School Days In The 1930s And 40s

(Note: This was written in 1988 by my father, Bill Dale, who graduated from Darlington High School in 1942.)

I had attended school at Garfield before coming to Darlington in the third grade. I was so elated to learn that Margaret Cox, my first grade teacher at Garfield, was now my third grade teacher. She had the ability to teach you something and was firm, but she was also pleasant and took much interest in all of the students. I always had excellent teachers throughout grade school and high school, but probably my favorite teacher was Ed Miller, who taught sixth grade. Our judge ball games, his stories of Cousin Charlie, his ghost stories with the blinds down and the lights out, our weekly Friday afternoon ciphering matches, our basketball and baseball games at recess (Ed always played on the girls’ side), and Ed reaching for the paddle and taking the guilty party to the cloak room…but we could hear it all. I also remember that I won a quarter for the best recitation of the Gettysburg Address, and Mr. Miller posted the class ranking every month. One thing that really sticks out in my mind is the old crank-type telephone that Ed had in his room. The phone had two wires hanging down that Ed placed in a bucket of water. He’d then put a nickel in the bucket and have some kid try to retrieve it, with the promise that it would be his if he was successful. A nickel was “big money” in those days. As the student would reach his hand into the bucket of water, Ed would crank the phone, causing electricity to flow. The deeper the hand went, the faster Ed would crank. Many hands jerked up and down trying for the elusive nickel!

We were in our seats every day at 8 a.m. Morning recess was from 10-10:15 a.m., lunchtime and noon recess was from 12-1 p.m., and afternoon recess was from 2-2:15 p.m. We spent the day in our individual rooms, studying and reciting, and we also ate in our rooms. What a neat way my mother had of packing my lunch in a newspaper! At dismissal time in the afternoon, we marched out as the piano played, two classes at a time, down the west stairs, with the town kids going on home and the country kids to their buses.

I remember wearing the same pants, shirt, and underwear to school all week. They were old, but you put on older ones when you got home! Most everyone had a “homemade” haircut. Standard discipline was the paddle, although it was not uncommon to see someone slapped out of their seat in high school!

In junior high, I remember going to my first high school county tourney as an 8th grader. We stopped at the old Greek’s Coney Island, and coneys were 5 cents each. The junior high tourney was a one day affair at New Ross, and the winner had to play a minimum of three games in one day. It was also during these junior high years that I saw a senior boy physically threaten one of our men teachers. That didn’t occur very often, and it made quite an impression on me.

In junior high and high school, I was impressed with several teachers…Alice McClaskey, Alex Cox, Ramona Ainsworth, and Lester Reed…to name a few. I admired my coaches, Loren Joseph and Bill Goff, and it seemed that at that time all of my teachers and coaches were sincere and had the ability to inspire you to do your best. The early elementary teachers had a “mothering instinct” with their students. There were many things that all of the teachers knew and could do that were not connected to teaching, but more about life in general. And the men were willing to pursue hard physical labor during the summer months to earn extra money.

In high school we studied, and we also had our time to work and do what we pleased after school hours. Students now are burdened with so many extracurricular activities that they really don’t have time to “stop and smell the roses.” Our school laws today have destroyed discipline, and the students, as a whole, are weaker in the “three R’s.” Too much time is devoted to things that have very little to do with making a student stronger.

I have many pleasant memories of my school days, but perhaps the two that stand out in my mind the most occurred during my senior year…listening to President Roosevelt declare war on Japan on December 8, 1941, while everyone was gathered around a radio in the study hall…and graduating on April 22, 1942, on my 18th birthday, and as valedictorian of my class.

(Dad served in the U.S. Army in WWII, and he saw heavy fighting in Europe under Gen. George Patton. When he returned from the war, he farmed, sold seed corn, drove a school bus, and worked at his old school until his retirement. He was the father of five children, and passed away at the age of 66 in 1991. Thanks, Dad, for writing down your school memories!)

John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.