Columnist

Schools, 'Aeroplanes,' and Tuberculosis made news in 1909

 
 
Published: 12/30/2009 12:00 AM

"It's about time someone issued some rules as to how teachers should behave." You know its cold when they start cutting ice from the river."

"I think Elgin should open one of those 'open air schools' for students with tuberculosis."

These are some of the comments people might have made after reading the Elgin newspapers of a century ago. Here's a look at those and other stories that made area headlines in December 1909.

• One report described it as a "courteous denial" and another said the Elgin Board of Education was "putting its foot down," but the result was the same. No more Sunday schools would be allowed to rent space in the city's schools. No reason was given for the change in policy, but some sources close to board members said the explanation was quite simple. Sunday school children didn't take care of the rooms and were damaging the desks, and this was considered the best way to deal with the problem.

• Six bands of "gypsies," made up of members ranging in age from infants to older adults, were reported to be causing "grave problems" for area police. One truck driver who approached the group near their camp at the intersection of South and Crystal streets, told police an adult member of the group agreed to buy 5 cents worth of vegetables while others stole much of his merchandise. Police said they routinely had trouble making arrests in such cases because victims were unable to distinguish which person was the offender.

• What should be done with the growing number of students who had tuberculosis? "Fresh air seems to be the best possible treatment for tuberculosis and 'open air schools' will do much to prevent the development in children," said the Chicago superintendent.

"The plan can never be developed in Elgin because we have so few tuberculosis pupils," said the Elgin superintendent. "Those are so few afflicted with the disease and they are all in different grades."

• Just how are teachers expected to behave? The Illinois Superintendent of Schools issued what he called his "ten commandments" for teachers.

"It's none of our business what you do at night, but if it affects what you do the next day, that is our business and you won't last long with us." "Keep out of debt or keep out of our employ," he added. Other expectations dealt with honesty, self-respect and cooperation between fellow employees.

• In the spirit of the holidays, the Elgin superintendent of schools gave a rather unexpected gift to some staff members who had family out-of-town when he told them they didn't need to teach the day before the holiday break. Any teacher who first reports for duty on Christmas Eve Day will be provided a substitute in order to leave early on their travels, he explained. No provision will be made for Elgin High School teachers who had some time off earlier due to heating problems at the building. Students, of course, were expected to be in attendance as usual.

• How does the curriculum at the Elgin schools compare to that of other communities? "Quite favorably," said the Elgin superintendent who called the class offerings "well balanced." About 22 percent of the school day is spent on reading and 15 percent on mathematics, he said. Grammar comprised about 14 percent of the school day followed by geography at 8 percent. Rounding out the curriculum, in order of time spent, were writing, spelling, history, music, physiology and drawing.

"People see manual training and drawing exhibits and hear the pupils sing nowadays and think the school day is spent on frills," said the superintendent. "We don't put on any arithmetic exhibits or have any reading recitals, but we do spend time on the old-fashioned three R's."

• "Aeroplane" rides, anyone? An Elgin architect said he was planning on buying an "aeroplane" - an invention few had even seen at that time - and offering rides from Wing Park on the city's west side.

"The sensation of flying, which heretofore has been intended for daring aviators, will be brought within reach of all and it is believed that many people will pay for the privilege of traveling though the air in one of the greatest inventions of the age," he said.

• When we conveniently go to our refrigerators today, it's easy to forget that people from a century ago relied on ice from the Fox River to keep their food items cold. As the river ice reached the necessary 10 inches thick, over 100 men swung into action cutting ice blocks from the river above the Kimball Street dam. While much of the harvest was intended for commercial and home refrigeration, consumers were urged to use "made" ice for consumption purposes.

• Finally, in an age in which many women were advocating for the right to vote, the female members of one Elgin church said they had no interest in such affairs ­- at least in their own congregation. Though the wider synod body had given women the right to vote in the management of their church business, women of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church indicated they did not care to exercise that privilege. The women, who made up the majority of the congregation's 400 members, said, however, they would not be averse to casting an advisory ballot on certain congregation matters.