Vintage Vignette: Rules For School Teachers - 1915

(A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin, May 2, 2010) 

1903 Madison Training School

Before Percy Keel passed away in January of this year, he gave me many of his historical collection items for safekeeping.  Among them is a large three-ring binder of clippings about the history of Madison schools with notes of their pupils and staff in the early 1900s.  Within that notebook is a page entitled “Rules for 1915 Schoolteachers” attributed to Buckeye Farm News, which in turn quoted from an unnamed teachers’ magazine of the day.  Whether or not any of these rules were ever applied here is not known to me, but they certainly would have fit 1915 life in the town of Madison, judging from other items of the time that I have found.  The rules are repeated here to perhaps illustrate to some degree how much times have changed.

·        You will not marry during the time of your contract.
·        You are not to keep company with men.
·        You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., unless attending a school function.
·        You may not loiter downtown in any of the ice cream stores.
·        You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the board.
·        You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother.
·        You may not smoke cigarettes.
·        You may not dress in bright colors.
·        You may under no circumstances dye your hair.
·        You must wear at least two petticoats.
·        Your dresses must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle.
·        To keep the schoolroom neat and clean, you must:  sweep the floor at least once daily; scrub the floor at least once a week with hot, soapy water; clean the blackboards at least once a day; and start the fire at 7 a.m. so the room will be warm by 8 a.m.

Obviously, these rules were developed with the assumption that only unmarried women were to be teachers.  It is not clear today why loitering in an ice cream store would be disallowed, but probably that would be taken back then as an indication of a young lady of loose morals being available for approach by a lecherous male.  Apparently, schools of the day were extremely careful to maintain a strict image of absolute propriety by those who were shaping the lives of young students.  It was also “good for business”, as schools in those days were generally attended on a voluntary and personal cost basis.  Accordingly, parents had to be constantly convinced of the proper conduct of those associated with any school where they would pay to send their children.

The December 17, 1913, special “Madison Booster” issue of THE WEEKLY MERCURY (a newspaper of Huntsville) stated that “More good and less bad can be truly said of Madison than of any other town and community of same population anywhere on earth… where the health conditions are unexcelled and where the best of schools are to be had, a high moral place of pure society, and where the effect of a wholesome religious influence is manifest on every hand….”

The Vintage Vignettes were originally a series of eight articles for publication in the Huntsville Times newspaper over a period of five years, 2007 - 2011. The articles in this eight-page historical newspaper issue were compiled by J. Willis Cargile.  He concluded his coverage with:
“Visit the attractive little city of Madison; it’s well worth your while….  We cannot ring off without adding a little post-script, commending the noble young people of that model little city for their sterling qualities and refined daring.  It is noticeable that the young men of the community love their homes and are entering into pursuits in their own town, and there are many merry Madison maids, who prefer home and mother in preference to parading the streets and gathering at the (railroad) Depot to flirt with the blue coats and brass buttons who may have daughters at home older than they are.  All Madison is proud of the elevated society among her most worthy and highly refined young gentlemen and young ladies.  There are many, many more good things to be said about Madison.”

Pension Row


by John P. Rankin

Doctor George Richard Sullivan, namesake of Sullivan Street, lived in his later years in a house on the west side of Sullivan Street near the north end of Pension Row.  The street named Pension Row runs through the middle of early Madison's westernmost development.  The name is thought to derive from a number of WW1 military veterans living on their service pensions along the street.  Prior to that time, this neighborhood was home to Madison's Male and Female Academy, which was in operation near the south end by 1883 or earlier.  Just north of that was an early 2-story Masonic Hall that was shared by a Presbyterian Church using the ground floor.  The two organizations met there on different days.

By 1926 the Masonic Lodge hall was used for the education of African American children until Cornelia, widow of blacksmith Henry Seay, deeded land on Pension Row for a new school.  In 1936 the W.P.A. provided materials, and local citizens provided the labor to erect a 3-room building.  Mr. L. C. Jamar was principal 1926-1947.  He was followed by Mrs. Dorothy Turner  for a short time, and in 1948 Rev. E. C. Binford became principal.  During his tenure, the school expanded twice, to a 5-room configuration and then to 16 rooms, with teachers for each room.  The expanded school consolidated those of nearby area schools in Triana, Capshaw, New Haven, Union Hill, Betts, and St. James, which had been meeting in churches and other lodge halls.  The Pension Row School burned in 1949 and was not rebuilt in that neighborhood.  West Madison Elementary School was constructed further north to replace it after several years, with an integrated staff and student body by the 1970s.

Information For Historical Marker:
"Pension Row is representative of many small town African American neighborhoods. Once a thriving community with its own schools, churches, businesses, lodges, and recreation areas, it has been a part of Madison since Madison was incorporated in 1869. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was home to most of Madison's black citizens, including businessmen, teachers, preachers, farmers, housekeepers, and workers in the town's gins and warehouses. The narrow streets, designed for horse-drawn carts, and the hedges, plantings, and trees help to define a strong sense of place, but the historic buildings are rapidly disappearing. 

Many dilapidated houses were demolished in the 1990s, and younger residents have moved away. Pension Row remains home to a small population, many of whom have lived here for generations. It has two historic churches: St. Peter United Methodist Church, founded in 1887, and St. Elizabeth Cumberland Presbyterian Church, founded in 1910. Both continue to draw worshippers from throughout western Madison County."


Coordinates:N 34° 41.747    W 086° 45.304
 34.69578333    -86.75506666

Pension Row Historical Marker
211-299 Arnett St
Madison, AL 35758

110 Main Street Madison, AL 35758

Believed to be one of the oldest stores in Madison, the building was built circa 1859 and owned by Mr. George Washington Martin.  Later,  Mr. Hardage operated a saloon in the building which was one of two in Madison at that time.

Sometime thereafter, Mr. Robert Parham Cain bought the building and opened and operated a grocery store.  His son Mr. Robert Earl Cain continued in the mercantile business there.

From MSHPS Nomination: 110 Main Street (1859) faces northwest. This two-story, painted brick commercial building is believed to be one of the oldest commercial structures in Madison Station. The front-gabled roof includes overhanging eaves with decorative brackets. The large upper story windows are six over six sash with true divided lights. The recessed front entrance has two large display windows and a sign band that runs the width of the entrance. 

The building is said to have housed a local saloon at one point and later a grocery store. CONTRIBUTING

Today, the building houses Madison Station Antiques.

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Other Links about this location:

Click Here for Next Location on tour: 303 Church Street

Click here for the Madison Station Historical Preservation Society Tour.

303 Church Street Madison AL 35758

The Walton Hughes home was built in 1922 by Mr. Thomas J. Riddle (principal of Madison School) for Harry, his son. Harry and his father worked as bankers and lived next door to each other. Both Riddle families left the Madison area in the 1920's.
In 1926, Mr. Walton Hughes bought the property. Mr. Hughes was the owner and pharmacist at the Humphrey-Hughes Drug Company on Main Street for fifty years.
The home is a Gothic structure with a bungalow porch. It is one of two homes in the district with a cupola on the top.

Click here for the Madison Station Historical Preservation Society Tour.