Ora Gray Stowers was raised in Ceres but spent most of her life living and teaching in Rocky Gap. She began her teaching career at Liberty , a small one room school located between Bland and Ceres. She was interviewed by Tammy Caudill.
Ora Gray: I began teaching in September 1934 at a one room school called Liberty. It was located about mid-way between Bland Courthouse and Ceres Virginia on Route 42. There were approximately 50 children enrolled in that school that year. Many of whom are still living today, but unfortunately, there are some that aren't. The building was a one room weather boarded, as they would call it in those days, room. Black boards were available. Some of them were real slate boards others just remains of the old boards that had been painted on the walls before the county could afford to buy other material to put up good blackboards. There was one stove in the classroom which provided heat. It was known as the old "potbelly stove". It stood right in the center of the room. Desks were placed in rows on either side of the stove. The parents furnished the wood, the county did not furnish heating fuels in those days. Parents would bring the wood and very often it had to be cut into pieces that would go into the stove. The older boys, sixth and seventh graders, enjoyed getting out of the classroom to go out and split enough wood for the next day. In the back of one of the corners, there was always a table with water and one dipper that provided drinking water for the students. There were no lunch rooms, and the students brought their own lunch in a brown paper bag or sometimes in a little basket or a small bucket. Each mother packed a lunch for her child or children. It consisted of basic foods. Usually it had fruits, sandwiches, and sometimes peanut butter, sausage, ham, or even a sweet biscuit was provided with apple butter or some type of homemade preserves. A piece of pie or cake were also common in the lunches.
Ora Gray: School day began early. It usually began around 8:30 or even at 8:00 in the morning. School lasted until 4:00 in the afternoon. There was a mid morning recess of about ten minutes when they could go to the restrooms, usually the out door type was available. Of course, they could play and take a run around the building for a little exercise and get some fresh air. Then they returned back to class until about 12. At that time they usually had an hour for their lunch period. By the time they ate their lunch if the weather was pretty and the sun was shining, they would take their lunch outside and have their lunch picnic style. Then they would play their favorite games tap hands and drop the hankie. The boys liked to play baseball. some of the old fashioned games like paddle ball were common also. In the winter if there was a small hillside by the boys, one would bring a nice big sled and the teachers and students would sleigh ride down the hill. That was a favorite in the winter.When school started back, a teacher would stand at the door and a bell so the children would go back to their classes. Then at 2:00 P.M., there was a ten minute break so the students could go to the restroom, get a drink of water, or go outside and play.
Tammy: Ok, that drop the hankie. What was involved with it? What was involved with tap the hand?
Ora Gray: To play drop the hankie, the children stood in a circle and held hands. One student took the hankie on the outside of the circle and dropped it behind someone. You had to be alert and watch for the hankie, so you could let loose of the other students hands so you could pick up the hankie. When you got the hankie, you ran after the person who dropped it behind you. If you could catch him, then he had to go around the second time. If you couldn't catch him, then you had to take the hankie and continue the game. Tap the hand was like was about the same but no hankie was used. You tapped the person on the hand or the arm and the chase began.
Tammy: Ok, did you all have anything like a May Day or Halloween Carnival?
Ora Gray: Usually not. In the one room schools, there was always a Christmas program. Teachers would give each student a little bag of candy and each child would have a part in the program. The little ones would say small recitations that they could learn. The older children would say recitations and participate in small plays. This was usually held on the last day before Christmas. All the parents would come to see their children in the Christmas program, Usually the one room schools were decorated with homemade gifts brought from home. Some of the most common were popcorn wreaths and paper cutouts.
Tammy: How long did the children get out for Christmas vacation?
Ora Gray: Usually about a week. It really depended on what day Christmas fell on. If it came on a Thursday, they usually got out a Tuesday and they were out that week and all the next week and came back to school Monday after New Years Day.
Tammy: Ok, did the children ever put on plays or programs for the public?
Ora Gray: Just for the community. They were held in the daytime in a one room school. The children were not to make any money. Parents just came to see their children perform.
Tammy: What were some of the subjects that were offered in this one room school? Did you just teach one certain subject or did you teach a variety of subjects?
Ora Gray: A variety of subjects that you would have from grades one to seven as a rule. Sometimes even eighth or ninth graders would be in a one room school. The subjects basically were Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. The geography and various sciences were taught in the upper grades. The small children, like first through third grade, would not have science. The upper grades had Science, Geography, and Literature, the study of stories and plays by play writers.
Tammy: Did you have one certain grade that you taught or did you have a variety of different grades?
Ora Gray: All the grades one through seven, not many students were in each grade. And I think you had something there that you don't have today. The older students were very considerate of the younger students. They were always helping the younger students. You always had one or two of the older students making sure that the six and seven year olds had their wraps on and ready to go home. They would also help them with their lessons. There was never any rudeness or discourtesy to the small children in the school.
Tammy: Who was the principal at the time you were teaching in the one room school.
Ora Gray: The teacher was the principal and the janitor. What ever else needed to be done.
Tammy: So there was no specific principal? So when the children done wrong you had to discipline them?
Ora Gray: Yes! The head teacher or the regular teacher had to take care of the discipline problems. Meeting the parents that needed to come by and all of the other things that went on.
Tammy: What were some of the forms of discipline that you all used when the children done wrong? Paddling?
Ora Gray: Oh yes, in that day a little switch or a little paddle could be used. Rarely ever was there any unusual punishment. In the schools they had to stand in a corner a while. That seemed to usually punish a child because he didn't want to stand up in front of the class.
Tammy: O.K. you say you can remember when the first school bus in Bland County was made?
Ora Gray: Really I don't know very much about the early school buses in Bland County because I left Bland County before I graduated form High School to complete my high school education in Marion Virginia, which is in Smith County. Then from there I went on to Radford College,and it was during those years from about thirty to thirty-four, thirty-five that they began to operate school buses in Bland County. I never rode a school bus in Bland County therefore I don't know a great deal about the buses. They were usually provided by some farmer because most of the people in Bland County were all farmers then. The farmers would provide a truck with a flat bed, something like you hauled hay on the farms and various things that needed to be transported and then he would transport the children with his truck. Sometimes two or three farmers would take turns hauling the children in those earliest days of school buses.
Tammy: When the children came to school other than a lunch what else did they usually bring with them (a jacket, a lunch) is there anything else you can remember that the children brought with them?
Ora Gray: They always brought their books, they would take books home to get their homework lessons, I imagine you children do today have some homework, I do not know that but I am assuming that. In the one room schools there was always homework and the children would take home books. They would take their pencils and paper and get their lessons and come back the next morning with problems or their English sentences, whatever had been assigned for them to do they would bring it back they always had them. Generally they wore a coat or some type of wrap in the fall and spring. When the weather was warm, they maybe did not have to wear wraps, but in the cold weather they did. They very often boys wore boots, girls did too and I think the girls boots today are much more attractive for girls than they were in those days. They were made for use then and protection. They were not so much for the good looks you see today.
Tammy: How long did a school year usually last , twelve months, nine months, how long?
Ora Gray: No the earliest of schools, now I went to some of these. I didn't ever teach in one, but some of the earliest schools in the county lasted only three months sometimes four. Then they began to have six month school terms and that seemed a long time in a one room school, but then they went to eight month schools in the one room schools also the larger schools such as Rocky Gap, Ceres, Bland, Mechanicsburg, and Hollybrook. These were some of the larger schools in the communities and this was probably about the early thirties, and they went to the same lengths of school years in each school. Then about the late thirties probably around thirty-seven or thirty-eight they went to nine month schools in all the counties, one room were included so the children were getting much better education then because they had longer school terms, but the length of the term got longer and the length of the day got shorter. Usually school started at nine o'clock and ended at three thirty at that time.
Tammy:How did the grading system run?
Ora Gray:The grading system from the time I began my teaching career was not very different from what we have today. Usually the A's were form ninety-five to one hundred and B's came next than C's than D's usually the lowest passing grade from about seventy-five to eighty percent and F meant a failing grade. At one time they used an E in the system for excellence and that ranked up along with or just above the A. That went out of existence many year ago, in or around the early forty's.
Tammy: When these children, you said you had a numerous amount of different grades in this one room school, when these children passed on to a different grade they were still in your same one room school. What happened when they completed how ever many grades need to graduate from high school?
Ora Gray: No, they went through the seventh grade, there was no kindergarten, and they began in the first grade. You had children in the first grade, second grade, and maybe there wouldn't be but one or two children, you were lucky if you had four or five in a grade. There was third graders, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh graders. At the end of the seventh grade they either moved on to a larger school such as Ceres, or Bland, or Rocky Gap. They would go there if the parents could afford to provide them transportation, and also tuition was common in those days. In the high schools, the larger schools, the parents paid tuition anywhere from one dollar and a half to about three dollars per month to send a child to high school. Many did not go high school. Sometimes if they could not afford to go or just didn't want to go on to a larger school sometimes you would have students in the seventh grade repeating a grade as many as three years just to get to come to school, and be out with their friends. The girlfriends, and the boyfriends those things were common in those days just as they are today in the schools.
Tammy: Did you all have alot of assemblies or speakers for your one room school?
Ora Gray: No, very little. Now and then we would get a visitor in the school who would talk to the children and if we knew it ahead of time parents were invited, but normally that type thing was not common in a one room school; just occasionally. It was about 1934 that 4H came into the county, maybe it was a little earlier and we did not have an agent except for the men and the boys. I remember one or two before Mr. Malory came and he used to visit the one room schools.
Tammy: How old was a child when they started first grade?
Ora Gray: Normally, six year olds and five year olds would be allowed to come to school if the teacher was not crowded with children. Sometimes they were glad to get the five and six year olds to come to school. It helped the attendance and the average daily attendance to help bring money into the county.
Tammy: When these children graduated, what did they do to celebrate graduation? Did they hold assemblies where the parents could watch their children graduate? What did they do?
Ora Gray: Sometimes they held an assembly, but sometimes they were simply given their report cards or certificates. When the first certificates came, it was in the late 20's or early 30's. The teachers could order certificates from some supply houses. The teachers would write in the child's name and say he had completed so many years and sign it at the end of the certificate.
Tammy: You said the children played baseball, were there any other sports that you can think of that became popular? Today we have basketball and football.
Ora Gray: No, there was no basketball, no football, or anything like- that in one room schools. Either the old fashioned paddleball or they played baseball. Baseball preceded softball and baseball was mainly for the upper grades. Small children couldn't handle baseball very well. The bats were large and heavy. Softball came into the school systems here in the county I would think sometimes around the late 30's early 40's. Basketball came to the high schools but not to the elementary schools.
Tammy: Were there any teams formed at the time for the school?
Ora Gray: No.
Tammy: No teams.
Ora Gray: Not even for the elementary school.
Tammy: Did they just play sports for entertainment?
Ora Gray: Oh yes, they do some for entertainment. I do not know what year they started with teams but that was in the high school section of the school. Probably the mid 40's.
Tammy: Is there any clubs or courses the children could join if they were doing good in their classes? You mentioned the SCA to me earlier?
Ora Gray: No. Those things came to the high schools about 1940. I cannot give an exact date on it because I was not a teacher at that time.
Tammy: Is there any trips you can remember taking, like field trips?
Ora Gray: In the elementary schools and one room schools, the only trips that we ever took had to be taken on a Saturday. Sometimes the teacher and those children that could get together would go on a hike into the fields or ridges close around the school. They would observe the flowers, plant life, and animal life. That was the extent of trips outside.
Tammy: Did the county support the trips or did the children have to pay themselves?
Ora Gray: No money was involved, they just came and went on their own.
Tammy: Is there any incidents that you can vividly remember like a fight or anything about your teaching experience.
Ora Gray: Oh, not really. You had a few boys, especially that every now and then had to have what we call a "feisty" and got mad at each other and exchanged a few blows with their fists. Usually it scared the little children and they would run for the teacher. By the time the teacher got there, they were usually backing off from each other. That was all that there was to it. If they didn't cool down, we took them inside and let them have a seat for a while and let them cool.
Tammy: Is there anything else you would like to tell me that you can remember that I haven't asked you?
Ora Gray: It was very important of course to have drinking water and also remember that it had to be carried from a spring.
Tammy:You said you had an outside Johnny, so you all had to go outside to go to the bathroom?
Ora Gray: Yes.
Tammy: Where did you get you water, did you all have a well outside or a pump, how did you get it?
Ora Gray: Some schools might have had a pump. Most of them just went to a nearby spring where the water flowed from the earth.
Tammy: Is there anything else you would like to tell me?
Ora Gray: Well since you just wanted information on those early one room schools here in Rocky Gap this might be interesting for you. The first schools here in Rocky Gap was near Camp Obadiah, it went under the interstate where the interstate crosses Wolf Creek, that ridge. That was probably the first school here in this area. It was a log, one room building used for a school, church, and community center.
Tammy: And this is the one room school in Rocky Gap?
Ora gray: Yes, this is the one room school in Rocky Gap. It was also used, I suppose you would say as a hospital for wounded soldiers, the women and some of the men took care of the men who were wounded during the Civil War. When the people here lived in this area there was no Bland County. This was the rural days in Bland County. They was as rural as I suppose you would call Wilderness Country out here. They heard the Yankees in the Civil War were coming over East River Mountain and they came from the Princeton area and topped the mountain just about where the tunnel is today. They came on down in the community and the people burned the building to keep them from capturing any men or supplies that they had there to help the wounded. They marched out to what we call South Gap today and turned east in the Civil War to what we call Rocky Gap. Then there was a one room school here up across the Laurel Creek from were our present day plant is. There was a one room building across there, probably in the fields there about 1938. As far as I know, no people living today taught in those buildings. But just a few years ago, there was still some people living.
Tammy: Well, I really thank you for letting me have some of your time. This is Ora Gray Stowers, and I want to thank you again for helping me out.
Ora Gray: Well, I am glad I could help you out Tammy. If I can help you with any thing else, please let me know.
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