Historical Report #10
Cornish School, early 1900s
"When I started teaching in 1929," says Sadie Sorenson of Cornish, "I had forty-two students in my room, three grades in the room, and I didn't know you could even ask for anything better than that." Overflowing classrooms didn't mean overflowing wallets, either. Sadie started out with a salary that was modest enough--$720 for the year--but the Great Depression put an end to that. In 1933 she was down to $552, and in 1934 she was put on a month-to-month contract as long as the finances of the district held out. Appropriations were also cut during this time, and the school year was reduced to eight months.
Large classes and small salaries aside, the job called for more than teaching. The principal of Cornish School was also the janitor then, so Sadie and her fellow teachers helped him clean, and kept the coal stove going. They also watched over the students' health needs, including their dental work. All these nonteaching tasks echo the state's 1890s rural schools, but the teachers in the early l900s were, as a group, better educated.
Sadie, pictured left at her graduation from North Cache High School, entered the classroom after two years' teachers' training and started accumulating additional college credits almost immediately as she moved through the area's school system from Cornish School in 1934 to Lewiston Elementary. In addition, she taught classes, starting with World War II, in Lewiston Junior High. "Each time I taught a new subject," Sadie tells me, "I would have to take classes at the college, either by extension, correspondence, or by going to summer school."
And Sadie was always teaching new subjects. "I taught everything," she says. "During World War II, they came to me in Lewiston Elementary and said, 'We need a teacher for social studies in Junior High, will you teach it?'" And Sadie agreed, though it meant another course of study to qualify. At that time, and in fact for nineteen years, she'd been half-time librarian in Lewiston Elementary. Sadie eventually retired from teaching in 1972, having taught just about everything a teacher could teach, including a physical education class in Junior High.
I look at this small woman who started teaching before I was born, and think of the enormous changes she's seen in Utah's educational system over her lifetime, both as a student and as a teacher. By 1910, the year of her birth, consolidation of smaller districts into the Cache County District had begun its uphill battle, with many of the more outlying communities valiantly opposing the move--including the community of Cornish.
At that time, according to J. Duncan Brite, there were around three thousand children in the County over six years old and under eighteen who were eligible for publicly funded education. Results from a study commissioned by Cache County had indicated that, given the tax dollars available in each community, a five-mill levy funding education would yield only $3.23 per school child in a poor district, while in a rich district the same levy would yield $43.78. It was largely due to these inequalities in educational financing across the communities, Brite reports, that the Cache County commissioners in 1908 voted unanimously for consolidation.
But it was a good half-century before consolidation was finally realized. With the assistance of a 1951 Weber County court decision as precedent, coupled with dropping elementary school enrollments in 1953, the final small school districts were folded into their larger neighbors. Schools like Wheeler, Cove, and Cache Junction had closed during the first years of consolidation and, though Cornish had held out through two decades, the County's final consolidation effort of 1953 was what sent the town's younger students to Lewiston Elementary for their education.
Improvements in student transportation aided consolidation, at first by an interurban rail transportation system. Missed by the interurban, however, were the many students living shorter distances from schools as well as those living in areas remote from the railway. To pick up this slack, a conglomeration of wagons, automobiles, and trucks were on the roads each school day during the 1920s, ferrying Cache County students back and forth to classes.
School buses gradually took over during the 1930s and 1940s, and by 1956, $46,000 in county funds was being appropriated yearly to maintain a fleet of school-owned buses. This appropriation included money for after-school activity buses and a training course for all drivers.
But wagons were still the rule when young Nedra Stoddard attended Lewiston Elementary. This Lewiston native, now Nedra Stoddard Wood and living in Sun City, Arizona, once lived in a brick bungalow on Lewiston's South Main, a mile and a half from Lewiston Elementary. She and other school students from outlying areas were hauled to school each day by Porter's horse-drawn wagon, a canvas-covered affair with benches along the sides and open at both ends. One afternoon coming home from school, the horse shied at something and took off south like a thoroughbred at the starting gate. The kids hung on, looking wide-eyed at the antics of Mr. Porter's back as he hauled on the reins. "It took at least a mile before the horse slowed down," said Nedra, laughing.
Fifth grade at Lewiston Elementary, 1925. Nedra Stoddard is the kid with the grin, sixth from the left, right in front
I can imagine Mr. Porter's relief when he got control at last; or perhaps the horse got tired. In Nedra's memory, the wild ride didn't seem to scare the children much, but it must have scared Mr. Porter who would have been held accountable for all those kids jouncing around in the back. This was in the spring or fall. In the winter, Nedra went to school with her father. "We had a half-breed Shetland that pulled a sleigh," she recalled. Her father, incidentally, was Carl B. Stoddard, the principal of Lewiston Elementary for eighteen years.
Nedra would eventually teach a year of kindergarten at Lewiston Elementary, pictured below as it looked in 1913, though marriage to Walter Wood put an end to that. At that time, married women were barred from the classroom in many communities across the nation, including those in Cache County. No reason was ever given, apparently: it was just the way things were.
The 1941 to 1945 war years, however, took so many male teachers into the armed services, school boards throughout the country reversed themselves sharply on the inappropriate nature of married females teaching a classroom of children. One Oklahoma woman who married herself out of the teaching profession when she'd been younger recalled local school board officials "wearing out her gate" in their effort to get her back in the classroom to help fill up the ranks.
Married teachers were never thereafter barred from the profession, and Nedra, in fact, went back to teaching herself. At 49 years old with her six children raised and on their own, she enrolled in USU's College of Education, received her certificate, and taught at North Logan for fifteen years until her retirment.
By that time, things like the school lunch program had become an institution, though the program didn't get its start until the Depression years. Sadie recalls the one hot dish in Cornish as being soup. Others harking back to their school days remember beans and rice pudding. The lunch program in Cache County was largely a volunteer effort at first, with meals costing those students who could pay around five cents a meal.
By 1935, the federal Works Project Administration (WPA) expanded the program by paying the salary of one cook for each school and coordinating the distribution of milk and surplus food like butter, vegetables, and fruit. By World War II, state and federal subsidies helped the program to feed over two thousand county children and teachers daily. By 1956, that number had doubled, with the price of meals ranging from seventeen cents for elementary children to thirty cents for adults.
Other changes kept pace. "By 1940," reports Professor Brite, "the schools were running cafeterias, bookstores, and candy store projects." As war appeared inevitable, courses offered at the county schools grew to offer such things as classes in Red Cross. Farm mechanic repair and farm production classes began under the direction of vocational agriculture instructors. Teachers at this time were not confined to teaching: they were distributing ration cards, too, helping with defense bond drives, working on beet, pea, and bean harvests, and spending nights and weekends in canning factories and defense plants.
Adult education, which had begun as early as 1928 in Cache County, was especially invigorated at the end of the war by returning servicemen using the G.I. Training Program to attend vocational classes in such fields as upholstering, mechanics, and woodworking. Writing in the mid-1950s Professor Brite reports, "The early school managed with a blackboard, slates, a few charts, and a globe; whereas, the modern school is highly mechanized with audio-visual aids, record players, dictaphones, typewriters, bookkeeping machines, and a host of other mechanical aides, including radio and even television." In another generation many of these educational tools would be obsolete.
Sadie shakes her head at this and thinks of teaching on the cusp of the year 2000 with sophisticated computers as her colleagues. "I doubt I could teach at all today," she says. I don't agree. Sadie Sorenson taught just about everything in the twentieth century; I'm certain she could do the same thing in the twenty-first.
The photo of Cornish school was supplied by Saide Sorenson
The graduation photo of Sadie Sorenson is from the Renee Karren Collection
Photo of Lewiston Elementary School in 1913 courtesy of USU Special Collections
Photo of the Fifth grade at Lewiston Elementary in 1925 is from the Howard Shuldberg Collection
Photo of Sadie Sorenson, thinking about education in the 1990s, Joan Shaw