
and the like. Boys and girls did not play together, and young teachers were partial to boys who had pretty sisters."
Corporal punishment was indeed in vogue. Often it was severe, even for some years after the close of the
War between the States. Sometimes as effective a punishment as could be administered was to make a mischievous
lad sit beside a girl. Thus exposed to gaze, he was the pink victim of snickering playmates. Doubtless that course
would not embarrass young America to-day.
Geographies being scarce, once a day, usually late in the afternoon, the entire school stood against the
walls and "sang geography," the teacher leading. Nations or States with the capitals and the names and
height of mountains were the main things learned in this way. The chanting would run somewhat thus: "Ar-kan-sas,
Ar-kan-sas - Little Rock, Little Rock;" or, "Copenhagen, Copenhagen - Denmark, Denmark."
School hours were from sunrise to sunset, with a "recess" in both forenoon and afternoon, and
"playtime" took up an hour in the middle of the day. The lunch brought by children to be eaten during
recess was called "recess," not "snack" or lunch. The games played were town ball, bull pen,
Ant'ny-over, marbles, knucks, and fox chase. The favorite relaxation of the
girls was jumping the rope. From time out of mind the shouting of "school butter"
by a passer-by was resented by the pupils and maybe the teacher. Chief Justice John Marshall was now and then,
he tells us, chased for uttering the challenge and could not explain why it caused resentment or how it originated.
Recently through the Nashville Banner a Tennessee lady has said that "school butter" is a corruption
of the taunt, "the school's better" - that is, the school's superior. If caught, the challenger was ducked
in the nearest stream or mudhole and punished for his temerity.
The writer was a pupil of these first schools. Often, when among new friends in his experiences in the daily
journalism of various cities, he has forgotten them and thought of his boyhood playmates. His affection for the
latter was on one occasion expressed in the following lines, which, if not of historical interest, may yet appeal
to survivors of the old times:
The time for cakes and ale is gone for us of grizzled hair-
But that can't make our hearts forget how old school days shone fair.
Outside the house-the waving woods where rose the brown bees' hum,
And the wild roses that appeared dead lovers' vows in bloom;
Within-the boys in homespun suits, the teacher's mighty frowns,
And girls, though plainly dressed, as plump as those in silken gowns.
And Zekle Moore and Abner Smith, Sue Brown and Mary Strong!
Your plain, old-fashioned names are fit to grace the sweetest song.
Where are you, tow-head boys who felt each day the birchen rod,
And knew how well to place the pin and aim the paper wad?
Where are the girls on whom back there we cast admiring eyes-
Whose smiles brought back to earth once more some hints of Paradise?
Old time has been as rough with them no doubt as with us blades,
And some are fat-and-forty dames and some perhaps old maids! . . .
But there was one of pleasant mien I think of oft and long
And wish she knew a thought of her throbs through this little song.
In all probability the earliest school in DeKalb County was taught at Liberty. Among the early teachers
there were a Mr. Chambers and William Gay. Their names recur more persistently to the older people than others
of the ante-bellum years. The latter married a daughter of the merchant, Seth Whaley, and is described by Dr. Foster
as having "two or three fingers missing from one hand and parting his hair in the middle." Mr. and Mrs.
Gay removed to Missouri. Mrs. Rachel Payne, as will be seen elsewhere, says that Mr. Chambers was the first to
keep school in the first specially erected schoolhouse, the long one-story frame building which stood from about
1843 to some time during the war, when it was torn down by order of Col. William B. Stokes and the lumber used
for making cabins for the officers of his regiment about the stockade, northwest of the Methodist church.
Richard Carroll, a lame pedagogue, came from Smith County with Frederick Jones, tailor and tavern
keeper. John Collins, who also may have taught at Alexandria, was for a while in charge
of a school at Liberty. Writes Dr. Foster: "Collins and C.G.O. Smith were teachers who occasionally imbibed-kept
intoxicants hid out." Among other ante-bellum teachers were Professor Crane, who married Miss Amanda Seay
and who, being Northern-born, returned to Indiana during the secession excitement, C.W.L. Hale, W.D.G. Carnes,
and Roland Foster. This writer started out during Mr. Foster's time to lay the foundation of an education, being
very small, tow-headed, and bare of feet. Reaching the door with his brother Horace that summer morning, he espied
Billy Gothard sitting astride one stove and George Smith astride the other. They were being punished thus for some
mischief. This startled him, and he shot under the house, where he remained long enough to devour his "recess,"
and then took to his heels in the direction of home.
Dr. Foster refers further to teachers at Liberty prior to 1851, naming Joseph Perryman, A. M. Jones, Robert
Yeargin, and Mr. Woodward. The last named remained only a short while.
The writer recalls these later teachers: W.D.G. Carnes, John Truitt, Miss Cynthia Fuston, Miss Hattie Woodside,
Mrs. Thomas Adamson (from Iowa), Rev. D. P. Searcy, John F. Roy, Horace M. Hale, Miss Callie Sneed, W. D. Gold,
Miss Sallie Coward, W. A. Barger, John Bryan, Miss Amelia Bryan, Hood and Baker (from the North), Jones and Renick,
Mr. Friece (from the North), Rev. James Turner, Thomas Turner, Professor Paschal, Miss Stevens, S. B. Sher-
rill, Alona Gossett, Robert Smithson, Professor Rose, Professor Crewes, E. W. Brown,
J. H. Killman, and Matt Bratten. The teachers in 1914 were: Horace L. Smith, principal; Misses Gene Crowley and
Bessie Saunders, assistants; and Miss Mildred Mathis, music teacher.
It is believed that the first building put to educational purposes was the old log church, Salem, then the
new frame which took its place. After the war of 1861-65, the latter was again used; so was the Methodist church;
and Miss Cynthia Fuston kept school awhile in a log cabin in the eastern part of the village. In 1869 the Masonic
Academy was erected, the first teachers being H. M. Hale, principal, and Miss Callie Sneed, assistant. In the present
decade the high school building was erected.
It should be stated that shortly after Masonic Academy was built differences arose between some of the patrons
as to how the common school fund should be managed. As a result another house, William Blackburn leading, was put
up near the pioneer graveyard north of the village. A few sessions were held in it, when it fell into disuse.
Old residents of Alexandria think that the first school kept there was by Wyley Reynolds in a log house
about 1820. Persons who remember him say that he was above the average as an instructor. Later in a frame house
John Collins taught the young idea how to shoot. A frame building was about 1840 especially erected for educational
purposes. According to
Facing page 62, photo captioned:
LAWRENCE ACADEMY, ALEXANDRIA
Photographed by Joe and Fred Hale, Gassaway, Tenn.
Goodspeed's history, Masonic Academy followed in 1856, and in 1858 Lawrence College.
The two latter, attractive and substantial structures, gave evidence of the people's love of learning, and in their
time turned out many well-informed men and cultured women.
Prior to the great war subscription schools were also taught by Miss Bettie Minor, Miss Mary Mortimer, and
Mrs. Susan Bryant.
Other teachers besides Reynolds and Collins have been: John Ogden, Thomas Bunday, William Rust, Frank Smith,
Messrs. Pirkey, Joy, McKnight, and William Hi Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Sawyer, Mr. and Mrs. Blackington, Mr. and Mrs.
Davis, Mr. and Mrs. Magoffin, James Turner, Thomas Eastes, H. L.W. Gross, Mrs. T. L. Gold, J. L. Boon, and others.
Professor Boon was in charge in 1914, his assistants being Misses Odom, Lucas, and Coles.
Very little is known relative to early Smithville schools of the old field variety, but there were such.
Dr. Foster recalls the following, who taught after 1851: William Eastham, Thomas Bunday, William Dawson, and Mr.
In 1838 Fulton Academy was chartered. This, a commodious brick building, became famous locally within a
few years for its able instructors. The trustees of the institution were Thomas Durham, Moses Pedigo, Samuel Allen,
Martin Phillips, and Bernard Richardson. The following taught in the academy: William Hi Smith, of Williamson County;
H. G. Hampton, of Franklin County; Mr. Bentley, of Maury
County; John F. Moore, of Vermont; R. F. Sanders and J. J. and W. R. Smith. About 1880-81
Pure Fountain College was erected. It was three stories and cost about $12,000. It was burned, and a building of
two stories took its place. One of the teachers at Pure Fountain College was Prof. T. B. Kelley, of Maury County.
He took charge in 1883.
A noted ante-bellum school was Union Institute, a mile and a half out on the Sparta road. Mr. Ghormsley,
who established it, was a minister of the Christian Church and a thorough instructor. He finally engaged in horse-trading,
driving the animals south. Becoming bankrupt, he left the country.
Names of present tutors: J. S. Wood, A. Colvert, Miss Ocie Powers, Miss Janie Miller, and Mrs. Oma Foster,
teacher of music.
In the sketches of Temperance Hall, Dowelltown, Laural Hill, and Forks-of-the-Pike will be found educational
notes as to those sections. These names should be added to the list of men and women who have taught in the county
at one time or another: W. G. Crowley, Mrs. Peter Adams, Miss Lizzie Simpson, Alex Robinson, his son William, Milton
Ward, Robert C. Nesmith, Glasgow Harper, Terry Trapp, Mr. Whitlock (of Dismal Creek), Uncle Johnnie Sneed, James
A. Nesmith, H. C. Givan, Dan Williams, and H. L. Overall.
The following have been Superintendents of Public Instruction: Terry Trapp, who served from the organization
of the free school system until 1880, when he was succeeded by J. W. Overall; Alvin Avant,
1881; Dick Goodson, 1887; M. T. Martin, 1889; E. W. Brown, 1891; W. J. Gothard, 1895;
J. E. Drake, 1899; R. H. Lankford, 1903; Martha Robinson, 1907; J. S. Woods, 1909; J. F. Caplinger, 1913.
The Board of Education for 1914 selected teachers for the schools of the county as follows:
Upper Helton, Richard McGinness; New Hope, Wiley Dinkins.
Green Hill, Otis Turney; Goggin School, Gertrude Wilson; Pea Ridge, C. H. Vickers and Harrison Ashford;
Adamson's Branch, Tommy Cripps.
Possum Hollow, Robert Fuson; Church School, Miss Hattie Sanders; Cripps' School, V. R. Fuson and Miss Hildah
Fuson; George School, Less Fuson; Crossroads, Floice Vickers and Virgil Gilreath, co-principals.
Helton, Howard Hobson, principal; Miss Corinne McNelly, assistant.
Pisgah, Mack Reynolds; Capling, Mrs. Carrie Jones; Bluff School, C. A. Malone.
Four Corners, Miss Willie Bell, principal; assistant to be supplied.
Temperance Hall, Leroy Smith (principal), Miss Stella Young (assistant); Cove Hollow, Claude Christian;
Long Branch, L. L. Braswell; colored school, Lizzie Stokes.
Bethel House, Grady Kelley; Walker's Creek, Hugh Robinson.
Cooper's Chapel, M. C. Bratten (principal), Miss Mai Robinson (assistant); Dowelltown, Starnes and
Malone; June Bug, Robert White; colored school, Maggie Talley.
It was ordered that the pay of the teachers be the same as for 1913, which was for secondary schools, $45;
primary, $40; excepting Bethel, Green Hill, Goggin, Mud College, Jones House, Rock Castle, and Dale Ridge, which
were placed at $35. The salary of assistant teachers was $30 for teachers with experience and $25 per month for
the new ones. Colored teachers receive $30 per month.
In 1823 the first public school law in the State was passed, providing for the application of public funds
to establish "poor schools" or to pay the tuition of poor children in other schools. From this is dated
the long-time prejudice against public schools, which were called "poor schools" down to recent times.
The first efficient system became a law in 1867; while the present system, which has been added to and strengthened
from time to time, was instituted in 1873.
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