History Winners!

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Canton Unitarian-Universalist Church 

Hidden History Contest 

Winning Essays

Life in the North Country has been enriched throughout our history by the largely unknown contributions of social, ethnic, cultural, sexual, religious, or racial minorities living in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties. This spring, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canton sponsored an “Uncovering Our Hidden History” essay contest to help shed light on these untold stories. The purpose of the contest was to encourage research into and the retelling of these stories by adult writers and high school youth in the region.

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In the adult and college category, Betsy Kepes was awarded first place for her essay entitled “Gentle Schoolmarm or Ambitious Young Man: Mid-nineteenth Century Common School Teachers in Northern New York.”

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In the high school category, Lee Van de Water received first prize for his paper entitled “The Hidden Homeless.” 

March 28,2003

Adults and College Student Category - Betsy Kepes

Gentle Schoolmarm or Ambitious Young Man?

Mid-nineteenth Century Common School Teachers in Northern New York

            In Winslow Homer’s bucolic “Country School” painted in 1872 in upstate New York, a beautiful young woman teaches studious children in a light and airy schoolhouse. 

In Almanzo Wilder’s 1867 schoolhouse in Burke, near Malone, New York marauding “big boys” beat up the man teacher so badly that he later died from his injuries.  The next year’s teacher defended himself with an ox-whip.  In Irving Bacheller’s fiction about late nineteenth century northern New York State,  teachers are usually young and male and hoping to move on to bigger and better employment opportunities.

            Was the nineteenth century one-room schoolhouse in northern New York a model of cozy feminine learning, an unpainted shack where older boys tormented the teacher or a starting spot for ambitious young men?

I set out to find the facts behind the fiction, with my focus on the years after the Civil War.  The 1865 atlas of St. Lawrence County shows each township dotted with schools, with nineteen in the small town of Pierrepont and thirty-three in neighboring Potsdam.  These “common schools”, owned in common by the community, were first built of logs, then later schools were of white clapboards and occasionally even brick or stone.

The nineteenth century school year was short, usually consisting of two terms, each term lasting from six to thirteen weeks.[1]   Children went to school to learn Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmetic  as well as Geography, History and Civil Government.  Attendance at school was sporadic, with farm work more important than book learning.  In Colton in 1872, five hundred and thirty two children attended school but “average attendance” was only two hundred and sixty four, an absentee rate of over 50%.[2]

School records from these nineteenth century North Country schools are scarce but some students and teachers left written reminiscences of their schoolhouse days.  A. Barton Hepburn, a banker and philanthropist who grew up in Colton, remembered his childhood as one of “grim rigor and sad severity”. [3]  He recalled a vicious schoolmaster who forced him to cut green saplings to use as whips on a friend’s backside.  This schoolmaster was a farmer who taught the winter term, a way for him to earn money during the slack season on the farm.  In 1861, the teenage Hepburn attended the Potsdam Normal School.  While tuition and the use of textbooks was free to those who  “pledge of themselves to teach for a reasonable length of time in the public schools of New York”,[4] Hepburn needed to earn money to pay for his room and board in Potsdam.   He taught summer term during Normal School vacation and also missed his Fall classes in Potsdam so he could earn money teaching winter term at the Wildwood School outside of Colton.  The fifteen-year old Hepburn had his share of unruly “big boys” but seems to have been bothered even more by the “big girls” in his schoolhouse.[5]

Even a “free” Normal School education was out of reach of many local teenagers.  They were expected to contribute to the family’s economy as farm hands and housekeepers.  Leonora Marie Kearney grew up in Pierrepont a few miles from A. Barton Hepburn’s home.  Children in her community of Irish immigrant families attended district school #12.  The Irish placed a high value on education, at least for boys, but education beyond common school was not affordable to these families.[6]  When Leonora Kearney’s mother died in 1864, fifteen-year-old Leonora took over all the household responsibilities.  Then, “pining for a more complete education”, she left home and in Colton asked for help from Miss Hepburn, A. Barton Hepburn’s older sister.

 

            The kind-hearted woman must have read the trouble in my

            face…for she said: ‘Stay here with me and I will have you

ready for school-teaching in six weeks. [7]

 

            Leonora studied hard and took the teachers’ exams.  Teacher training in the mid-nineteenth century was minimal but New York State did require that potential teachers pass exams before they received a license.[8]  The young Irish-American girl received her teacher’s certificate in the spring of 1865, probably a provisional teaching license that needed to be renewed annually.  (A successful two- year course of study at the Potsdam Normal School yielded a permanent NYS teaching license).[9]  Just after her sixteenth birthday Leonora Kearney taught her first summer term.

            Both A. Barton Hepburn and Leonora Kearney were the age of high school sophomores when they began their teaching careers.  Each was the sole “adult” in a crowded schoolhouse of children ranging in age from five to nineteen.   The teenage teachers had to devise a system of classroom management that worked for them.  A. Barton Hepburn found help in a school trustee who was a champion wrestler.[10]   Leonora Kearney played stick ball with her class and when the school superintendent showed up on a surprise inspection her ball players excelled at their recitations.  The superintendent remarked, “Schoolma’am,  I wish all my schoolma’ams would play ball.”[11]

            After a few years both Hepburn and Kearney left their teaching jobs and the North Country and both gained national fame.[12]  But what about the other teachers in all those North Country schoolhouses?  Who were they? 

            I decided to consult the St. Lawrence County 1870 census.  That census lists name, sex, race, age, occupation and country of birth.  By scanning the occupation column of each page it would be possible to find all the school teachers in each town and a few of the details of their lives.   I knew that nationally by 1870 two thirds of American teachers were women.  Almost all were white, native born and young.[13]  (Women could not teach after marriage and men who stayed in education were often promoted to administrative positions.  Indeed, A. Barton Hepburn was appointed school commissioner at the age of twenty-six).[14]

            Surprisingly, in the fourteen towns I surveyed , almost all the teachers were female.  In 1870 Brasher, Colton, Hermon, Madrid, Norfolk, Parishville, Pierrepont, Pitcairn and Russell had all women teachers.   Potsdam had sixty-three teachers and eleven  of them were male(17%);probably many of the men taught at the Normal School or in other higher level schools in the village.  Canton had three male teachers(10%) out of a total of twenty-nine teachers and two of those men are listed as deaf!  Edwards had one man(10%) and nine women while Lisbon counted four men(18%) out of twenty -two teachers and Waddington’s seven teachers included one man(17%).

            Why so few men?  Throughout much of American history teaching has not been a high status occupation.[15] In Colonial America educated young men taught privately  for a few years then completed their studies to be ministers or lawyers.   Most children received no public schooling at all.  By the nineteenth century, particularly in the Northeast, school reform led to common schools and improved standards of certification and instruction.[16]  The population in the United States, and St. Lawrence County, soared in the mid-nineteenth century and communities needed more teachers.  With longer school terms and the same low pay,  fewer professional men took teaching jobs.  Vacancies were filled by young women who could be hired for half the price of men, a benefit for districts trying to keep down the costs of running a school.  Social mores had changed by mid-nineteenth century so that it was acceptable for a young, middle-class woman to teach for a few years before marriage.  At first women could only teach summer term when the “big boys” would be off farming and not in school.  Women were thought to be unable to handle the discipline of older children, especially boys.[17]  By the end of the Civil War women were teaching winter term also, initially because there were no men available to teach.   

By 1870 public education had become woman’s work, with accompanying low pay and high turnover as teachers sought better school districts or left teaching to get married. In St. Lawrence County, new teachers might earn $15 a month.[18]  Expenses were low as teachers ‘boarded round’[19] with families in the district, but privacy and stability were at a minimum also.  The few men who taught in common schools were often young students earning money for school or physically disabled men unable to do heavy farm work.   The St. Lawrence County 1870 census is not a completely accurate source for numbers of male teachers in the county as farming men who taught winter term may have listed their occupation as “farmer”, not school teacher.

Even so, it seems that when fifteen-year-old A. Barton Hepburn taught school in Colton in 1861 he was one of only a handful of men in the schoolhouses that winter.   His youth, though, put him in the majority age group of St. Lawrence County teachers.  Most female teachers in the 1870 census ranged in age from sixteen to twenty-four.   (The male teachers in Potsdam were, as a group, considerably older.)  A few women teachers kept teaching into their thirties and forties.  I found myself wondering about thirty-one-year-old Nellie Chase in Edwards and forty-year-old Emeline Kilbourn in Canton and thirty-six-year-old Sarah Perkins of Parishville.  Did they choose to be single and independent or did they continue teaching year after year, waiting for an offer of marriage?

In 1865, when sixteen-year-old Leonora Kearney showed the school commissioner her teaching certificate, he stared in surprise.  It couldn’t have been her youth that shocked the man; I believe Leonora Kearney was the first child from the Pierrepont Irish community to become a teacher.  Indeed, although almost every town in St. Lawrence County had an Irish Settlement by that time only four teachers of the two hundred and twenty six I surveyed were born in Ireland.  A total of ten names, or 4%, on the list appear to be Irish Catholic, either born in New York or Ireland.[20]

These new Irish-Americans had not yet achieved the middle-class status needed to gain entrance into the world of higher education and their Catholicism bothered many of their Protestant Yankee neighbors.  At the same time many Irish-Catholics objected to the schools’ use of the Protestant Bible and the ethnic and religious slurs common in textbooks.  (One statement  warned  that Irish immigration would make America “the common sewer of Ireland”).[21]  In urban areas this conflict resulted in a separate system of private Catholic schools but in rural St. Lawrence County there was no such option.

I believe the first Irish teachers in St. Lawrence County were given predominantly Irish school districts.  Here was a way for the first generation of Irish-American schoolmarms to find work and for the delicate web of community tolerance to remain intact.  School district boundaries seem to have been very fluid and if a Protestant family chose not to attend a school taught by an Irish girl  (often derisively called “a Bridgett”) there was another schoolhouse not far away.  By the end of the nineteenth-century it was more acceptable to have second or third generation Irish-American women teaching in country schools where both Protestant and Catholic children attended.[22]

So it seems Winslow Homer’s view of the American schoolmarm is a more fitting icon for St. Lawrence County than Garth Williams’ drawing of a whip-wielding man. But one issue remains unexplored:  was the schoolhouse comfortably filled with eight or ten children or did the teenage teacher find every square inch of her school crammed with children of all ages?  Based on statistics presented in the 1872 St. Lawrence County Directory the common schools were packed with children.  In some towns the average number of students per school was over fifty and even with a high absentee rate, the teacher faced a room full of children.[23]  The Winslow Homer schoolroom peace may indeed have been only a romantic image. 

Here then, is a realistic, composite drawing of the St. Lawrence County schoolteacher in 1870:  An eighteen-year-old woman stands in front of a crowded classroom.  She grew up on the prosperous farm a mile down the road and enjoys earning money though she will leave teaching next year when she marries John, a farmer’s son from the next village. The teaching is often tedious, recitation after recitation, surrounded by the constant hum of children writing on slates and whispering to each other.   On days when she is most tired she lets the children stay outside for an extra long recess.   On sunny days when there is haying, none of the older children come to school and she enjoys the break from their loud and large personalities.  The younger ones need only the suggestion of a ruler on the knuckles to quiet them down.  The older ones require more discipline.  Soon it will be August and she’ll begin preparing the class for the end-of-term program.  By then she’ll be boarding with the Whites and she’ll have her own room to retreat to at the end of the day.  She can’t wait to leave the Thompsons; their house is dark and cramped and she has to share a bed with the two littlest girls.  The food is horrid, too.  Next year she’ll be away from this school, a married woman.  Who will they hire next?  She doesn’t know of any girls old enough to take this job.  Perhaps they’ll hire a girl from up in the hills.  Those girls will take any school; they need the money.  It’s none of her business though; she’ll be done with teaching, ready to get on with her life.

Bibliography

Armstrong, Clarence E.  A Yearnin’ for Learnin’. Canton, NY: A-P  Publishers, 1973.

Bacheller,  Irving. Darrel  of the Blessed Isles. New York:  The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1903

Bacheller, Irving. The House of the Three Ganders. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1928.

Bishop, Joseph B. A. Barton Hepburn. New York: C. Scribner’s Son, 1923.

Conrads, Margaret C. Winslow Homer and the Critics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Dowling, P.J. The Hedge Schools of Ireland. Cork, Ireland: The Mercier Press, 1935.

Hoffman, Nancy. Woman’s True Profession. Old Westbury, NY: The Feminist Press, 1981.

Kaestle, Carl F. Pillars of the Republic.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1983.

St. Lawrence County Census 1870.

St. Lawrence County Directory 1873-74.

“Talks Temperance Among Catholics” unknown newspaper , article 1912, from the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, Amherst, Mass.

Warren, Donald, editor. American Teachers, Histories of a Profession at Work. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1989.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Farmer Boy, illustrations by Garth Williams. New York: Harper Collins Press, 1933.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Armstrong, Clarence E.  A Yearnin’ for Learnin’. Canton, NY: A-P  Publishers, 1973.

Bacheller,  Irving. Darrel  of the Blessed Isles. New York:  The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1903.

Bacheller, Irving. The House of the Three Ganders. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1928.

Bishop, Joseph B. A. Barton Hepburn. New York: C. Scribner’s Son, 1923.

Conrads, Margaret C. Winslow Homer and the Critics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Dowling, P.J. The Hedge Schools of Ireland. Cork, Ireland: The Mercier Press, 1935.

Hoffman, Nancy. Woman’s True Profession. Old Westbury, NY: The Feminist Press, 1981.

Kaestle, Carl F. Pillars of the Republic.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1983.

St. Lawrence County Census 1870.

St. Lawrence County Directory 1873-74.

“Talks Temperance Among Catholics” unknown newspaper , article 1912, from the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, Amherst, Mass.

Warren, Donald, editor. American Teachers, Histories of a Profession at Work. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1989.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Farmer Boy, illustrations by Garth Williams. New York: Harper Collins Press, 193

*****************************************************************

High School Category-Lee Van de Water

Hermie

 

Hermie Newcome lived in a bread truck on the edge

of Bear Swamp.

The bread truck is still there

with a spruce tree through the roof and the remains

of his last pig pen.

He had a bunk up front where the seats used to be

so in the morning he could wake up and look  out

the windshield at the day.

There was a little wood stove in the back.

Hermie brought the stove wood in

through the rear doors so he wouldn’t have to

lug it through his bedroom.

There was a table and a chair

and some crates for cupboards.

It was always neat in there.

It was a good place and cozy.

Hermie didn’t need anything big as bus.

 

His woman, Florence, was an Indian from New York.

Before he lived in the bread truck, they had a shack

next to the Dunn Hill cemetery and before that

they lived on Hermie’s family place

on the Aiken Pond road up from the schoolhouse

where I used to live.

But one night while they were still at the homeplace,

Hermie got pissed at something, nobody knows what,

and flew into a rage, which he did about twice a week,

but this time went too far and lit both house and barn

and watched them burn.

When the neighbors came Hermie was out in the snow,

in the dooryard stomping and screaming,

“Burn! Goddamnit!

Burn! you wuthless place.

You never was no goddamn good!”

 

Nobody could ever quite be sure when Hermie was drunk.

He acted crazy all the time.

There’s nothing left of the Newcome place now,

only the springbox. Those tamarack boards

will last forever.

 

 

 

 

Then they moved over to the shack by the cemetery.

Hermie liked it there,

said it was the first place he ever lived

where he had decent neighbors.

 

Antoine tells about going past there on a Saturday night

and seeing

Hermie and Florence dancing with the chainsaw going

in the middle of the floor.

Hermie and Florence’d get drunk,

then Hermie would adjust the carburetor on the saw

so it would too rich

so it would sputter and bounce with a rhythm

worthy of a good muscian.

Then they’d sing and dance

to the music of the saw.

 

Hermie could cut pulp like a son-of-a-bitch;

he could bull and jam when he wanted to,

but that wasn’t very often.

Everybody said he was worthless.

Hiram still says

his mother should of knocked him in the head when he was born

and spent the money on some grain to raise a pig.

 

Hermie never did anybody any harm;

in fact the night he burnt the homeplace

he was sure to get Florence and the cats out

before he struck the match.

 

He burnt the cemetery place too.

That’s when Florence left him, went back

to the reservation or to Morrisville.

I don’t know where.

 

Then he moved alone into the bread truck in the swamp.

Hermie spent his life looking for the perfect place.

That’s what all those fires were about.

And in the end he found that place.

The bread truck wouldn’t burn.

 

-David Budbill in “The Chain Saw Dance”

You know who the homeless are and what they look like: dirty, disheveled, pushing a shopping cart through the city streets, living in a cardboard box under an overpass, squatting on a street corner with a hat out. What many people may not realize is that there are homeless people even in the rural area of St. Lawrence County. Although, “Hermie” is about rural homeless in northern Vermont, the people and conditions are much the same. These are not visible homeless; they go about their business without making a fuss. They do not beg on the street, do not have a community of homeless, and do not have shelters. They are the hidden homeless of the North Country.

 A hundred years ago the North Country homeless would have ended up in the “poorhouse” along with the mentally ill, children, criminals, and any of the “undesirables” who were to be found in St. Lawrence County. Today there are other ways of dealing with them: a night in the Cascade then a Greyhound bus ticket, money to rent an apartment, the controversial Single Resident Occupancies (or SRO’s). The history of the homeless in St. Lawrence County is a long and varied story.

In 1824, New York State passed the County Poorhouse Act, which mandated a poorhouse in every county.[24] The first poorhouse was located on the Old Dekalb road, but had a limited amount of space, and was soon to be replaced. From 1869 until 1970, the “New” County Home on the banks of the Grasse River was the home of the county’s poor, homeless, and insane[25]. Many books, such as Jip by Katherine Patterson, or even Oliver by Charles Dickens, have documented the often atrocious conditions of such county “poor homes.” The “inmates” were kept in cells and food was slid to them through slits at the bottom. These seem to have been extreme examples, but be sure that life was no picnic. The St. Lawrence poor farm was a real farm where the inmates grew food for themselves and for the prisoners at the County Courthouse in Canton. No matter what people say about it, it provided a place for the “indigents,” or homeless, to live and work. This was a valuable resource for the people of St. Lawrence County, but it was sometimes abused. Families often sent either mentally ill or unruly relatives to the County Home, where they lived for the rest of their lives; consequently, some families never knew that they had relatives in the County Home[26]. The residents of the county home were buried in a small paupers’ cemetery on the grounds. Unfortunately, the graveyard was located too close to the river, and as the river cut into the bank, many headstones and human remains were washed away. After 1892 when the Ogdensburg psychiatric center opened many of the mentally ill patients were transferred there from the county home[27].

            In 1969, there remained 28 residents in the County Home. Less than a year later, the County Home was shut down, and we can only speculate on what happened to those 28 people. For six more years, Social Services used the building as its base of operations, a fitting location for the “replacement” system that was to be the substitute for the services once offered there. In 1976, Social Services moved out, and a series of other ideas and renovations were proposed before the building was razed in 1978. Some cheered the end of an era, while others wondered what was to happen to the remaining homeless, poor, and mentally ill[28].

The new policy was to give those who came to social services money to rent housing and get food. Today the staff at social services has a directory of “boarding houses,” or rooms to rent around the county, and they will arrange for the person to rent the place. Many of these apartments are located in rural areas, which presents a problem for homeless without transportation who are used to being in town. Some other obstacles to finding affordable housing in this county are the numerous colleges and their affluent students. Students are often willing to pay much more for marginal off-campus housing, driving prices up.  Some people are unable to pay the rent themselves: maybe they are using the money for alcohol, or maybe they just aren’t able to handle money well. Whatever the reason they still have to have a place to live, so after getting kicked out of several apartments, Social Services subtracts the rent money from the stipend the individual receives and pays the rent directly to the landlord (some have even sued to get the money back, unsuccessfully). Social Services also tries to help the homeless to obtain jobs, through organizations like the New York State Employment Service. For many homeless it is difficult to maintain jobs, whether because of alcoholism, mental illness, or just a lack of transportation. Social Services offers many things to the homeless in St. Lawrence County, but these services are only for the eligible. Some people are not eligible for the aid; maybe they won’t sign the required form, maybe they have relatives who should help them, maybe they have a criminal record, whatever the problem, they can’t be given aid. In my interview with Esther Katz, the former Supervisor of Adult Protective Services, I asked whether any of the homeless people she knew were successful in getting away from needing aid, and she said that if they did she usually didn’t see it. She also mentioned there was a great deal of recidivism among the people who she saw at Social Services. Unfortunately, starting in the 1970’s, there has been less money available to help the homeless, and the requirements for receiving aid have become more stringent, due to a conservative backlash against welfare.[29] It is no fault of Social Services, but with less money, they aren’t able to help as many people. In addition, there are certain people who won’t go to Social Services to get help[30].

For those ineligible, or unwilling, there is the Church and Community Worker, a combination of a food pantry, a loan service, and counseling. This is a safety net for the poor in Canton and the surrounding area. A coalition of churches fund and organize the whole thing, coupled with the “Church and Community Worker,” now Sheri Wilcox. She organizes and staffs the office beneath the Canton Presbyterian Church on the park. For some people there are the SRO’s, or single residence occupancy apartments. There is currently one in Ogdensburg, and one is soon to open in Canton. The rent is based on the ability to pay, so it very affordable. In general they SRO’s are for people just out of jail or with serious substance abuse problems. The residents are often just in a brief interlude between stints in jail or the psychiatric center. Some county residents argue that these people do not deserve to have this source of housing, but more than that, it is a case of, “not in my backyard.” In some cases when people have no ties in this area, and who Social Services can’t or won’t deal with, Social Services or the Church and Community Worker will give them a night in the Cascade motel, and a bus ticket the next day. The slang description for this process is “Greyhound Therapy.”[31]

            The methods of dealing with the homeless have been discussed, but who are the homeless? There are several different types of homeless people Some people are merely down on their luck and need help to get back up; others are mentally ill and unable to maintain jobs or even a place to live; others are alcoholics, drug addicts, and criminals just out of jail. Some might say certain people don’t deserve assistance, but can we simply allow them to starve to death in the gutter?

There are a certain number of unique types of homeless, who arrive in St. Lawrence County. Sometimes migrant workers with circuses and carnivals need help. Sometimes the Border Patrol will pick up people who do not have the correct papers (illegal immigrants). They are required to appear in the nearest immigration court, which is in Buffalo, but they have some two weeks before they are to appear, and they often have little or no money. [32]   In some cases, people from downstate areas come to visit friends or family in the many prisons in the North Country Area, and become stranded and are unable to cope in this rural setting.

  Most of the homeless however, are local people with mental illness, or substance abuse problems. Whether the substance abuse or mental illness is a result of extreme poverty is a whole other issue. In any case, most of these people are stuck in a rut and unable to get out and succeed. Many are mentally ill people who were kicked out of the Ogdensburg Psychiatric Center during the de-institutionalization. They were supposed to be cared for by local clinics of some sort, which never happened. Many mentally ill patients were left without care or medication to fend for themselves. Many of them soon ended up under the protection of Social Services. The homeless in St. Lawrence County are a very different breed then those in the cities, and you could argue that they have a more difficult time. Unlike the homeless of the inner city there is no community of the under privileged, no vast army of public workers and volunteers reaching out to help, no wealthy businessmen to drop money in a hat. As Sheri Wilcox said in her interview, “This a very hostile place to be poor.”[33]

            Many people feel that we now have a better system of dealing with the homeless then say 100 years ago, when they were sent to the county poor home. Although we might look at this as an unfair system, at least the county was dealing with the issue. Today the St. Lawrence County housing policy reads thus;

HO-9. Meeting the housing needs of the homeless and those with special needs is an important community goal.

 

Housing for the homeless and those with special needs (such as transitional housing) is primarily the role of not-for-profit organizations, with the County providing a supportive role when appropriate.

 

The County will assist in formulizing coordination of the emergency housing referral system.

 

A list of available licensed boarding homes will continue to be maintained by the Department of Social Services.[34]

 

This illustrates that the County does not take an active role in the housing of the homeless and special needs, as it once did during the era of the County Home. The idea of private organizations being “primarily” responsible for housing the homeless and special needs is frightening, knowing that it is a difficult undertaking for private organizations. In my interview with Wade Wheelock, co-minister of the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Canton, he mentioned that the County had approached the churches of town, as well as private organizations, encouraging them to build, staff, and fund a homeless shelter. The churches were interested, but when they began to calculate the cost of such a project, they found it far out of their reach.[35] They are able to fund one Church and Community Worker and various food pantries and thrift shops, but the prospect of funding several workers, paying rent, and supplying food and shelter for even a few homeless was impossible. Although the County Home may not have been the best solution, at least it offered some option for the homeless.

Some say that the homeless were segregated in the county home, and were discriminated against back then. This may be true, but to say that they are treated like equals today is a joke. They may not live together in the county home but people still know who the very poor are, and they still discriminate against them, whether to insult them in school, or refusing to employ someone without an address and a phone number (in other words a home). Simply because people are not camped out in the park or sleeping in cardboard boxes does not mean that, as many think, St. Lawrence county has no homeless. They have a long history here, from “The Crazy Fiddler” in Irving Bachelor’s day to the County Home to Social Services today.[36] With a faltering economy and a soaring jobless rate, there will be an increase in homeless everywhere. And with a decrease in spending for helping the homeless, there will be an increase in the homeless on the streets of America, and in the bread trucks of rural communities.


[1] There seems to have been no standard length of term. Each school district had complete control of its school schedule. Summer term lasted eight to ten weeks when students from the Potsdam Normal School taught during their July and August vacation.  Winter term may have been longer.

[2] St. Lawrence County Directory 1873-74, p.104.

[3] Joseph B. Bishop, A. Barton Hepburn(New York:C. Scribner’s Son, 1923),22.

[4] St. Lawrence County Directory 1873-74

[5] Bishop, 37.

[6] P.J. Dowling, The Hedge Schools of Ireland(Cork, Ireland:The Mercier Press,1935),59.

[7]“Talks Temperance Among Catholics” unknown newspaper,1912, column 2.

[8] I was unable to find a record of the New York State Teachers’ exams for 1864, but eighteen years later when a fourteen-year-old girl in Vermont wished to be a teacher her exams included Arithmetic,  Grammar, Geography, History, Civil Government, Physiology, and Theory of School Management.  Nancy Hoffman, Woman’s True Profession(Old Westbury, NY:The Feminist Press,1981),29.

[9] St. Lawrence County Directory 1873-74.

[10]Bishop, 37.

[11]“Talks Temperance”,column 3.

[12] Hepburn became a wealthy industrialist and Kearney, then Leonora Barry, worked as the General Investigator for Women and Children for the national labor union the Knights of Labor.

[13]Donald Warren, American Teachers, Histories of a Profession at Work (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1989), 20.

[14]Bishop,52.

[15]Warren, 11.

[16] Warren, 15.

[17] Bishop, 37.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Teachers roomed with families in the school district, moving as often as every two weeks.  This was a common practice in the North Country even into the twentieth  century.

[20] Thanks to Tish Holmes of Potsdam who grew up in Ireland and helped me analyze surnames for their Irish-Catholic or Anglo-Irish origin.  Also thanks to Lily Pomainville, my research assistant, who looked up all the teachers’ names in the 1870 census.

[21] Carl F. Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983), 163.

[22] Interviews  with Mildred Remington and Charlotte Regan about early 20th century schools in Pierrepont, NY.

[23] St. Lawrence County Directory 1873-74.

[24] Amy Godine, “Hard Times Come Again No More” in Adirondack Life, November/December 2000.

[25] County Home dates provided by the Canton Town Historian, Linda Casserly

[26] Citizens to Save the County Home pamphlet in St. Lawrence County Historical Society

[27] Interview with Lois McAllester on March13, 2003

[28] Canton Town Historian’s timeline

[29] Kenneth L. Kusmer, Down & out, on the Road, The Homeless in American History (New York; Oxford University Press, 2002), 240.

[30] Ester Katz, in Interview on March15,2003 and Sheri Wilcox interview on March 6, 2003

[31] Ibid.

[32] IBID.

[33] Sheri Wilcox interview on March 6, 2003

[34] St. Lawrence County Housing Policy

[35] Interview with Rev. Wade Wheelock, March 10,2003

[36] p.222 in Coming Up the Road, Irving Bacheller’s memories of his childhood in the North Country. The Crazy Fiddler was Nick Goodall and was “a half demented, homeless wanderer and a mystery.” Despite this he was, “a great master of the violin.”