LOT'S WIFE..Turn around..look back...see with new eyes

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The HELLcyon Days of School

Etta K. Barstow was hired in 1870 by the Canton (Massachusetts) School Committee. She was to teach in the Sherman School, a one-room schoolhouse located on Pleasant Street, in District 5 . District 5 was called “Ragged Row.”

On the morning of October 5th, she had a confrontation with four of her male students…. Daniel Keliher age 9, John Coffee 11, Jerimiah Keliher 11, and James Cogswell age 13. These boys had presented behavior problems often in class.

When the four boys would not come inside after morning recess, Miss Barstow shut and locked the door. She went on to teach the rest of her students while the boys yelled and shouted curses outside.

Then… close to noon, a rock sailed into windows. It did not hit anything.

But, as Miss Barstow walked home for lunch break at Mrs. Baker’s rooming house, the four boys followed her shouting profanities while throwing stones the size of ink bottles at her.

She was hit on the back of her neck and head just below the ear. She was also struck on her back. This caused her to stagger and the boys yelled that she was drunk.

When Miss Barstow got to Mrs. Baker’s she tried to rest but continued to say she did not feel well. Her legs were weak and she could hardly move. Her landlady suggested she go to Boston to stay with her aunt and seek a doctor.

 A friend took her to the train and remained with her as she required assistance in seating and in staying conscious.

Upon arriving in Boston Etta went in and out of consciousness. Not being told of the attack, the doctor, by the name of Buckingham, took her symptoms to be those of a diabetic condition. By the next day Etta was dead.

The death by stoning of this young teacher was greeted with outrage by the residents of Canton.

James Cogswell, the 13-year-old, ran away never returning to Canton. However, Daniel and Jerimiah Keliher, and John Coffee were eventually only charged with disturbing a school. The assault on their teacher was not brought to the fore.

The Sherman School in the background. 1887 photo 

These three boys were sent to reform school in Westboro.
This sentence was later appealed. The boys were found guilty of disturbing a school building. They were given probation and ordered to pay a fine for the damages they had done to the school.

It is now believed Etta Barstow died from a common result of head trauma. When the stone hit her head it caused an unseen internal injury and bleed, which increased pressure on her brain and killed her the next day.

Miss Etta Barstow’s death was ignored for 140 years. She was a teacher killed by her students.

The myth of the idyllic LITTLE RED SCHOOLHOUSE was just that...a myth.

 A great number of the children were hostile, unmanageable, and prone to violence.

Add to this mix students ranging in age from five to sixteen (some maybe even in their twenties) all crammed into one room. It was an open invitation to a great deal of trouble.

It was easy for the teacher’s role to become more that of a warden than an imparter of knowledge. The necessity of the physical over the intellectual increased.

School boards, especially those on the frontier, often preferred physically strong men as teachers. It was not uncommon to encounter, among the boys, fights involving biting, eye gouging, and all and out slug fests.

It was not unusual for a teacher to be driven out of the classroom in a matter of days. Some did not even last that long.

In the 1830’s a Tennessee school teacher was stabbed and dropped into a well (he lived) and the schoolhouse burned down.

“In the Flat Creek district”, said Indiana historian and novelist Edward Eggleston, “the boys have driven off the last two schoolmasters and licked the one afore them.”

 Attacks on teachers by older male students were a familiar part of nineteenth-century school practice. Teachers in these often rural schools literally fought to prove their right to their positions and often resorted to extreme uses of corporal punishment to maintain them.

These violent attacks were a direct challenge to the schoolmaster's authority. While the application of physical domination was one way in which male teachers established their clear and unchallenged authority, women teachers also experienced physical and psychological intimidation that required courage and determination to withstand.

Mary Ellen Chase described her first day at a school in New England..”I stormed up and down….This pathetic pretense of courage aided by the mad flourishing of my razor strap, brought forth…the expression of respectful fear on the faces of the young giants”

In many instances, parents did not interfere in the pupils' attempts to run the teacher out of town and did not punish them when they did.

It became a form of entertainment in some villages to observe the encounters between new teachers and their male students.

So...what is it like now...in  TODAY’S classrooms….?

Recent data shows that 39 out of every 1,000 teachers experience some sort of crime, and the true rate may be much higher since most incidents go unreported. (Department of Health and Human Services. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Violence Against Teachers and School Staff)

Teachers are the recipients of verbal abuse, racial and sexist slurs, repeated intimidation, threats of physical violence, vandalism of personal belongings and persistent classroom disruption.

Statistics show a trend of violence toward teachers that is increasing globally.

More than one-quarter of U.S. teachers are threatened on the job by their students, according to research by APA’s Task Force on Violence Against Teachers presented during APA’s Annual Convention.

A survey of 4,735 U.S. teachers conducted in 2010 found that 27 percent said they had been verbally threatened by a student in the past year. In addition, 37 percent had been the target of obscene or sexual remarks from students, and 31 percent said a student had made an obscene gesture to them or groped them. Another 19 percent said they had been intimidated by a student; 13 percent by a student’s parent.

“These numbers did not differ by school setting, by gender of the teacher or by years of teaching,” said Task Force Chair Dorothy L. Espelage, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Some more statistics:

• 5 percent of teachers had visited a physician as the result of an attack.

• 15 percent had been physically attacked but did not see a physician.

• 25 percent had their property damaged by a student.

• 22 percent said a student had thrown something at them that year.

• 13 percent reported that parents had thrown things at them.

Each year, 253,100 (7%) teachers are threatened with injury and they can be divided into the following categories by:                                                       


• 109,800 (43%) in cities

• 78,100 (31%) in suburbs

• 27,500 (11%) in towns

• 37,700 (15%) in rural areas

Level                                                                                      • 139,400 (55%) in secondary schools

• 113,700 (45%) in elementary schools


• 78,500 (31%) male teachers

• 174,500 (69%) female teachers

I have been a teacher for 23 years…..the one thing I CAN say is that I have yet to be stoned.


  1. So much of history we "remember" with rose colored glasses. Little House on the Prairie wasn't always exactly accurate.

  2. the no-so-good good ole' days....... the more things change the more they stay the same.......