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Other titles in the Missouri Heritage Readers series:
A Second Home: Missouri's Early Schools (Missouri Heritage Readers)by Sue Thomas
Synopses & Reviews
All along the river, from the front porches of Hannibal to the neighborhoods of St. Louis to the cotton fields of the Bootheel and west to Kansas City, stories are being told.
This collection of family stories and traditional tales brings to print down-home stories about all walks of African American life. Passed down from grandparents and great-grandparents, they have been lovingly gathered by Gladys Caines Coggswell as she visited Missouri communities and participated in storytelling events over the last two decades. These stories bring to life characters with uncommon courage, strength, will, and wit as they offer insight into African American experiences throughout the state’s history.
Often profound, always entertaining, some of these stories hark back to times barely remembered. Many tell of ordinary folks who achieved victories in the face of overwhelming odds. They range from recollections of KKK activities—recalling a Klan leader who owned property on which a black family lived as “the man who was always so nice to us”—to remembered differences between country and city schools and black schoolchildren introduced to Dick and Jane and Little Black Sambo. Stories from the Bootheel shed light on family life, sharecropping, and the mechanization of cotton culture, which in one instance led to a massive migration of rats as the first mechanical cotton pickers came in.
As memorable as the stories are the people who tell them, such as the author’s own “Uncle Pete” reporting on a duck epidemic or Evelyn Pulliam of Kennett telling of her resourceful neighbors in North Lilburn. Loretta Washington remembers sitting on her little wooden stool beside her great-grandmother’s rocking chair on the front porch in Wardell, mesmerized by stories—and the time when rocking chair and little wooden stool were moved inside and the stories stopped. Marlene Rhodes writes of her mother’s hero, Odie, St. Louis “Entrepreneur and English gentleman.”
Whether sharing previously unknown stories from St. Louis or betraying the secret of “Why Dogs Chase Cats,” this book is a rich repository of African American life. And if some of these tales seem unusual, the people remembering them will be the first to tell you: that’s the way it was. Coggswell preserves them for posterity and along with them an important slice of Missouri history.
Book News Annotation:
Having a school was a good and rare thing in the days of the pioneers in Missouri. Settlements worked hard to be sure a school was built and staffed to give children the basics, at the very least, and often incredible effort was needed to get the walls up and the schoolmarm installed. Freelancer and former teacher Thomas gives a series of narratives about the rich culture created by early Missouri schools, down to the furniture schools used (not much) and the content of the lessons (startlingly sophisticated and intensive). She shows how days were spent in learning, how school teachers trained and were hired, how changes in the lessons and the nature of the students allowed in came to be, and how the overall effect was that Missouri schools were a gathering place for those who loved to learn and those who loved to teach. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The one-room schoolhouse may be a thing of the past, but it is the foundation on which modern education rests. Sue Thomas now traces the progress of early education in Missouri, demonstrating how important early schools were in taming the frontier.
A Second Home offers an in-depth and entertaining look at education in the days when pioneers had to postpone schooling for their children until they could provide shelter for their families and clear their fields for crops, while well-to-do families employed tutors or sent their children back east. Thomas tells of the earliest known English school at the Ramsay settlement near Cape Girardeau, then of the opening of a handful of schools around the time of the Louisiana Purchase—such as Benjamin Johnson’s school on Sandy Creek, Christopher Schewe’s school for boys when St. Louis was still a village, and the Ste. Genevieve Academy, where poor and Indian children were taught free of charge. She describes how, as communities grew, additional private schools opened—including “dame schools,” denominational schools, and subscription schools—until public education came into its own in the 1850s.
Drawing on oral histories collected throughout the state, as well as private diaries and archival research, the book is full of firsthand accounts of what education once was like—including descriptions of the furnishings, teaching methods, and school-day activities in one-room log schools. It also includes the experiences of former slaves and free blacks following the Civil War when they were newly entitled to public education, with discussions of the contributions of John Berry Meachum, James Milton Turner, and other African American leaders.
With its remembrances of simpler times, A Second Home tells of community gatherings in country schools and events such as taffy pulls and spelling bees, and offers tales of stern teachers, student pranks, and schoolyard games. Accompanying illustrations illuminate family and school life in the colonial, territorial, early statehood, and post-Civil War periods. For readers who recall older family members’ accounts or who are simply fascinated by the past, this is a book that will conjure images of a bygone time while opening a new window on Missouri history.
About the Author
Sue Thomas, a former elementary school teacher, is a freelance writer whose other books include The Poetry Pad, Curtain I, Curtain II, and the historical fiction novel for preteens Secesh. She lives in Kansas City.
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