Interview with Anna Kern and Marguerite Jennings
Is Part Of
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Miss Anna Kern and Miss Marguerite Jennings
Interviewed by: Susan Dobandi
Date of interview: 19 January 1978
Susan: This is Susan Dobandi, interviewer, and I'm talking with two retired school teachers, Miss Anna Kern and Miss Marguerite Jennings, who live at 386 Main St., Johnson City, NY. The date is January 19, 1978. Miss Kern, could you tell us a little something about where you were born, what your parents did, about your early beginnings and things like that?
Anna: Well I was born in 1893 in Herkimer, it was a village fifteen miles east of Utica in the Mohawk Valley and as—as I grew up—uh um—I don’t know what to say uh—my father was a doctor and in those days of course there were no automobiles. We had to go by carriage in the summertime and sleigh in the wintertime and the sleigh was an open vehicle and temperatures used to get much lower and we used to have much more snow than they do now, even this storm would have been a simple storm at home in those days because as we'd sit in the window and look out we couldn’t see people walking by on the street because the snow had been piled up so high from shoveling and we could see the ears of a horse going by but you couldn't see the cutter and of course they went on top of the snow and at one time Father had to go up into the country. It was ah about 18 below zero. He always—and he wore what they call a Russian vest, which was a padded vest but this one night because it was so cold Mother put newspapers under the Russian vest and a then put on his coat and his overcoat and he had a little charcoal stove in the foot of the—a little charcoal heater under his feet and of course just an open cutter and he had to have his hands be—he had a big heavy fur robe and he had his heavy fur gloves but he had 8 miles to drive that night.
And one time, this was several years later, when his driver was ill for the winter and Mother had to go with him in the morning and then my job was to come home after school to go with him when he made the rest of his calls after his afternoon office hours—and this one—in Saturday morning I always had to help him and that morning I frosted my left hand so that I've always had trouble—it would get cold and turn white ever since then and I guess that's enough about our winters.
I grew up in a normal school and we had outdoor—we were very much interested in all outdoor activities, skating, coasting. As we grew older there was a—one of the boys had a bobsled that held ten people and we would go after school. There was one particular hill, it was a mile long. We just couldn't start at the top because we would get going so fast that we couldn't make the curves and a couple of times we spilled but we could only go once after school. But we would go out after supper and we had to have a chaperone with us and one of the teachers in school, she was a peach and she didn't know how to teach very well but she was such a good sport. She went with us every evening and one time the bob overturned and her face scraped along on the ice but she came to school the next day with burns on the side of her face, her face all scratched but the next time we asked her to go, she was ready, she went with us just the same.
I graduated from high school in 1910 and I wanted to go to kindergarten training school which was in town. My sister had gone to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and a—Father said yes, I could go there if I would go somewhere else afterwards and of course—courses were all two years. In the normal schools, any of the schools were only two years and I promised, thinking that he'd forget it, but he didn't, so after I had been in two years they arranged for me to go to school in Syracuse. Ah—there were very few ah kindergarten, purely kindergarten training, as far as I know there were only two—one in Boston and one in New York. In the normal schools they taught kindergarten along with the grade schools and but—this a school where I wanted to go, they had a kindergarten course, so I spent my two years there in Herkimer and a—Syracuse at that time was training their own kindergarten teachers and the principal of the school was a friend of Mother’s so that they thought that that would be a good place for me to go. Father didn't forget that I was to go away somewhere so they arranged for me to go to Syracuse and I was there—a—from the first of September to the middle of October and I was asked if I would take a class. Well, I was home at the time for my brother’s wedding and of course he told me there and Father said no, I had to continue my schooling. So, when I went back to Syracuse the principal talked for a half an hour just steadily telling me I was wasting my own time and my father’s money so I called him on the phone and he said, well, he'd leave it up to me. I could take it, so, that’s how I happened to come to Lestershire. I was—a—that was Columbus Day and the principal—well the principal came up to school to interview me first and that was Professor Smith, he was the principal—the Superintendent of the school and I came down here the 12th on the train from a Syracuse—from Utica, and Marguerite, who was teaching here two years ahead of me, had come down on the Syracuse train. Well Professor Smith told me at the time that he had made arrangements for me to sleep that night at a boarding house and then I could look for a room the next day. So my train got in five minutes ahead of Marguerite's. Professor Smith met me and we came down on the trolley car and stopped. He took me down to the house on the next corner and a I—when Marguerite came in, the landlady told her I was going to sleep with her that night but she didn't think much of that arrangement, so we weren't very good friends for a while, but uh the next day I did go and look for a room and stayed there two years and before I went to another room, of course this was Lestershire, that I came to.
Susan: How much did you say you paid for your room at the time?
Anna: I, my salary was $425 per year but I didn't earn quite that much because I didn't come until the middle of October and that was deleted from the salary and they had increments of $25 a year. The second year that I was here I gained my $25, but Marguerite was given an extra $25 because she was only a $25 ahead of me and she should have been $50 ahead of me in salary and a—
I remember when we first came to Lestershire the pavement went from just down to the E-J shoe store and a out here in front between street, Charles Street, Baldwin Street all along through there it was just a mud hole and the road was very narrow through this section right here. They had to fill in before they could pave it. It was a hollow.
I started in what they call the old Hudson Street School. Later it was named the Franklin Smith School, named after the Superintendent, and I stayed there until ‘25 and then in ‘25 I went over to the Harry L. School on the north side of town and I taught there, well I taught altogether 41 years and—ah—talk about salaries, at the end of 41 years I got $4,600 and now the starting salary is about $8,000 so you get that difference in just these few years since I retired. I retired in 1954 and I did some substituted in kindergarten and also in the grades in all of the schools at one time or another and—Is there anything in particular that you want me to talk about?
Susan: Well, why don't you mention the ethnic background of the children that you first taught?
Anna: Oh yes, well when I went to the Harry L. School, that was not in the Johnson City limits. When that school was built it was in the Town of Union, but the people—E-J was just beginning to build, ah, opening up streets up the hill, back of the school, and well, to go back 2 years there was a need for a kindergarten and a first grade over in that section so a little building was rented. I think it was a little chapel of some kind. They rented that for the week and had a kindergarten and a first grade there for the two years while they were building the school. It was an eight room school at the beginning and two years later they put on a twelve room addition and then of course still later I don't remember just, let’s see, it must have been in 1952 or ‘53 they put on this last big addition and that’s the way that section grew. I don't remember just when they went into the ah Johnson City—when the limits of Johnson City were extended. When I first went there, there were no sidewalks or anything you had to plow through the snow and through the mud and ah well—
Susan: The point—
Anna: There were in the school—we had a ah—there were Russians, Polish, Czechoslovakian, ah, no Italian happened to move in at that time, I don't know whether or not they did later on, but at that time it was mostly the Slavic, Czech people and very, very nice families, very nice people, anxious to get along and so interested in their children. And I remember one time, of course we didn't have PTA meetings at the beginnings, it was organized after I had been teaching quite a few years, but there was a PTA established soon after the school was built, the Harry L. School was built, and Miss Clark announced at one time they were beginning to have trouble in the Binghamton schools with the children, and she made the remark one time that the schools in Johnson City, there was the least trouble in that school because the parents disciplined their children and there were other children—sometimes the children were brought in in the middle of the year right from the boat, a couldn't speak English and sit down in a chair and—a—the majority of them were ready to go into the first grade along with the rest of the children. They learned English very quickly, learned the customs very quickly, and I had the least trouble with discipline with those children that had come from the old country. Very seldom did we—did I have any trouble in kindergarten. I don't know about any of the other grades but a they were lovely children, lovely families. I used to like to go to visit, we had to make calls on—all of the homes of all of the children. We had in class every year and of course I had two classes so that meant quite a bit of walking and—a—climbing the hills. I used to love to go at Easter and Christmas time because I always had such delicious kolaches and different cookies to be treated.
And—a—some of course—some of the homes the mother couldn't speak English. The children hesitated about—a—what is the word I want?—interpreting, I couldn't think of the word—they were hesitant about it. They didn't seem to want to show that they could speak the foreign language. They wanted to show they could speak English.
Susan: Now it's an advantage these days, the more languages that you know. Now it’s an advantage.
Anna: Oh yes, of course it is and I know at school we try to impress upon the children that it would be very, very valuable for them to keep up with their original language and I think that some of the older children have found that out but I—the smaller children I was dealing with, they didn't want to speak their native language. Well uh um—Any more questions?
Susan: Well,you might want to mention some of the things you did during the War.
Anna: Oh yes, of course, I was here at the time of the First World War and we started knitting before the United States went into the War. We were helping sending things over to Britain—a—knitting scarves and sweaters and things of that sort and then a so Mrs. Harry L. Johnson a started a, and Miss Jeanette Johnson also worked in it later, started what they call the gauze class and they made dressings to be used in the War, this was after we had gotten in the War, and that met once a week over in the third floor of the fire station and they had a very, very big class, lots of people from the factories and married people at home. They were women, the Red Cross had charge of it but Mrs.—the Johnsons were the ones that started the class and then a—one thing during the War, the Johnsons wanted to have their people that were here have some activity, so they used to have noted—a—dance bands and orchestras come, they had different entertainers, singers, and I remember there was one man who played the accordion beautifully. We didn't know anything about him at the time, but he turned out to be a quite a noted artist. I can't remember his name and a—
Susan: Do you remember some of the things he did?
Anna: I know they had a dance once a week up there in this hall.
Susan: You’re talking about the pavilion, the George F. Pavilion?
Anna: No, no, the fire station, the third floor of the fire station. No, the pavilion wasn't built, that wasn't built for a long time afterwards, and I can't remember the year that they changed the name to Johnson City but I know there was a big parade and all the people in Johnson City—a—besides working in the gauze class and the knitting—a—we met the trains as the—a—
Susan: —the troops came through.
Anna: —a—the trains that carry the soldiers, I can't think, that’s what they call it. As they came through they would stop here in Binghamton and we would take candy, cigarettes and things of that sort to them and the boys going through and then they'd leave off letters for us to mail and—a—we worked on the bond drive. They had several bonds, a E bonds that people
worked on several bond drives with big parades and the Endicott Johnson people turned out very well. IBM workers in IBM also paraded and the time that the War ended there was a big parade and a great, great celebration, that was the first World War. We didn't do too much in the Second World War then, didn't seem to be the need of it. But uh—
Susan: I think that you wanted to bring out good manners.
Susan: About the children.
Anna: About the children, well, that was one thing in kindergarten, if I could teach the children to get them to realize—a to share was one of the things, and to respect the rights of the other children, they could do what they pleased as long as it didn't interfere with the other children doing what they wanted to do, and if I could get that across I felt that I had been successful with the children, and of course there were many things that we did have to teach, words and sounds a a help quite a lot for the first grade. In fact I had to do more than Marguerite had to do for her 1st grade. The teachers asked us to teach the vowels learning these different words.
Marguerite: We had to teach vowels.
Anna: Yes, vowels. The sound of vowels.
Marguerite: The sound of vowels. Right and a we had to put in a new reading system.
Anna: Oh yeah of course when kindergarten first started—a—each child they were all doing the same things together and it wasn't for several years that we began letting—a—the children choose what they would like to do. That came several years later. Very formal at the beginning, what they call the Froebelian Method. I don't think that anybody now days would even know who Froebel was, but he was a German educator and the one who originated the kindergarten idea, and that was the training we received, the Froebelian method, when we were going to school. Marguerite received the same thing. And I think discipline of the children is so much harder now than it was then. Once in a while there would be a child that needed a little extra help but most of them—as I look back I had very little trouble with discipline in the class. Of course a few weeks if some child got too obstreperous, why trying different ways to get him to settle down, and the child and the children learned there were certain things they could do, certain things they could not do. We didn't have too much trouble like that. But uh—can you think of anything else?
Susan: Well, how about you, Miss Jennings?
Marguerite: I can't add anything that she has added.
Anna: You could start with where you were born.
Marguerite: Oh I don't feel like it, Ann.
Susan: Well, I think it would be interesting for these people to know how long you two have been together.
Anna: Oh well, uh—this was back in 1913 uh—as I said I slept with her the first night and we didn't think too much of it at that time but we became friends and the second year she got a room in the same house where I was and then the third year we moved down on Main Street across from St. James Church, and we lived there for 30 years and before we came here to this apartment, we came here.
Susan: And now if you ladies wouldn't mind giving your ages?
Anna: No, Marguerite is 88 and I'm going to be 85 in a couple of weeks.
Susan: You're two remarkable ladies, I can tell you.
Anna: Marguerite was born in Homer. I was just a little bit—
Marguerite: I was born in Cortland and later moved to Homer.
Anna: Her father, I just don't know what his title would be, he does beautiful, beautiful iron filigree work.
Marguerite: He was a blacksmith but he didn't—
Susan: An artistic blacksmith.
Marguerite: Yes ah he just worked on very expensive wagons, and if you ever drive through Homer, right near the end of the walk, you come from the Congregational Church, you look up and you'll see a iron and that is a showing of the oh wagon—western wagon.
Anna: That's all iron filigree.
Marguerite: And he cut every bit of that out. He was excellent in cutting out iron.
Anna: He did beautiful work.
Marguerite: If you go through you want to look up at it. It's a big, big picture iron.
Anna: She went to Cortland Normal for a few years and then came directly here. We both started teaching.
Marguerite: We both took classes.
Anna: And oh yes all through—all through our teaching.
Susan: You updated your education.
Marguerite: Yeah. We read the magazines, which were not cheap then either. We had very, very large classes. Now one class I had at Roosevelt, I think it was 45 in one class and 35 in the other class, and you had the two classes in one day.
Anna: And one time before I went over to the Harry L. School, I had 34 children in one class and 43 in the other and we didn't have enough equipment for the 43 to be in one class, so they divided it. I had to have three classes for a, a short time but finally they did get a teacher to come in and help me.After that she took a grade.
Susan: Didn't you say something about being a shortage of books for the children too?
Anna: Well yes. In the other kindergartens the books were—a—furnished for kindergarten, and we both had subscribed to a educational magazines, and then afterwards a list of the new books and a description of them, and so when I—the list was made out once a year and we put in asking for certain books for the library in Harry L. They thought the kindergarten shouldn't have sole possession of these new books, they should be in the library so that they could be shared.
Marguerite: They didn't look them up, Ann. They didn't find out what to get.
Anna: When I'd go to get the books, especially the seasonal ones I—some first grade teacher would have them and I wouldn't be able to get them, so after that I didn't order any books. I bought all the books myself that I wanted to, best as I can.
Marguerite: We had two different principals. I think mine cooperated a lot more. Yes, yeah her name was Jennie Frail, she was an outstanding principal, of course Miss Clark was very good too.
Anna: Yes, we both had very, very understanding principals, very understanding principals. A ha—we enjoyed working under them both and a—
Susan: And having retired here, you have lived to see your pupils grow up and have children of their own?
Anna: Yes. Even now as late as this I meet people on the street. I did just the other day—a, “Did you teach school?” and I said, “Yes.”
“A were you in Harry L?”
“Well then you were my teacher.” And I had the doctor’s assistant that I went to last Tuesday was one that I had, Novesky, and a by the way I can say that I had the lady that is interviewing me, I had her in kindergarten. (chuckle)
Susan: I was going to close with that, Miss Kern, that you were my teacher too. (chuckle—ha ha ha)
Marguerite: Dr. Harold Maddi the osteopath, of course he's dead now. He was in the first class that I had here. Uh ha—
Anna: Speaking of people I had, George Krutz is now Chief of Police in Johnson City. I had John Cenesky, who is a lawyer here in Johnson City, and many others, then I had Edward Sabol who became a President of a university and many others, but I just can't recall their names right now.
Marguerite: And I had Bob Fisher and his brother and then the Connerton boy, well he's a practicing lawyer now in Binghamton.
Susan: They are all prominent businessmen.
Anna: I had Robert Eckelberger, he is a lawyer—a local lawyer.
Marguerite: And then I had quite a few that became outstanding teachers.
Anna: And as pupils I had some of the future Johnson City teachers who themselves are now retired (ha ha). It's been a long time. Anything else?
Susan: Do you have anything more that you'd like to say to whoever may be playing this tape a hundred years from now?
Marguerite: Well tell them we enjoyed every minute of it—teaching.
Anna: We had very fine Superintendents to work under.
Marguerite: A ha. The Board of Education.
Anna: A fine Board of Education, ah they did everything they could for us except give us big salaries. (ha ha)
Marguerite: $25 a year increments. And uh yeah—
Susan: Well thank you very much, ladies. I certainly have enjoyed talking with you and it certainly has been nice seeing you again, Miss Kern.
Anna: It's been nice talking with you.
Susan: Thank you.