“Much and Nothing”: Notes from the Normal School #2, Early October

By Nicole O’Connell

Nicole, an English and History major, looks into history right here at Worcester State. She deciphers old class diaries to explore the lives of students from the early days of Worcester State, back when it was known as the Worcester Normal School. “Much and Nothing” refers to how one diarist summed up a day’s happenings in 1877 and, more eloquently, a multitude of days.

The class diaries are part of the Apprenticeship Materials in the WSU Archives.

While in September we hung on to wisps of summer, October brings us days more cold and blustery. Some are saddened by the diminished sunshine, but others rejoice for the cooler weather to arrive. The diarists often start off their entries by writing about the weather. They may have wanted a record of climatical conditions, but perhaps they just had nothing more pressing to write about.

Either way, it is charming to see the sentiments they express toward the weather in the shortening October days. In 1880, October 8 was described as “Glorious”, while the next day was “Beautiful as can be.” “Beautiful” is a common descriptor in these entries; many of them have that solitary word as its own premier paragraph. On October 6, 1877, even more enthusiasm appears as an exclamation mark is used to describe a “bright beautiful day!”

The author of the October 3 entry in 1877 seemed to be hoping for a day of rain as she stated, “This morning the sun was hidden from view by what appeared to be water-laden clouds, and most of us came to school prepared to go home in the rain. But the sun came out about noon to our disappointment.” Were the students facing so many sunbeams that they grew tired of them?

Perhaps to their pleasure, autumnal weather crept in two days later: “It is quite chilly today, the wind has blown quite hard all day, this causing the trees to lose many of their leaves.” This seasonal change even inspired a lecture by the school’s president, Mr. Russell, “warning us to protect ourselves against the inclemency of the weather.”

Sometimes the weather is written about from an indoor perspective, such as on October 11, 1877, when a student wrote about looking at the mercury lines in the classroom thermometer and barometer. The students compared what they witnessed on the weather technologies to what they observed on the outside.

This day also involved another inside activity, a cautious ball-game that was played “without damage to glass or busts, until today.” This diarist unfortunately does not explain anything more about this possibly destructive situation. Did a student whip a baseball down a hallway, bursting through stone busts of revered educators before smashing through the glass of Mr. Russell’s office window? If so, we would probably have more details. Perhaps the author of this entry simply means that they used to play ball-games, but stopped on this day in October. Though one of these interpretations is more amusing than the other, the fact that these ladies were tossing around a ball in the middle of a school day among busts of esteemed personalities should be a valued anecdote all on its own.

But of course, students were not limited to contemplating the climate and aiming sports activities away from the expensive breakables. As a teacher training school, the Worcester Normal School’s apprenticeship program sent out students to teach in local schools.

On October 8, 1903, N. M. Silk was apprenticing in the first grade at Canterbury Street School. In an attempt to engage students, the incentive of “stars” for well-behaved children was announced in the classroom. This proved to be a successful program as the children were enthused by this and cried “To-morrow, I’m going to get a star, because I’ll be awful good.” In what N. M. Silk considered to be an added success, no jealousy was present in the classroom, and the kids who received the stars did not become conceited.

If you’re seeking some more words of wisdom from these students of the past, let us turn to M. Kennedy, who apprenticed at Lamartine Street School. On October 1, 1903, M. Kennedy wrote she was worried about leading her first class. She expected the worst to happen and spent her time looking for trouble. However, nothing bad ended up happening and Kennedy regretted her anxiety because she hadn’t noticed all the good things occurring around her. Though vigilance can be a wise choice, take some time to pay attention to the positive elements of life surrounding you.

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