The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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A Set Of Twins, E.J. and E.M. Cooley, Struggle for an Education Circa 1898 - Part 1 of 2

By E. J. Cooley © 1984

Issue: September, 1984

Editor's Note... This story was written by E.J. Cooley, probably in the early 1930's. Both E.J. and E.M. are deceased, but this story illustrates the life of "turn of the century" college freshmen. E.M. went on to become Carroll County's first Superintendent of Schools. Their grandfather, Benjamin Cooley, had been the first Sheriff of Carroll County.

We were born just twelve years after the close of the Civil War in 1865 and the public school system in Virginia was in its infancy. The first school we attended was known as Possum Hollow, located almost a mile from our house. It was a one room log school house with a wide chimney at the south end, a door with only a latch to close it in the east side, one small window on the east and west sides and a one small pane window extending most of the way across the north end of the house. Some of the seats were made of slabs without backs except the walls of the house.

The men and boys would take turns on designated days to go to the woods and carry on their shoulders the logs for the large fireplace where the heat was generated to keep us warm by exchanging seats on cold wintry days.

The pupils, 30 to 40 in number, ranged in age from 5 to 21 years. The nearest thing to grades in school was called the first, second and third reader up to the fifth. The subjects taught were spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, with English Grammar, manual of geography, United States History and Physiology and Hygiene coming in later years. Greater emphasis was placed on spelling, reading, penmanship and arithmetic. On Fridays, in the afternoon, we chose partners for a spelling contest which usually consumed three hours time to decide the winner. Seven of our family and sometimes eight of us were in regular attendance besides Ruf, who was our teacher.

We took our lunch to school in a peck basket. If my memory is correct, we had four or five years in the log schoolhouse covered with boards riven from the native forest when Possum Hollow was abandoned and a new one room frame schoolhouse with four windows was built nearly a mile from our home but in opposite directions from Possum Hollow. This building, located on an established road or highway, was called Glennwood. It was heated by a wood stove in the center of the room and had a rostrum and painted ceiling [wall] for a blackboard. Our drinking water, carried in a bucket with one dipper for all, came from a spring a few hundred yards away. Our playground was Albert Ward's meadow. We had homemade desks that would hold the books of four or five pupils. Here we studied for five months each winter, Maury's Manual of Geography, Harvey's English Grammar, Webster's Dictionary, Davie's Arithmetic and Steel's Physiology and Hygiene.

When we were 16, our brother, George, conducted a summer school at Mount Vernon school house located two miles north of Gladeville and in sight of sister Flora's home. She told us she would board us three months term for five dollars per month and wait with us until we could get the money to pay her. So sister Emma, E.M. and myself accepted her offer. About one year later, Wiley, Charlie, Creed Jones, E.M. and myself heard of a wonderful opportunity to make some money working out a boundary of timber in Wythe County located some 8 or 10 miles northeast of Max Meadows near the present site of Gunton Park. We loaded up two wagons of bedding and provisions and set out on a two days journey to our destination in the forest where we hoped to fill our empty pockets with coin of the realm. Late in the afternoon of the second day of our journey we arrived at the site of our anticipated place of abode. Wiley drove up by the side of the house which we understood was for us, with the expectation of unloading and getting set up for our task of working out the boundary of timber, we had heard so much about. Just then a woman appeared at the front door and with a commanding voice ordered Wiley to get that wagon and team away from there, that was her home and nobody could camp around there. I can see the bewilderment on Wiley's face until this day as he smacked his lips and grated his teeth. He obeyed orders and drove a reasonable distance from the house. It looked very much like we were going to have to spend the night outdoors. At last the woman's husband appeared and had gotten his wife to consent to our using an empty room for the night. Next morning all hands went to work and built us a shack with a mud chimney with a fireplace to cook in, and double-decked bunks to sleep on. On the second or third day we were felling trees and dragging logs to the mill to be manufactured into lumber. After eight or ten weeks we had practically cleaned up all the merchantable timber. We broke up camp and returned to our native hearth somewhat wiser but not much wealthier in the coin we had hoped to reap. However, E.M. and myself accumulated enough cash for the three months board at our sister Flora's while we were in school the year before.

In the spring of 1896 we made arrangements for three months boarding at Steve Edward's some three miles from Woodlawn Male and Female Academy. We had courses in advanced arithmetic, English Grammar, algebra, English Literature and beginners Latin. That summer we took our first examination for teacher's certificates at Fairview two miles east of Hillsville, and made passing grades. There were more applications for schools than there were schools. E.M. got a contract to teach his first school at a salary of $18.00 a month, but I was left out in the cold. For some reason unknown to us, considerable opposition to his teaching his first school in this community developed and a desperate attempt was made to cut his daily average attendance so low that he would be compelled to quit. This having failed, the next move was to stop his school by breaking up the heating stove and knocking the windows out of his school house. We were never able to get enough evidence to prosecute the parties in court, who committed this offense, but we were sure who the promoters were. A few months after E.M. had to abandon his school, there was a magistrate's trial to be held at Martin's Mill. We were confident several of the enemies of ours would be there, so we had an excuse to attend this trial with revolvers in our jackets and meet some of these fellows face to face. Sure enough, several of these were there and it was not long until a fight ensued which came very close to a shooting scrape. After this scrap the school board told us to pick any school in their district and it was ours. I chose Oak Hill, in sight of the present city of Galax (which was not dreamed of then) and boarded in the elegant home of John B. Caldwell at five dollars per month, while E.M. picked Forest Oak, some two or three miles from Woodlawn.

The next spring, we returned to Woodlawn Academy and there, a burning desire to go to William and Mary College was inspired by our principal, Professor E.E. Worrell, an alumnus of the second oldest college in America, William and Mary.

Our biggest problem was finances. There were no outlets for our pent up energies in the way of employment except at harvest time at the price of fifty cents a day of ten hours. Brother George had saved up from his meager salary as teacher a small amount of surplus cash and he cheerfully agreed to stand by us in this worthy ambition to raise the clouds of ignorance from our minds. Aunt Julia Price and the members of our immediate family fully agreed it was a good move on our part provided we did not fail in our plans. With this encouragement we definitely decided to enter the College of William and Mary in September 1898. Just three days before we were to leave home for a nine months stay at William and Mary, well do I remember to this day my mother's earnest voice saying to me as she was sorting our clothes to be packed in our small trunks, "Don't you want to confess Christ and be baptized before you leave home?" I turned away without giving her an answer but that one question sank deeper into my conscience than any sermon I have ever heard. There was a tent revival going on then at what we know as the Jack Carico place under the direction of one Reverend Alred of the Christian Church. At the Sunday night service before we were to leave for college on Monday morning, I made a public confession and requested to be baptized next morning before leaving for school. On Monday morning at eight o'clock, my brother, Ruf baptized me in the "old swimming hole" under a spreading maple tree. Immediately after the baptism I hurried home, changed clothes, and kissed my devoted mother good bye and with tears streaming, shook hands with the other members of our family gathered in the living room and climbed in the wagon drawn by a pair of fine mules, with brother George as driver.

E.M. and myself set out on the first lap of our journey to sister Fannie's home at the Nuckolls homestead at Gambetta 12 miles away, over rugged mountain roads. We arrived there shortly after noon, had a splendid midday lunch and about one-thirty, flagged the Norfolk and Western train from Chestnut Yards to Pulaski. We bought second class fares to Pulaski, and at Pulaski we purchased tickets to Williamsburg, but little did we comprehend what was awaiting us in an explored field of adventure. The agent at Pulaski advised us to wait for the through train due about nine o'clock at night, but we boarded a local about four that afternoon which took us to Lynchburg and was cut out there. We had a four or five hour wait for the through train to Petersburg where we changed to the Atlantic Coast Line for Richmond. We arrived in Richmond early next morning and learned that we must get ourselves and baggage across the city from the Atlantic Coast Line to the C. and C. Station some two miles away. A colored cab driver, who evidently saw we were green horns, offered to take four of us across for twenty-five cents each. We countered by offering him twenty-five cents each to take us and our baggage to the C. and C. Station which he agreed to. He hurried across the city to the station, collected his 25 cents from each of us, and promptly disappeared. Soon the baggage transfer arrived and said we owed him thirty-five cents on each piece of baggage. You should have seen the expressions on our faces. We were positive we had paid all charges but the baggage man refused to release our baggage until we paid him. Then we went to look for the colored driver and were gone long enough to miss our train but we didn't find him. We were not used to doing business that way in the mountains of Carroll County, yet I believe the lesson we learned was worth all it cost. We caught the next train for Williamsburg arriving there about noon on Tuesday. The transfer fellows wanted to take our baggage to the college for 50 cents apiece but we told them we could carry ours cheaper than that. We went directly to the college and found Lyon G. Tyler, the President of the college, hard at work in his shirt sleeves. We presented our letter of introduction from our principal at Woodlawn and were welcomed by him and further directed to the registrar's office where we paid ten dollars each in cash for one month's board, lodging and laundry and were assigned to a large front room on the first floor of the Ewell Dormitory.

The college was not scheduled to open until Thursday morning, so we had the remainder of Tuesday and all day Wednesday to while away. Our mother had prepared an abundance of fried chicken, country ham, and light bread. Consequently, our expenses for food was no big item. After we had retired in our room on Tuesday night, someone threw a chair against our door and before we could get outside to see who the intruder was, he had made his escape but we felt that was a rude challenge to some homesick young men. Next morning Mr. Oliver Perry Chitwood, a graduate student from Franklin County, called on us and told us he had taught school at Hillsville, the county seat of Carroll, and before he left he told us that we might expect a crowd that night to haze us. This was definitely a new idea of a greeting to a historic institution of world wide renown. We had read in the catalog that hazing was a violation of the rules of the college, yet it had not dawned on us just what it implied until explained to us by Mr. Chitwood. After Mr. Chitwood left us and we had reflected on the matter, we decided to go to the woods back of the college and get us some clubs to defend ourselves since we had not brought our automatics with us. We placed our heavy clubs under our pillows and waited for developments. Soon after dark a crowd of ruffians passed our door on their way to the third story to begin their hazing of new students reserving us for last.

To be continued next month.