Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 18
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: October 1980 Volume 18 Number 4, Pages 103–110
Tredyffrin Easttown High School During the First World War Years
1 was born on Darby Road, Paoli, Pennsylvania on December 30, 1901. They have not yet put up a commemorative marker there, but I believe the fire station is now in that location.)
My father, Dr. Charles Joseph Roberts, was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1881, and was a country physician for about eighteen years. Because of this, my brothers and I were all known as "Doc" to our confreres.) He then became a Medical Examiner for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and at first was located in Paoli. As he was moved around by the PRR, we went with him until 1908. Then he settled us in Berwyn and moved around himself, until his retirement in about 1920. Thus, as a boy, I lived in Paoli and Williamsport, Pennsylvania; Smyrna and Clayton, Delaware; and Berwyn.
I first went to school in Williamsport, in kindergarten, and then started grade school in Smyrna. Later I attended Clayton grammar school, the old North Berwyn school, T-E High School, and Drexel Institute (now Drexel University).
From 1915 to 1919, pupils in the high school came from Strafford, Devon, Berwyn, Paoli, Malvern, and, I believe, at least a part of Willistown Township was included. During our grammar school days we were all in separate schools, and it was a pleasure to get together when we all reached high school. Some of my friends had gone to Easttown, and I had gone to North Berwyn; it was only when we got to old Tredyffrin-Easttown High that we got together and renewed our friendships.
There was no junior high school, of course, in those days, and we went directly from grade school to high school. It was quite a step. I think one thing we all enjoyed was the freedom, and having numerous teachers, whereas before we had only one teacher and she taught us all we knew. But it was fine to go to high school, and to have separate teachers for various subjects, and to get to know them and to feel that they had an interest in us. We tried to study and behave as best we could in class so that we would have a good reputation with them and word would not get back to the home folks that we were misbehaving.
The students were rather enthusiastic about the school and were not at all apathetic. The enrollment was small, about 100, and we all knew each other. We were there to learn, and we respected our teachers. There was a good school spirit.
There were no school busses in the "good old days"; transportation was somewhat lacking. As I recall, local people walked to school. Those in Strafford, Devon, Paoli, and Malvern came by train. I suppose, although I can't recall clearly, that some parents must have brought their young folks by horse and wagon. There were a few who used bicycles, and there was a heavy home-made bicycle rack at the bade of the building. Of course, there were no motorcycles in those days.
Only a few people had automobiles. Charles Z. Jones, the owner of the Berwyn Plumbing & Heating Company, had one of the first Model T's. As his son Eddie was rather precocious, he was allowed to drive the car at times. There was little real danger, as the early cars did not go very fast and there were few other cars to watch. Driving a car was mostly steering it to keep it on the road.
Some of the people in the high school at that time walked from Cedar Hollow and the Leopard, and others that were within two or three miles walked to school every day. There were some days when the weather wasn't too good, and it was a chore to get there, but when we once got there, we all enjoyed the warm confines of our classes, and we let the weather go its own way while we pored over our lessons with our teachers.
There was no cafeteria. We brought lunch boxes or paper sacks with sandwiches, fruit, and plain cake. Senior boys had the privilege of eating in the furnace room, where they could toast their sandwiches over the hot coals during the winter months. There were no candy or soft drink machines.
A typical day at the high school went something like this: it started at nine o'clock in the morning with assembly, to which we marched to a tune on the phonograph. Mr. S. Paul Teamer, the principal, read the Scripture, we had songs, announcements, and then returned to our classes for the day. School ended at three o'clock.
We had a fair amount of homework, although we did have some study periods during the day in school. My favorite subjects were Latin and German, but second year German was dropped during World War I. I liked algebra and geometry, as these seemed so different from the grade school math. I seemed to have no trouble in going from high school math to that at Drexel Institute.
I suppose the school records would indicate the teachers during the years 1915 to 1919, but I will mention those I remember. Mr. Teamer was principal, coach, and taught geometry. Miss Mary Wingard was vice principal, and had the English department. Miss Lela Lynam taught algebra. Mr. Leighton Smith taught biology and supervised the laboratory work. Mr. David Cook had general science and laboratory work. Miss Straddling (who was later Mrs. Walter Matthews) taught us Latin. Miss Marion Wilson had the French and German classes.
(Miss Wilson lived quite a distance from the school, on the south edge of Valley Forge. I suppose her brother brought her to school each day by horse and buggy, but this is not clear in my mind. Perhaps she arrived much before I did, as I was somewhat of a "minute man". At one time, in the winter months, she stayed at the home of my parents and went home only over weekends. But even though she stayed at our house, she showed no favoritism: I was reprimanded as severely as any of the others when I did wrong.)
Miss Wingard was quite in favor of Shakespeare, and tried to get us to have the same consideration for him as she did. Some of it did wear off! Sometimes she would have us enact parts of the plays. I remember that we did a scene from Julius Caesar one time, acting out the parts, Caesar's coffin was a violin case, and the carriage to move it was an old-fashioned sewing machine. But in it all, we got the idea of what the play Julius Caesar was all about.
There wore a number of humorous incidents that happened, but it is hard to recall them all now. But we had fun as we went about our tasks, and we weren't entirely solemn and serious all the while.
I remember one time in chemistry class when Henry Rumrill made a flask of hydrogen by putting hydrochloric acid on zinc. As he took the cork out of the flask, he tried to put out a match by waving it in the air, but accidentally he waved it over the hydrogen flask. In so doing, an explosion resulted, Henry was not hurt, but glass and acid were thrown about the room. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured from that.
There was no instrumental music program in the school in those days. As it was not popular in those days to play an instrument, we did not receive instruction in school, and therefore we did not have a chance to play an instrument as the youngsters today now have a chance to do.
Another big feature in our school life was the annual high school play. Miss Wingard was the coach. She would carefully watch the students and observe them, so that when she had a possible play she would have the characters picked to act it out. At first the plays were given in the high school, but they got such a wide audience that some were held in the Berwyn Theater.
The townspeople always cooperated with the school and tried to help the students in any way they could. It was fine to feel that the school had the 'backing of the town folks.
In sports, for the boys, football, baseball, and track were offered. Girls had some type of basketball and physical education classes. In 1918-19 we fixed up the Odd Fellows1 Hall for boys basketball, as we had no suitable gymnasium.
The annual football game between West Chester High School and T-E was really a town effort.
We did not have a school band as most high schools have now. So townspeople would go around and take up contributions to pay for the services of local musicians who formed a rather casual band. But there was a lot of school spirit behind them. One year some of the folks in town who had connections with the Pennsylvania Railroad authorities were able to secure a special steam train to run on Thanksgiving Day between Berwyn and West Chester when we were playing the game there. There was a great deal of enthusiasm!
Many times Tredyffrin-Easttown won, and sometimes West Chester won,and there was a great deal of rivalry there. When Tredyffrin-Easttown won, we, students and townspeople, would go out and gather together all burnable material — old boxes, branches, railroad ties, anything combustible — and bring them back to the football field and set them on fire. There would be speeches by the football coach and the players. We all had a good time while we were warming ourselves there.
One year, I remember, it snowed just before Thanksgiving Day. The game was to be played on the Berwyn field. Therefore, the students were excused from class and went out and cleared off the snowfall. I recall someone had an automobile, probably a Model T Ford. We placed a long bench on its side and hooked it to the car, and cleared the field with it. On Thanksgiving Day, the field was in good playing condition!
Another year, when T-E played the annual Thanksgiving Day game at West Chester, my father promised the team members a free ThanksgivingDay dinner at the Turk's Head Inn if the team won. I remember that we did win, with a score something like 32-10. Thereby the team won its reward, and we all went down to the hotel and had a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner. One substitute, who had been on the bench and had not been needed for the fray, felt that he wasn't in it, and mentioned this to someone. My father went to him and told him that he was a part of the team, and that he was eligible to have the Thanksgiving dinner with the rest of the group.
The Berwyn teams were always good. They always fought hard, even though they sometimes lost. I remember one time Tom Horan, who was a good player on our team, went to catch a high punt. In turning around to catch the ball, he lost his sense of direction, and when he caught the ball he ran in the opposite direction, towards the opponent's goal line. There was such a cry and uproar among the crowd that he realized that something was wrong. Noting his position, he reversed his field, ran back through the opposing players, and made a touchdown.
At that time our school also had a mascot. He was a brindle bulldog, and we called him Caesar. Ruth Gregg, who after graduation married Jim Higgins, one of our football stars, took care of him at her home. We'd put a garnet and grey ribbon around his collar during sports events, and parade him up and down the sidelines. Caesar really thought that he was a part of the establishment! After graduation, I do not know what became of him. He was such a nice dog that he should be happy in some dog Valhalla.
I just remembered the main football cheer that we used to have called the "Old Chee Chow". I will repeat it here in case you do not now have it in the school. It goes:
"Chee chow, sisco wow
Once in a while at sports events, over-enthusiastic spectators, townspeople would sometimes get into fist fights. But in general the games went peaceably, and the best team at the time won. The townspeople certainly did back the sports events, and attended them whenever they could.
When World War I came upon us, it did have quite an effect on the school and the students. S. Paul Teamer, the principal, entered the Armed Services, and Mary E. Wingard of Coatesville became acting principal.
While football was retained as a physical education course, baseball was eliminated as an unnecessary effort and expense. I believe Miss Wingard coached the trade team, of which I was a part. (While my brothers, Charles and Harold, had been good football players for T-E, I was too slight to play football. Having played a lot of sandlot baseball, I might have made a place on the baseball team if it had not been eliminated.)
Some authority also decided that anything Teutonic should be discarded, and we had to give up second year German (which I, and also others, now think was a mistake).
During World War I the students tried to assist the war effort in any way they could.
We saved and mashed cans, which were sent to processing plants to extract the tin coating and to save the iron content.
The girls made woven wool afghans, knitting 5" by 5" squares of yarn and sewing them together. The boys got the idea that they could make the squares too. It did not seem strange at the time to see boys walking down the hall with a set of knitting needles and yarn, "knitting two and purling two". The squares were then turned over to the girls, who connected them together to make afghans suitable for the soldiers in the hospital, as blankets and for warmth.
Due to the influenza epidemic, school was closed for several weeks in 1918. During that time, of course, some of us boys helped the local farmers bring in the corn crop, and in so doing were able to receive a little recompense to help us out in the following school days. During the epidemic, I was also asked to run a station wagon as an ambulance for the local Red Cross, and was instrumental in taking numerous townspeople to the hospital. In it all, I never seemed to have been affected by the epidemic.
After the war, I remember we had a school picnic to signal the end of the school year. Somehow I acquired a Model T Ford without a horn; we had fun whistling and shouting as we came to intersections. (Of course, there was very little traffic in those days, so it was not too bad to have these 16- or 17-year old boys out in a car with a group of students in it.)
One incident happened that still sticks in my memory. Someone had made a large pan of potato salad and placed it in the back seat of tho car. Skeet Tyre, one of our football stars, went to change from the front seat to the back, and stepped into the pan, leaving his footprint there. Since the potato salad was covered by a piece of waxed paper, he felt that the conditions were sanitary, so we ate it even though it had his footprint in it. I suppose that if we had been able to get that footprint into concrete and present it to the high school, that would have been an unusual memento of the good old days!
As I recall, there were few clubs or activities after school. Lack of transportation may have had a bearing on this.
Most of us did not work after school, although we did odd jobs for neighbors. Since my father and brothers were away much of the time, I took charge of caring for house chores, yard and garden work. I was not expected to help support the family, as my father seemed to have a good paying job at that time.
The faculty authorities felt that high school students should not take part in dancing at school. Therefore, there were school parties and plays, but no dancing during the 1915-1919 years.
Some moderns may wonder what we did in our spare time in the good old days, since there were few outside amusements available. But there were several open woodlands around Berwyn, and we enjoyed ourselves in them, building lean-tos from dead trees and playing cowboys and Indians, sometimes with blank cartridges. The woods we called "Bodine's", "Neilly's", and "Daylesford" woods. Now these are occupied by houses and aren't available to young folks any more, of course. We played a lot of pick-up baseballs as we could use a number of vacant lots in our vicinity, as well as the school grounds when they were not in use.
Fortunately, the father of one boy was a contractor, and had used lumber and hardware on hand. This led to the building of unorthodox clubhouses or shades. We made good use of them in games of cops and robbers, and in cooking some questionable meals!
During the summer, there were several swimming holes available, although we got hotter walking back and forth to them than we were able to cool ourselves in the cooling waters! In the winter, there was sledding: Cassatt Hill on Howellville Road was a good place to go. There was no fast traffic on the hill at that time. Then, too, several ponds in the T-E area were frozen in the cold weather and made good spots for skating or ice hockey.
Since life was not as complicated in those days as it is now, graduation day was a big thing, I recall that we used to go out and gather daisies and other wildflowers to decorate the auditorium and stage. When the great day came, we all were given our diplomas and given good advice and sent out into the world. Of course, after fifty or sixty years or so, many students of our class have passed away. At the time we graduated, there were a total of 100 enrolled in the high school and our class had 19 members.
If I were to relive high school over again, I would want to be back at old T-E. However, I would try to look beyond the subject matter, to see where it could be applied, I relied to a large extent on memory in the old days. Now I would try to understand principles and think things out for myself. Also, I would want to do more outside reading and pay more attention to current events. I was not interested in history at the time; now I feel the lack of it.
Now I realize that I really was a part of the history of that time. I hope these recollections have been of interest. In any case, it has been interesting for me to see how much I remember from the past.
This article is compiled from excerpts from a tape recorded inconjunction with an oral history project by Richard Johnson while a student at Conestoga High School,and from letters.
Page last updated: 2010-03-03 at 3:05 EST