Posts Tagged ‘value of public education in 1915’

Dale is in a fine mood when he write this letter. He has a soap box, and he’s going to stand on it. He’s maturing and standing up for what he believes in. (I have a hard time thinking of him as “Great Uncle Dale” given that he was barely 21 when he wrote this letter. A kid.)

One other note: Dale uses an ethnic slur here. Such idioms were common in the early 1900’s and reflected on the populace as a whole (we were horridly segregated!). If you are like me, you will cringe when you read the first paragraph. I can’t help it. It’s an awful thing to say and I wish I could erase it from the letter, but – alas! – my job here is to act as a transcriber and preserve the history as it was written.

Dale’s letter reminds me that public education was not always like it has been throughout my life, starting with Kindergarten at age 5 and ending with graduation from a four-year high school around the age of 17 or 18. All that was mandatory in 1916 was an 8th grade certificate, which one earned by the age of 15 or 16. My grandfather – John – was just 16 years old in 1916.

Newberg, Ore. July 29, ’16

Dear Folks,

     Your letter came yesterday and I was glad to hear that you were getting along so well. It is to bad that the weather is so hot. I cant write like a white person this afternoon it seems.

     Today is a hot day for us, and this morning I got hit on the head with a rock while I was shoveling and Hanson was picking.* This afternoon we were short of men and I worked too hard in the heat and got a headache. I quit for the day and perhaps for good. I don’t like this rock shoveling anyway. When Hanson is in the pit, it is too dangerous. Work is plentiful now, and I will hit something else, I guess.

    Andy has poison oak all over himself, but he is out working this afternoon just the same. Andy is a lot easier to get along with than Brown was, and he has lots of grit too.

    I don’t think we will go to Eastern Ore. mow. It is too late in the season.

    I would like to see John in High School for a year or so, at least. He is not old enough to know what he wants to study yet. It is a fact that High School couldn’t hurt him any. I wouldn’t take $3,000** for the three years I spent in High school. Not only for what I learned in the books, but what I learned about people and their ways, that little time I spent there has been of immense value to me. Even if a fellow has to work at common labor after he gets out, he has lost no time that could have been better invested. Practically all one learns in the grades, is how to “read, write, and cipher”*** a little. In High School one learns to reason and depend upon his own head rather than some one else’s. Incidentally he learns something about mathematics, and the language that he uses, a multitude of other things from the books make him see that he is living in no two-by-four world and that he has some responsibility.

    And in college — I don’t know all about that yet, but I think I can say that if one takes the value of one school course and multiplies it by 10 he will have the value of the High School course, and the High School course multiplied 10×10 is the value of college. I mean this, of course, if the student works in school and doesn’t go just for the fun of it.

    A letter came to me today from a lawyer in Spokane saying that he was about to begin suit against D me for the Standard Laundry Co. of Walla Walla. the amount for which he is suing is $.75. **** I paid that Laundry all I owed them before I left there over a year ago, and I told that Collection Agency that when they wrote to me last June. The Laundry says I haven’t paid, and I say, I have. They may get a judgement against me, but not six bits.

    You say, Dad, that you want me to come back there two years from now. I thought you saw that I couldn’t do that a year ago. Chances may be better back there for some people who can take deep breaths but not for me. My chances back there are all for the next world. I want you folks to come out here as soon as you can. There are other things in this world beside money. When I get out of school I am not going to make money the main driving power. “Greed for Gain” is against my religion.

    This is a poor letter and poorly written, but take into account my aching head, and make allowance for that.

Your son


*picking – Hanson was using a pick axe to break up the rock in the rock pit. A chunk came off and hit Dale in the head. No hard hats in 1916.

**$3,000. Doesn’t sound like a lot to us in 2015, but it was equivalent to $1,000,000 in Dale’s analogy. Think: “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for…”

***cipherverb. Archaic form – to do arithmetic.

**** Seriously!!?? Collections for six bits???? But if you figure a man might make $2.50 to $3.00 per day… Dale should have kept the receipt.


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