Letizia and Nick Muro’s first daughter, Josie, was born in Agropoli in 1909. Five more children were born in America in the period 1913 to 1920. Of the six children five received a public school education and graduated from 8th grade.
This week we focused on the topic of education as covered by newspapers in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and several smaller towns during the period 1912-1920. We still cannot locate digitized versions of The Wilmerding Times at the Library of Congress or elsewhere. However, the search results we have give us a good overview of the influences that were at work in shaping the education a child received at school and through community activities and campaigns.
1912: Are the Public Schools a Failure?
Close-up of the news article from The Citizen, Oct. 16, 1912.
In the October 16th, 1912 edition of The Citizen, A.R. Winship, Editor of the Journal of Education, analyzes the misinformation and faulty statistics used in an article featured in the August 1912 issue of The Ladies Home Journal.
The Journal’s article claimed that the public schools are a great failure and that very few children graduate and go on to high school. Even fewer graduate high school and attend college. Private schools were praised as the one place where students made progress towards graduation and entry to college. According to the Journal’s writer most children want to leave the public schools at 14 years of age because the education they received was unsatisfying.
Mr. Winship disagreed stating that,
“In 1911 the public high schools graduated 50,000 who were prepared for college and the private schools 8,000. Really there seem to be a few parents who are not supporting private schools in the preparation of children for college. So long as the public schools provide for free for six times as many as go to private schools for college preparation, there is no cause for alarm.”
1915: Plea for Girls to receive a worthwhile education
“Plea for Girls by Ida Tarbell” as the heading appeared in the Harrisburg Telegraph.
The Harrisburg Telegraph’s December 29, 1915 edition reported that author Ida Tarbell spoke at the 66th annual Convention of the Pennsylvania State Educational Association on December 28, 1915. The title of her address was “Give the Girl a Chance.” High school girls, Miss Tarbell stated, were ill prepared for the responsibilities of life and the running of a household. She thought that a girl who was already working in a factory had more life experience and a practical outlook that would make her a better wife than the girl who graduated high school. She did not state it outright but her comments point to the lack of serious attention given to teaching girls the value of money and the virtues of using it prudently.
1916: Young school children sing with leading opera stars
Mme. Gadski, a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company.
On June 3rd, 1916 The Patriot, a newspaper published in Indiana, Pennsylvania, reported on a concert to take place on Saturday, June 10, 1916 in Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. 1200 grade school children from Pittsburgh were selected as members of a chorus that would accompany well known members of the Metropolitan Opera House scheduled to appear at the concert. One of the opera singers was Madame Johanna Gadski. Another chorus comprised of 500 men and women who attended evening classes at the Pittsburgh school system would also be featured.
A short article below the announcement of the concert provides further details about the backers of the event. The Pittsburgh Festival Association was brought about through the efforts of Pittsburgh businessman William C. Hamilton. He believed it was important for children in the public school system to have musical appreciation included in their education. Thanks to his efforts the Association sponsored the concert featuring Mme. Gadski as well as concerts in the three previous years.
1917: The message of school reform is woven into a children’s story
The Evening Public Ledger’s August 25th, 1917 reviewed a children’s book entitled “Understood Betsy” by Mrs. Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Woven into the story were the author’s views on the need for school reform. Mrs. Fisher praised the Montessori method used in France because it supported hiring clerks to do the administrative work such as grading papers. This gave teachers more time to focus on their work with students. She also did not support the view that children should be taught as if they all had the same capabilities.
In the story Betsy is transformed from an insecure and nervous child into a confident one. After the home she shared with two Aunts is broken up, she goes to live in the country where she matures by meeting the challenges that come her way. Mrs. Fisher portrayed Betsy coming into her own in an environment that encouraged her to do those things for herself that she was capable of doing. Emphasis was also placed on the benefit of living a lifestyle that included proper nourishment and outdoor activities.
1918: All school coursework must be in English.
Headline of article calling for eliminating the use of German in the public school system nationwide.
A resolution was passed by members of the Sons of the Revolution, as reported in the April 20th, 1918 edition of the Harrisburg telegraph to eliminate German language and culture classes from all public schools. The resolution reflects the effect WWI had on all areas of American life. It was the creation of Bishop Darlington from Harrisburg. The Bishop also added that the German language should be eliminated from religious schools as well. It was, he thought, a means of promoting disloyalty to America.
His speech was well received amongst the membership of the Sons of the Revolution. Some school superintendents stated that they could not eliminate the German language from their curriculum since some colleges required three years of German as part of their admissions requirements. Other Americans supported continued teaching of the language in anticipation of diplomatic and business relationships after WWI was concluded.
1919: Disagreements about vaccinating school age children
Close-up of headline “Vaccination Row Ends.”
A Philadelphia newspaper, reported on September 13, 1919 a disagreement between a school board and parents of students. According to the Evening Public Ledger an attorney from Gloucester, NJ reviewed the states laws regarding vaccination of school age children. He agreed that the school board was within its rights to exclude children who had not been vaccinated. In previous years the board allowed non-vaccinated children to attend classes. This was the source of the parents request for an investigation into the change.
1919: Removal of the Italian language from optional language list at public schools
Headline for the response to announcement that Italian was being removed from the optional languages offered at Philadelphia public schools.
Sentiments regarding which foreign languages should be taught in the public schools still ran strong, as reported in the Philadelphia Evening public ledger on December 16, 1919. The Italian language was removed as an optional language taught in the Philadelphia public school systems. The President of the Italian Societies of Philadelphia wrote to the Associate Superintendent of Schools that this was an insult to the Italians who died in the battlefield during WWI.
The letter continued that it would be permissible to remove the German language from the list of languages taught but not the Italian language. Reasons given for this statement included mention that an Italian, Christopher Columbus, discovered America. It is clear from this brief article that sentiments about WWI were still very strong in American life. That there were German immigrants who also responded to the draft and died for the United States is not mentioned.
1921: Teaching children about safety when crossing the street
Headline for article on teaching children safety on the street.
The Keystone Auto Club was conducting a campaign to raise public awareness about the responsibilities of drivers and parents to ensure the safety of children on the streets. The Evening public ledger reported the campaign in the June 10, 1921 edition. The President of the Keystone Auto Club wanted cooperation from drivers and parents so that there would be a reduction in the number of accidents involving children in the street.
Summary of influences at work in the education of children 1912-1921
- Debate about the merits of public school vs. private school education.
- High school should teach girls skills that prepare them for managing a household, including budgeting their money.
- Businessmen acted as sponsors of cultural events that sought to broaden the public school student’s appreciation of arts and music.
- School reform was necessary. Teachers needed relief from the burden of clerical work placed upon them so that they could focus on the needs of their students.
- All coursework should be conducted in English.
- WWI had an effect on people’s view of whether or not German and Italian should be taught in the public schools.
- Depending on local laws school boards could have a right to deny admissions to children who were not vaccinated.
- Public awareness campaigns sought to teach parents, children and members of the community their responsibilities for such areas of public life as safety in the streets.
The following people are mentioned in the discussion my Uncle and I had after reviewing the results of our research. They were:
Josie (Giuseppa): Mother of Sammy, Grandmother of EmilyAnn,
Peter: Josie’s younger brother. Father of Nicky and Robert. Uncle of Sammy. Great Uncle of EmilyAnn.
Angie: Peter’s wife. Mother of Nicky and Robert. Aunt to Sammy. Great Aunt to EmilyAnn.
Nicky and Robert Muro: Sammy’s 1st cousins.
Antoinette: Angie’s sister.
Anita: Angie’s niece. Antoinette’s daughter.
Discussion with Uncle Sammy, August 9, 2015 3:45 – 4:20 p.m.
Uncle Sammy and I discussed our family’s appreciation of books and learning. Then we shared our memories of visits to our cousins in Wilmerding.
Uncle Sammy remembers that there were always magazines and newspapers in the house as he was growing up. He also had his own library of books.
In Wilmerding, Sammy’s cousins Robert and Nicky did not play in the street the way Sammy and his friends did in Brooklyn. Instead, they’d walk the half block to Grandpa Nick’s store at the corner of State Street. He would give the boys a few bottles of soda. Then they’d go across the street to a bar that was right across from the house where Robert and Nicky lived. This bar made burgers from ground pork that were served on a soft roll with onions and mustard. From there they’d walk up the hill that was State Street until they reached a small creek. They’d have lunch there and try out the swing made from an old tire hung by rope to a tree. At other times they’d go to a schoolyard that was two blocks from Grandpa Nick’s store.
When the boys wanted to go somewhere different Sammy’s Uncle Peter (Nicky and Robert’s Dad) would drive them to the other side of Wilmerding.
Uncle Sammy places these visits in the late 1940s through mid-1950s.
My memories of Wilmerding are similar. When my family went to visit in the late 1950s-early 1960s the first thing I remember is that nobody played outside their houses or sat on the stoop with their parents on a summer night. Since the focus of our time in Wilmerding was on visiting the relatives I joined in the gatherings around the table enjoying the food and conversation.
I do not remember Aunt Angie’s house having the stacks of magazines and newspapers that were on the shelves of the side tables in Grandma Josie’s livingroom. Her home was very pretty and so were the homes of Aunt Angie’s sister Antoinette and niece Anita. I just liked being there in the company of such feminine women and listening to all their ideas for decorating the home.
Uncle Peter and Aunt Angie valued education the same way my Grandma Josie and Grandpa Sam did. Nicky and Robert graduated college. Uncle Sammy finished college after serving two years in the National Guard.
My parents always had subscriptions to many kinds of magazines. I can remember Mom getting Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, True Story. Dad got Reader’s Digest, Science Digest, Mechanic’s Illustrated and National Geographic. When I was 6 my parents let me subscribe to a Barbie magazine Mattel published. When I was 7 I got my first magazine called Highlights for Children. When I was in 5th grade enjoyed reading Life Magazine.
Like Uncle Sammy I do not remember the older generation talking about their school days. My Grandparents and the elder relatives were modest about their own accomplishments. They had good manners, an inquiring nature and an interest in music and creating a beautiful home life. The Muro family had humble beginnings but through making the best of the opportunities offered they all achieved entry to the middle class lifestyle in one generation.
The following articles are from the Library of Congress-Chronicling America collection
The Citizen, Oct. 16, 1912, pg. 4
“Is the Public School a Failure?”
Harrisburg Telegraph, Dec. 29, 1915 page 2
“Plea for Girls by Ida Tarbell”
The Patriot, June 3, 1916, page 2
“Tots and Opera Stars-Pittsburgh Businessmen Back Youngsters in Festival”
“Mme. Johanna Gadski”
Evening Public Ledger, August 25, 1917, Sports Extra, page 5
“School Reform in a Child’s Story”
‘Understood Betsy’ a Charming Tale of How a Little Girl came into her own
Harrisburg Telegraph, April 20, 1918, pg. 11
“One Land, One Flag and But Single Tongue-Bishop Darlington offers resolution to Eliminate German language in nation
Evening Public Ledger, Sept. 13, 1919 Night Extra, Page 3
“Vaccination row ends”
Evening Public Ledger, December 16, 1919, Night Extra Financial, page 15
“Baldi says School Edict Insults Italy”
Evening Public Ledger, June 10, 1921, Night Extra Page 6
“Safety First Urged-Auto club asks parents to educate children to be cautious”