Monday, January 31, 2011

Letter 14: I am to be a School Marm!

Flora in a formal grad? picture.

August 5, 1911

Dear Father

Received your letter last night. I think I am a terrible letter writer for not having written to you before but I am going to try and make up for it now by answering this one quickly.

Thanks very much for money enclosed. It will come in very handy. And thanks also for the picture of the 'washer man'; don't become too accomplished in that task because when you come home they might want you to practice it here.

I have been accepted at Macdonald College for a model diploma. So my fate is sealed and I am to become a school marm!

Marion says she thinks there must be something wrong with them when they have decided to allow me to go there.

Macdonald opens Sept 5th. So does Marion's school so we will go in together. I am to room with a girl from Kingsey, Mabel Shaw is her name. Do you know the Shaws from there?

Marion Watters knew her last year, said she was very nice. One thing, she will know all he ropes having been there last year.

In regard to money matters you have to pay a month's board in advance, which is 16.00 and two other deposits. Marion is writing a note in this letter and says she will explain about them.

Have not been out to Kingsbury yet but intend to go out there soon, for a few days.

May Watters has been accepted in the Earl Grey School in Montreal. Do you know where that school is? (Corner of Bellechasse and Christophe Colombe.)

Our Marion has written to Mrs. Ellis to see if May can board there. It would be nice if she could. (Boarding House on Tower.)

Aunt Christie isn't home yet from Boston. She seems to be having a fine time. She is coming home with Annie (cousin from Lynn, Massachusetts) when she has her holidays.

Henry (Dr. Henry of Newton Center, Massachusetts) has decided to go west on a trip. Too bad you couldn't go with him.

Uncle Clayton and Stanley have gone on a trip to Megantic in their auto.

They went for a week but as usual they have stayed two, so Marion and I had to mow the lawn.

I suppose you will be surprised to hear that Jim Smith has left Uncle Dan's .

He is boarding now at Mrs. Chapman's, the one that kept house for Mrs. Carpenter. I wonder what Sissie will do now? Now I must stop as it is near tea time.

Your loving daughter,


So, Flora, just like Edith, liked to gossip. This Jim Smith is apparently a married man, having a not-so-discreet intrigue of some kind.

In the 1910 era, Macdonald College is offering free tuition to rural students. There's a rural problem in education: too few teachers willing to stay in country schools for any length of time. There's also a 'city problem' in education: not enough teachers for the growing immigrant population. That's why May Watters so easily found a post at a new city school, Earl Grey in what is now Villeray in North Central Montreal. It was working class as well as the site of one of the first public baths built in city and became Montreal's Little Italy.

In September 1908, the Montreal Gazette reported that Dufferin School on St. Urbain, which had a student population that was 90 percent Jewish, was beseiged with applicants. "Police had to be called to stop stampede of pupils." The janitor had to let in but a few young ones and their parents at a time. Earl Grey opened the next year, with William Lunn on Anne Street in Griffintown.

It may have been easy for new teachers to find a job in the city, but finding a place to live was much more problematic. There was a shortage of 'respectable' boarding houses for young working women in the era. The Montreal Council of Women wanted to establish a woman's hotel, so that these young women wouldn't be tempted by the many dubious attractions of the big city.

Marion Nicholson had stayed at the YWCA in 1905 while at McGill Normal School (which later, in 1907, moved to Ste. Anne de Bellevue.) But she had despised it. "Too many rules." Her fight to be master of her own life, in an age when a woman's virtue had to be preserved at all cost, is one of the more poignant story arcs of these Nicholson family letters.

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