Miss George in the classroom

Sepia Saturday 446: Fifth in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

My fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George entered my life in September 1959 — a landmark school year for me with so many new  things to learn.

My memories of first through third grades do not stand out in the same way, although I am sure my teachers were able and dedicated.

Ready for my closeup in my fourth grade class photo (circa 1959-60). While in Miss George’s fourth grade class I learned to write cursive, appeared in a play and began studying French as a second language. Scan by Molly Charboneau

But I recall many details of fourth grade, which began when I was 9 years old. Foremost among them is Miss George holding forth and coaching us on one topic or another.

The blessing of cursive

For one thing, fourth grade was when we learned to perfect our cursive handwriting — that lovely, flowing style that is finally making a comeback after not being taught for a generation. And Miss George made sure we honed this invaluable skill.

First, she taught us how to make running ovals on lined paper — long lines of slinky-like circles that had to be even and neat as we held our  pencils at the proper angle.

Next, she had us fill in various silhouettes  (busts of presidents, animals, trees, you name it) with the delicate rows of circles — awarding stars and wall postings for those whose work excelled.

One of my  fourth grade art projects (circa 1959-60). I suspect I was a Marx Brothers fan, from the looks of this paper bag puppet made in Miss George’s class. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Finally Miss George gave specific instruction in how to form each letter just so, and how to link them together into words — something I continued to refine up through junior high.

I was heartbroken when I learned that schools had stopped teaching cursive handwriting — a must for rapid note taking and for deciphering family and historical documents.

So I was pleased to discover it has recently returned to school curricula — and I’m sure Miss George would be pleased, too.

Art, awards and a visiting French teacher

My mother, who taught elementary school music, diligently saved my landmark childhood projects, report cards and awards — and those of my siblings — in a “baby box” that was later presented to each of us as adults. So I have a couple of souvenirs from my time with Miss George.

One is a cigar-smoking paper bag puppet (above) that has lasted through the years — a sample of the type of creative art project Miss George assigned to us. The other is my wrapper from a large Hersey’s candy bar (below) — a major reward presented by Miss George for a job well done.

Wrapper of a coveted award from Miss George (circa 1959-60). Miss George gave out large candy bars as rewards for a job well done. Alas, my younger brothers ate mine! Photo by Molly Charboneau

My younger brother Mark told me that I hung onto the intact candy bar for a while to savor the pleasure of the prize — until he and my youngest brother Jeff snuck into my room, tore open the wrapper and started eating it!

Yet another landmark fourth grade event was the introduction of French language immersion by a visiting instructor.

I remember gazing quizzically out Miss George’s classroom window at falling snow as the teacher repeated over and over, “La neige est blanche.” (The snow is white.) — to try to teach the concept of black and white. I am grateful for those early French lessons whenever I research my Québécois ancestors!

I take to the stage

Perhaps my most vivid memory from my year with Miss George is taking to the stage in my first acting role.

As discussed in the last post, Miss George regularly used stagecraft to impart lessons to her students. And in 1959-60 she created two plays about town and state history that were put on by my fourth grade class. More on this in the next post.

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs  of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Miss George in the news

Sepia Saturday 445: Fourth in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

1939: Helen George at age 22. In this senior photo from the Cortland Normal School Didascaleion yearbook, a young Miss George seems to radiate a sense of purpose that was well-honed by the time I had her for fourth grade 20 years later. Scan: Molly Charboneau

After graduating in 1939 from Cortland Normal School (now SUNY Cortland), my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George, 22, launched her career as an educator at Hooper School in Endwell, N.Y. — just west of her Binghamton hometown.

Those were the days when small-town papers regularly reported on local personalities and happenings — including updates on local schools and teachers.

So Miss George was in the news for two decades before I had her for fourth grade.

A 1945 holiday program

The earliest news article I have found — titled “Hooper School Pupils to Give Yule Program” — appeared in the Dec. 17, 1945, Endicott Daily Bulletin and gave evidence of Miss George’s many talents.

http://endicott.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?i=f&d=01011855-12311960&e=helen%20george&m=between&ord=e1&fn=endicott_daily_bulletin_usa_new_york_endicott_19451217_english_6&df=11&dt=20
Dec. 1945: Miss George directs a play. [Click to enlarge.] This Endicott Daily Bulletin article describes a play by 4th and 5th graders directed by my fourth grade teacher Helen George. Stagecraft was just one of her many educational tools. Source/full article: Digital Archives of the George F. Johnson Memorial Library
The third paragraph says, “Members of the fourth and fifth grades will be in charge of the first program to be directed by Miss Helen George.”

The program was a holiday-themed play featuring eight grade-school actors — plus a ninth who did the introduction.

This news story particularly interested me because Miss George later directed two plays put on by my fourth grade class — a very big deal for us youngsters.

It never occurred to me then that this stagecraft was something she did on a regular basis!

Career, social life and faculty activity

On June 28, 1949, as the early Baby Boomers reached grade school age, Hooper School’s record enrollment of 800 elementary students made the Endicott Daily Bulletin — with Miss George on the roster of fourth grade teachers.

Another article is the same issue describes “Miss Helen George of Binghamton” attending a bridal shower for Miss Dorothy Carey. So just  like in college, she also found time for fun social activities.

http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn90066578/1951-10-03/ed-1/seq-5/#date1=01%2F01%2F1725&city=&date2=12%2F31%2F2016&searchType=advanced&SearchType=prox5&sequence=0&lccn=sn90066578&index=11&words=George+Helen&proxdistance=5&county=&to_year=2016&rows=20&ortext=&from_year=1725&proxtext=Helen+George&phrasetext=&andtext=&dateF
October 1951: Helen George appointed Legislative Committee chair by Hooper School faculty association. Source/full article: NYS Historic Newspapers

She was involved in the Hooper School faculty association, too.

An Oct. 3, 1951, article in the Endicott Daily Bulletin reported Miss George’s appointment as Legislative Committee chair at a faculty meeting at the Octagon Inn in Glen Aubrey, N.Y. — a position she held until at least 1955.

Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. Miss George was always pushing me and my fourth grade classmates to take an interest in social studies — and she was active in local civic projects, too.

Honored for length of service

One last Endicott Daily Bulletin clip from June 4, 1959 — titled “Endwell: 3 Local Faculty Members Honored for Service” — spotlights Miss George right before I had her for fourth grade.

http://endicott.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?k=%22helen%20george%22&i=f&d=01011855-12311960&e=helen%20george&m=between&ord=k1_e1&fn=daily_bulletin_usa_new_york_endicott_19590604_english_7&df=1&dt=10
June 1959: Helen George honored for 20 years of service to Endwell school children. Source/full article: Digital Archives of the George F. Johnson Memorial Library

She was one of three teachers honored by the PTA for having “served Endwell school children for a total of 84 years.”

In appreciation, Miss George and the other teachers “were presented orchids during a program held following the PTA’s annual ice cream social.”

At that point Miss George had been teaching for 20 years — and come September 1959, I would become one of her fourth grade students.

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs  of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Miss George goes to college

Sepia Saturday 444: Third in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

Born in 1917, my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George grew up in Binghamton, N.Y., where she lived with her parents and younger brother Thomas.

Miss George’s childhood spanned the Roaring Twenties — a period when women jettisoned the confining clothing and ideas of the previous century, finally won the right to vote and envisioned new possibilities for their lives, including higher education and careers.

https://www2.cortland.edu/about/history/
Cortland Normal School, Old Main campus (1923). In circa 1936  my fourth grade teacher Helen George enrolled in a  teacher training program here. She graduated with teaching credentials in 1939. The school is now the State University of New York at Cortland. Photo: SUNY Cortland

So the tenor of the times may have influenced Miss George’s decision to become a teacher — a job that many young women, including my maternal grandmother, embraced as their calling during the same period.

Early education

Miss George’s early education was in the the Binghamton, N.Y., public school system.

Today the large, modern Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School sits across from her childhood home at 22 Ogden Street — and Miss George may have attended its predecessor at the same location.

Binghamton Central High School. My fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George attended high school here in the 1930s. Photo: pressconnects/Broome County Historical Society

Later, Miss George went to Binghamton Central High School — as confirmed by her listing on the student rosters of several BCHS yearbooks I found online.

Her high school –which was built in 1915 and relatively new when she attended — still holds classes in the original building shown above and in several adjoining structures that have been added over the years.

On to college

After graduation, Miss George went on to college at the Cortland Normal School in Cortland, N.Y. (now SUNY Cortland) — just a short trip north from her Binghamton hometown.

Her father Thomas George was a railroad conductor who probably made sure she knew the train route back and forth to school — since rail was the standard means of transportation for New York college students at the time.

Miss George’s parents were surely proud of her educational ambitions. According to the 1940 U.S. Census1 Helen’s father had only completed the 6th grade and her mother Anna the 8th grade. So raising a daughter who not only graduated from high school but was headed to college must have been gratifying to them both.

And I can only imagine Miss George’s excitement to arrive at Cortlandt Normal School to study among hundreds of like-minded young women who were also preparing for an educational career.

Graduation in 1939

Miss George graduated in 1939 after completing a degree in General studies, according to her listing in the Didascaleion yearbook published by her senior class.

Cortlandt Normal School, Didascaleion yearbook, Class of 1939. Bottom row, first from right: Senior yearbook photo of Miss George, 22, wearing her signature eyeglasses. Scan: Molly Charboneau

According to her yearbook, during her third year Miss George belonged to Alph Beta (presumably a sorority) and was on the Co-No staff in her first year.

The oddly named Co-No-So is described as the “club for non-club girls,” featuring “fun and good times,” “new challenges for underclass women,” seasonal parties, a winter snow sculpture contest, and a spring banquet freaturing “fluffy dresses, flowers, delicious food, music, and always the spirit of friendship.”

Although I can’t quite picture no-nonsense Miss George in a fluffy dress, it’s nice to learn that she enjoyed the social side of her college years apart from her studies.

And by 1945 — six years after graduation — she was back in the Southern Tier teaching Endwell, which is west of Binghamton, where she became my fourth grade teacher at Hooper School in 1959-60.

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs  of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Miss George’s Binghamton childhood

Sepia Saturday 443: Second in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

When I was a grade schooler, I didn’t think about my teachers having an outside life — or any life at all apart from our classroom, where they lived up front by the blackboard.

Whether my teachers had parents or siblings or were once young themselves were questions that never entered my head.

Miss George’s childhood home: 22 Ogden Street, Binghamton, N.Y. Before she became my fourth grade teacher, Miss George lived here for most of her childhood and young adult years with her parents and younger brother. Photo: Google Maps

So it was not until this month — while visiting my hometown for a 50th high school reunion — that I learned about my fourth grade teacher Helen George’s family.

Miss George’s father Thomas George (1882-1954), mother Anna O’Dea George (1888-1955) and younger bother Thomas M. George (1920-1997) are buried beside her in Vestal Hills Memorial Park, Vestal, N.Y., as discussed in the last post,

Miss George’s family history

Finding her family led me to wonder about her younger years — before she began teaching — and what her childhood may have been like. Where did she live? What did her parents do? What records might help me discover some of her family history?

Turning to U.S. Census records, I easily located her family living in Binghamton, N.Y., in the 1920, 1930 and 1940 federal population censuses as summarized in the table below.

Helen George and family in the U.S. Census (1920-1940) Binghamton, Broome, N.Y. – Source: Family Search2
Year Address Thomas Anna Helen Thomas Jr.
1920 2 44 Dennison St. (Rent) 37, Head, Trainman 31, Wife, born in PA 2.5 yrs., Dau., born in NY
1930 3 22 Ogden St. (Own) 48, Head, Steam RR Conductor 42, Wife 12, Dau. 9, Son
1940 4 22 Ogden St. (Own) 57, Head, Steam RR Conductor 52, Wife, Housework 22, Dau., Attended School/College 19, Son, Attended School/College

The census entries show that Miss George’s father worked on the steam railroad — as opposed to the local electric railroad and streetcars that also operated in Binghamton, N.Y. at the time.

Her dad was a railroad man

Researching Thomas George’s occupation, I discovered the fascinating railroad map below, which shows the various lines — including steam train lines — traversing the Triple Cities, as the area was known when I lived there.

Miss George and her family lived just south of the Fair Grounds and Ball Park, which is grayed out on this map.

https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/maps/mcgraw_electric.html
Railway map of Binghamton, N.Y. and Vicinity (1913). [Click map to enlarge.] The father of my fourth grade teacher, Miss Helen George, was a conductor on a steam railroad that carried passengers to and from Binghamton, N.Y. — like the train I took as a child to visit my grandparents during the summer. Image: McGraw Electric Railway Manual maps/U. of Texas Libraries (Austin)
My childhood overlapped the last years of these passenger railroads — one of which ran right behind Hooper School where I had Miss George for fourth grade in 1960.

I remember summers as a youngster taking the Delaware and Hudson railroad north from Binghamton, with my younger brother Mark, to visit our grandparents near Albany, N.Y. — a train line that appears on the above map.

What a surprise to learn that Miss George’s dad was a railroad conductor who worked on a steam train line — maybe even the same railroad I later traveled on as a child!

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs  of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Visiting Miss George

Sepia Saturday 442: First in a new series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

When I was in the fourth grade in 1959-60, I was amazed at how many tall, mature-looking teenagers would stop by our classroom at the end of the day to visit our bespectacled teacher Miss Helen George.

Young women in full-skirted dresses with books in their arms, muscled young men in bulky, athletic letter jackets, and tall, studious types who engaged Miss George in conversation — they all returned to visit a teacher they clearly remembered with fondness.

Helen George plaque, Vestal Hills Memorial Park, Vestal, N.Y. (2018). Miss Helen George was a beloved fourth grade teacher at nearby Hooper School, where many of her former students returned to visit throughout their high school years. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Often, Miss George would proudly introduce her former students to us and say how one day we, too, would be high school students just like them — an amazing thought for a fourth grader!

That memory stuck with me — and years later, walking home from the high school one afternoon I became one of those “big students” who stopped by to say hello to Miss George and be introduced to her class.

A quintessential teacher

Miss George was a quintessential teacher of her era and reminded me in some ways of my maternal grandmother. Her short reddish hair had a hint of grey (she would have been in her early forties at the time) — and I remember her in calf-length, button-front, small-print shirt dresses and sensible black lace-up pumps with square, career-height heels.

Rimless eyeglasses completed her look as a no-nonsense instructor bent on fulfilling her duty to impart knowledge to us youngsters. A stern taskmaster, Miss George nevertheless found creative ways to spark learning by sharing her community involvement in town history with our class — and she rewarded us when we did well.

One more visit

So is it any wonder that this month, as I prepared to return to my home town for my 50th high school reunion, Miss George was the teacher who sprang to mind?

My high school classmates planned a mixer, a tour of the school and a dinner — all fun stuff as we got reacquainted and reminisced about our teenage time together.

And before the festivities began , I decided that one more visit to Miss George was also in order — this time to her final resting place in Vestal Hills Memorial Park in Vestal, N.Y. — to pay my respects to a teacher who had made a great impact on me during my formative years.

Plaques of Helen George, her parents and brother, Vestal Hills Memorial Park, Vestal, N.Y. (2018). The park maintainers graciously cleaned the plaques of the George family in advance of my visit. Miss George’s plaque is third from left. Photo: Molly Charboneau

“Nobody has been to see her for a long time,” said the park secretary, who arranged to have her plaque — along with those of her parents and brother — cleaned up for my visit.

Telling Miss George’s story

Miss George was single and childless — and I’m not sure who might be around to chronicle a bit of her personal history.

But there’s more than enough room for her in Molly’s Canopy!

So as her former student, I plan to write a few blog posts about how her life intersected with mine and what I have been able to learn about her through research.

Please stop back as this new series unfolds. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf (and road trip) at a time