Here is my story of the first twelve years of public education. I attended the following schools:
Klump School grades 1-6
Wesley School-grades 7 and 8
Brenham High School-grades 9-12
I followed that with four more years of higher education:
Texas Lutheran College 2 years
Texas A&M University- 2 years
And then the continuing School of Life
When I started school in 1942 there was no prekindergarten or kindergarten. Everyone began their first year of public education in the first grade. It was the parents responsibility to prep their children for school by teaching them the “a b c’s, 1 2 3’s” and to read some basic sentences. I knew how to count and recite the alphabet but some kids did not. Most of the kids I started school with were of German, Polish or Czech descent. Parents made sure that their kids could speak fluent English when it was time to start school.
Klump School was a one room school at the corner of Boehnemann Road and FM 389 in Washington County, Texas. It was the same school that Mom and Dad attended when they were kids. The Klump family donated the land and the people in the community donated material and labor to build the school. There were many one, two or three room schools located throughout the county just like Klump . Students attended the school which was nearest to where they lived. Those that lived equal distance between two school chose which one they wanted to attend. Residents of the community served by the school elected school trustees who were responsible for hiring the teacher, setting the teacher’s salary, maintaining the school property and other school specific duties. A county school superintendent provided centralized administrative support such as certifying teachers, purchasing books and other materials, payroll for the teachers and maintaining attendance records for all the county schools. The school-house was a 20 x 40 foot wood frame structure with clapboard siding painted white and a hip metal roof. The front of the building had a set of double doors that opened into a short hallway. On either side of the hallway were the cloakroom, boys on the left and girls on the right. At the end of the hallway was the classroom. Each of the three wall had plenty of windows to let in light and fresh air when it got hot but no screens to keep the bugs out. A pot-bellied stove provided the heat when it got cold. Each student was assigned a desk and students grouped by grade with the first grade in the very front. The teacher’s desk was a table in one front corner. There was no electricity or plumbing.
These were the type of desks we had. They were mounted on runners to keep them in place. The seats folded up and each desktop had a hole in the top right corner for an inkwell. By the time I started school quills were no longer used to write. Ballpoint had not been invented but we did have fountain pens that needed to be filled with ink from a bottle. A shelf beneath the desktop was used to store books and papers.
The pot-bellied stove was made of cast iron. To prevent kids from accidentally getting burned the school models had a wraparound sheet metal skirt with a stamped design. If filled with dry oak wood the cast iron would get red-hot.
Klump, and the other rural school, taught grades 1 through 9. It was rare that each grade would have students, especially in the upper grades. I recall that there were never more than 20 students during any year while I attended Klump.
The teacher divided his/her time between all grades. While one grade was being taught the other grades were taking a test, doing homework, reading, diagramming sentences or whatever else they were instructed to do. Discipline in the classroom was strictly enforced. All teachers had a yard stick or other extension of their arm with which they could reach out and get violators attention and never pause in their teaching. Some grades were combined for certain subjects such as second and third grade reading or fourth and fifth grade math. This was left to the teachers discretion.
All schools were segregated. The African American’s had their own schools located throughout the county. The county school superintendent also provided administrative support to the Black schools, i.e. they got the worn out books, desks, chalk boards, wall maps, etc that the white schools no longer wanted. Hispanic kids were sometimes allowed to attend white schools. Klump and Wesley allowed Hispanic to attend but Brenham High School did not. Most Hispanics attended the Black schools. Texas Lutheran College had no Black or Hispanic students during the years I attended. Texas A&M had no Black, Hispanic or female students. It did not become a coed school until sometime in the 1960’s.
School started a 9:00 AM and dismissed at 4:00 PM. There were 20 minute recesses mid morning and mid afternoon and a one hour lunch break. Kids brought their lunch to school. Fancy store-bought lunch boxes were rare. Most lunch boxes were one gallon molasses bucket with the resealable lid like a paint can. It served the purpose very well at protecting the food from flies, ants and any other critters that may want to help themselves. Most kids lunches consisted of a slice of home-made bread with butter and jelly, some dried sausage or maybe just some bacon drippings to make the bread go down easier. Drinks (water) was provided by the school. When recess was over the kids lined up youngest first, girls then the boys. One of the older boys job was to get a fresh bucket of water from the well on the school premises. In the bucket was a dipper from which each kid drank as they filed into the school. The only rules were that if you did not drink all the water you took in the dipper you poured the remainder on the ground before you handed the dipper to the kid behind you. Bathroom facilities were a boys and a girls outhouses at the back of the school property. There was no electric service and no running water.
The floors of the school were wood. Before school started in the fall and again mid year (Christmas break) the floors were oiled and covered with a light sprinkling of sand. This oil was not a wood finish and it never really dried. It had a sweet sort of rosy smell when first applied. The purpose of the oil was to keep dust to a minimum. The oil acted as an absorbent and the sand kept the floors from being slick. The school playground was dirt, the road to and from school was dirt and all this turned to mud when it rained. The kids dragged lots of dirt into the school on their feet and when it dried it turned to dust. There was no housekeeping service that cleaned, dusted, mopped, waxed and buffed floors every night. At the end of the day the teacher made a quick inspection and picked up the big chunks of mud. The floor was never swept. It sounds like we went to school in filth however it sounds worse that it really was. It sure beat choking and sneezing from the dust stirred up by 20 pairs of feet. The old-time bars with dance floors and country dance hall used the oil on their floors also. They used sawdust instead of sand though. By the way,that floor oil leaves a dark brown stain on the soles of bare feet which stains white bed sheets sort of permanently. Don’t ask me how I know this!
World War II ended in 1945. The US Government suddenly had a large surplus of food that had been acquired and stockpiled to feed the troops. The surplus was made available for schools to obtain at no cost to provide hot lunches to the school kids. Klump took advantage of this program. They converted one of the cloak rooms in the front of the school into a kitchen, outfitted it with a kerosene cook stove, pots, pans, glasses, plates, utensils, a work table and hired a local lady as the cook. The food the school was able to get varied from week to week but consisted of thing that had a long shelf life and needed no refrigeration. Cheese, powdered milk, peanut butter, sometimes butter, corn meal, rice, pasta, canned vegetables, fruits and meats, flour, catsup and sometimes a limited amount of frozen meat that had to be used the day it was received, were available. The food was delivered to the school each week. The menu did not vary too much and was not always balanced but it sure beat a stale slice of bread with bacon dripping that many kids had. The kids were charged something like 25¢ per week for the meal and that was to cover the cost of the cooks wages, fuel for the stove, salt and pepper for seasoning and soap for cleanup. Hot lunches were first served at Klump beginning of the 1947-48 school year. I don’t remember anyone not participating in the hot lunch program. At noon we all lined up at the kitchen door, little ones first, received our plate of food (there were no choices), returned to our desks and waited until everyone had their plate and a prayer was said. When our plate was clean we took it to the kitchen, gave it to the cook and headed outside to play.
The school year was from the last week in September until the first of April. We had the week between Christmas and New Year, Good Friday, Easter Monday and Thanksgiving (Thursday and Friday) off. There were no teacher-in-service days or spring breaks such as schools have now. Kids had to be 6 years old on the day they started school. Exceptions to this rule were not normally made but my Mom was able to get one for me. I didn’t turn 6 until 2 months after I started school. Kids in the rural areas were free labor for their parents and education was secondary. It was not uncommon for older kids to be absent from school especially in the fall when it was cotton picking time. The overall attitude towards education started to rapidly change after the end of WW II. More and more rural kid, including girls, were finishing 8th grade and continuing on to high school. There was no standard testing and performance comparison made. Teachers were given guidelines on what to teach and it was up to them to deliver. They did give grades and issued report cards each 6 weeks. Some students were failed but parents did not spend much effort to get the kid up to speed. After they got to be 10 or 12 years old they were taken out of school and put to work on the farm.
I remember the names of my teachers. My first grade teacher was Mr. Oscar Henzie. My teacher for grades 2, 3 and 4 was Mrs. Mary Bielefeldt. For grades 5 and 6 at Klump school my teacher was my Mom, Alma Peters. Mr. Hinze and Ms. Bielefeldt retired when they left Klump. Mom taught school for several years before I was born. The trustees could not find a teacher when I started fifth grade so they asked Mom if she would teach. She agreed provided she could get her teaching certificate renewed without getting additional training. A waiver was granted and she went back to teaching. Having my mother as a teacher was not that bad, I just had to mind my p’s and q’s a little better!
My mom walked with me to school on the first day. After that I was on my own. There were two families on Boehnemann Rd that had kids going to school and they would wait for me before heading that way. The distance was one mile from the end of our driveway to the school. I did not know that until later when I started driving a car and noted it on the odometer. Weather did not seem to be a factor when walking to school. I had a raincoat and hat for when it rained, and a coat and hat with ear flaps when it was cold. There were no school bus and parents did not break out the family car to take kids to school. Most kids, boys and girls, came to school barefoot when the temperatures were warm, i.e. above about 65 degrees. Mom made me wear shoes on those cool mornings but I’d take them off and stash them at the end of the driveway. Todays kids start school with a backpack of supplies they can barely carry. I started with what was referred to as a ‘school sack’ in which I carried a Big Chief tablet a big fat lead pencil (like a large round carpenters pencil) and a rubber eraser. The school sack was something Mom made from remnants of cotton pick sack material. It had a strap that went over the shoulder. With these supplies Mom’s and Dad’s got by spending less than 50¢ and I was good for the entire year. School clothes were what I normally wore at home, maybe a little cleaner and not quite as many holes as would be acceptable at home but nothing special, i.e. no designer jeans etc.
Big Chief Tablet. It had about 100 sheets of paper. The paper was sort of like newsprint and was lined so that kids could practice their cursive skills, do math, take tests and doodle. Both sides were used and every page used from top to bottom.
This picture depicts the proper way cursive is to be written. An example was painted across the top of the black board.
By the mid 1940’s maintaining a small one or two room school was becoming impractical. Teachers were hard to find and the number of kid in each school was decreasing. The cost of educating a child was exceeding the tax dollars available. The small community schools were on their way out. Several of the schools would get together and consolidate to the school with the best facility. A bus was acquired to transport the kids since reasonable walking distances were now exceeded. Klump, Latium and Wesley schools consolidated into one campus at Wesley. The Klump school building was moved to Wesley and used as a kitchen and lunch room for the kids. The country schools now only taught grades 1 through 8. Two school buses gathered kids and brought them to Wesley. Those who were in grades 9 through 12 continued on one of the buses to Brenham High School. In the afternoon the buses ran their routes in reverse.
Wesley was a three room school. Grades 1 through 3 were taught by Mrs. Annie Peters. Grades 4, 5 and 6 were taught by my Mom, Mrs. Alma Peters. Grades 7 and 8 were taught by Mrs. Louise Mikeska. Mrs. Mikeska was my teacher for grades 7 and 8. Mom rode the school bus with me to Wesley.I continued riding the bus to Wesley and then on to Brenham while in high school. We lived near the end of the route so we were one of the first on in the morning and last off at the end of the day. Our school day started at 7:30 AM when we boarded the bus and ended at 5:30 PM when it dropped us off at our driveway. Mrs. Annie Peters was my aunt. My Dad’s brother, Otto, was married to Annie. Both were teachers at Wesley and lived in a house on the school property. Otto was killed in an automobile accident in 1935. The vehicle flipped over, pinned him beneath it and caught fire. Otto and Annie had two boys, Val Gene and James.
Wesley was quite a step up for the Klump kids. The school had electricity and running water with water fountains replacing a bucket and dipper. We still had to use outhouses but these were “three holers” and could accommodate more simultaneous users than the “one holers” at Klump. The first second and third grade room was the larger of the three classrooms. The front of it had a stage where we did plays at Christmas and at the end of school. Electric light allowed evening meeting for parents and teachers. There were enough kid now to actually field a softball team. We boarded a bus a couple of times during the spring to play at a school near by. There was no organization to these events, just teachers from both schools getting together and letting the kid compete.
In April of 1950 I graduated from the 8th grade ready for high school. But high school got off to a rocky beginning. On June 5, 1950 at 2:15 PM a tornado paid our house a visit. Mom, Dad and I were in the house when the full force of it hit. We did not suffer so much as a scratch but the old house sure took a beating. It became unlivable in seconds so when all was said and done the first order of business was build a temporary place to live and then start rebuilding the house. Mom and Dad built what later became the smoke house/wash-house. We moved in and started the process of rebuilding. School started in September and about two weeks into classes I became sick with what was diagnosed as possibly scarlet fever. Whether it was or not I was out of school for two full weeks. Went back to school and just before Thanksgiving I got the mumps, one of those childhood diseases that ever kid would get sooner or later. I had the chicken pox and whooping-cough when real little and did not get the measles until I was about 30 years old. The mumps kept me out of school for another two weeks. Around Christmas of that year Mom contacted the mumps.
High school was another big change for me. School started at 9:00 AM, dismissed for lunch at 12:00 for an hour and dismissed for the day at 4:00 PM. I rode the same bus that I rode when attending Wesley. When it got to Wesley I switched to another bus that took us to the high school. Val Gene Peters, my cousin, from Wesley was the bus driver. He attended Blinn College while we were at the high school. Mom did not return to teaching at Wesley as she and Dad had their hands full trying to get a house built.
Going from a one teacher one room school to a school where each class was in a different room with a different teacher was quite the change. I had not seen so many kids in one place in all my life! We had all the modern amenities like flush toilets, electric lights, water fountains, a gym, football field and track but no air conditioning but you could open the windows and let the wind blow through.
The school building was only a few years old when I started high school and it is still standing today and used by the district as an alternative education site and community education center. The school is constructed of red brick and is 2 stories with a basement. The basement housed the cafeteria. It also house the boiler that provided radiator heat in the winter.
For the first two years all students took courses in math, English, history, science and physical education. Mixed in there somewhere was a study hall to round out our six class periods. Juniors and seniors did not have to take physical education and could take electives in its place. The school made a special allowance for kids who lived on the farm to be dismissed an hour early during the fall. Our parents sent a note to the school and we scheduled our classes that study hall was the last period of the day. Then we could leave school at 3:00 PM to go home and work in the fields. We had to be making passing grades in all classes and had to have transportation home-we could not just hang around and ride the bus home at regular dismissal. The days we did not have transportation or could not work in the fields we went to study hall.
Mom and Dad let me take the car to school so I could come home early and pick cotton in the fall. Occasional I would take the tractor towing a wagon or trailer with a bale of cotton to the gin in Brenham. When I got there I’d park in line with other cotton to be ginned, leave a note on the steering wheel noting who’s cotton it was, whether the cotton seed was to be sold or taken home and then walk down the street to the school in time for class. Farmers waiting in line to have their cotton ginned would get on the tractor and keep moving it along. When the cotton was ready to be ginned someone would volunteer to operate the blower to unload the cotton. When I got out of school at 3:00 the tractor and trailer with the ginned bale would be sitting in the gin yard. I’d take the bale to the warehouse, have it unloaded, weighed, get the cotton sample and then head home to pick some more cotton.
I did not participate in any extracurricular activities such as sports, band or clubs. I was a member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and our meeting and activities were integrated into the agriculture classes I took. I was never interested in sports, probably because I was never exposed to anything that was close to being organized. I also was a shrimp of a kid until the last year or two of high school.
The high school campus was an open campus. The kids that lived in Brenham walked to and from school. Kids who lived in the county would ride school buses. Only a few kids had cars. Anyone who turned 16 years of age could get a driver’s license with no restrictions. Drivers education was available and the student who took it were the city kids, mostly girls. The country boys and girls had plenty of on the job driving experience before reaching the legal age of 16. We could leave the campus for the lunch hour. I never saw law enforcement at the school for any reason. It was not unusual to see a group of boys standing in the school parking lot admiring someones new shoot gun or rifle. Teachers never gave it a second glance or even a warning to “be careful with that thing”. The one course that the school offer and I now wished I’d have taken is typing. My favorite classes were in math. The least liked was English especially English literature.
I graduated from Brenham High School in 1954. Higher education was in my future and that will be a story at another time.