The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

School Marms - Telephone Reader Interviews

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1984-2012

Issue: February, 1984

Each month we call people who send us their phone number and write this column from those “chats.” This way we get to meet more people and share their wonderful stories with our readers.

Ms. Mae Clifton

Ms. Mae Clifton is 84 years old. She lives in Martinsville, Virginia now but she was born and raised at Vesta, Virginia. Her brother, Fred Clifton, still lives here. She taught school at the old Meadows of Dan School (pictured in our January issue) in 1917 and 1918. At that time, the principal was Annie Maud Elkins and her co-teachers were Lorna Blackard and Dot Turner.

After those first two years of teaching, she says she was always assigned to small, one room, one teacher schools, all over Patrick County. Those schools included Busted Rock School, Wood School and Poorhouse School. In those days, she said they needed teachers so badly that many of them taught without certifications.

Today she is retired, but still likes to keep as active as possible. She sews and takes walks whenever she can. She told us that she subscribes to The Mountain Laurel and the first thing she does when it comes is sew the pages together so none of the pages will get lost or misplaced.

“Ms. B.” - Ms. Berta Wood

Berta Wood is 81 years old and lives at Meadows of Dan, Virginia. She was also a teacher. She began teaching when she was 17. One of her pupils in her first class was 19! She said that she never had any discipline problems though. She knew Mae Clifton and taught at Wood’s School also. She was a substitute teacher until she was 65 at Meadows of Dan School.

Mrs. Lera B. Smith

Mrs. Lera B. Smith of Ferrum, Virginia was a teacher for 40 years. Her first teaching job was the railroad school in the Redwood vicinity. She said that she was 18 then and her parents thought that school teaching would be a good profession for a young girl starting out.

The Railroad School was a one room school and Lera lived three miles away from it. She said, “I rode my horse back and forth from school until the horse got sick, then I walked after that.” When the weather was bad, students that lived near the school would invite her to spend the night with them so she wouldn’t have to make the trip home. She said they would have “pea shellings” and such and have a good time.

Once, in November, the stream she had to cross to get to school was swollen from recent rains and she couldn’t cross it to get to school on time. When she did make it, she found that the students had started the fires in the school stoves and their lessons all by themselves and she was proud. This was in 1919. She said that she thought that the old one room schools were good for the students because it taught them sharing and caring for the other students of all ages. Often the older ones helped the younger ones that were having troubles with their lessons.

When Lera Smith started teaching, she didn’t have a certificate. She obtained one by going to Radford College during the summer months, correspondence courses from the University of Virginia and University of Alabama and a term at Roanoke College.

Most of the others she taught at were around Ferrum, Virginia. She said the roads in those days were bad so she took the train from Rocky Mount to Ferrum. There she taught at the Cross Roads School and Ferrum Elementary and High Schools. She said many years ago the school board in Franklin County wouldn’t let married people teach.

Mrs. Smith’s own thoughts about teaching are sound ones. She said, “It’s a good profession. I think the longer a teacher stays in it the more considerate the teacher will become.” She thinks the most important thing for a teacher to remember is that they are dealing with human beings, the citizens of tomorrow, and consider the influence they can have on those children. You could tell Mrs. Smith considers teaching not simply a job but a responsibility.