Thursday, September 24, 2015

Back to School

The Emerson school Isaac helped build
Now that the school year 2015-2016 is back in session, I thought it was a good time to reflect on the earliest schools on the prairie, and the ideals for education of populist writers.

The standards for educating children have been a political issue since the founding of America.  Today's politicians debate Common Core, but the involvement of politics in education is not new.  Populist writers that Isaac read who expressed views on education included Edward Bellamy.  Looking Backward, set in an imaginary future, contrasted 'modern' educational practices with education in Isaac's time, focusing particularly on the importance of educating all citizens, not just a privileged few.  "...[W]e should not consider life worth living if we had to be surrounded by a population of ignorant, boorish, coarse, wholly uncultivated men and women...No single thing is so important to every man as to have for neighbors intelligent, companionable persons.  There is nothing, therefore, which the nation can do for him that will enhance so much his own happiness as to educate his neighbors.  When it fails to do so, the value of his own education to him is reduced by half, and many of the tastes he has cultivated are made positive sources of pain."  Bellamy's ideal emphasized the importance of universal education:  "To put the matter in a nutshell, there are three main grounds on which our educational system rests:  first, the right of every man to the completest education the nation can give him on his own account, as necessary to his enjoyment of himself; second, the right of his fellow citizens to have him educated, as necessary to their enjoyment of his society; third, the right of the unborn to be guaranteed an intelligent and refined parentage."

The 'new' Emerson School in about 1920
The Progressives of Isaac's era disapproved of segregating students into public and private schools.  In another novel written during that era, Caesar's Column:  A story of the Twentieth Century, by author Ignatius Donnelly, an imaginary future is again used to describe how past ills have been corrected.  "We decreed, next, universal and compulsory education.  No one can vote who cannot read and write.  We believe that one man's ignorance is not only ruinous to the individual, but destructive to society.  It is an epidemic which scatters death everywhere.  Continuing:  We abolish all private schools, except the higher institutions and colleges.  We believe it to be essential to the peace and safety of the commonwealth that the children of all the people, rich and poor, should, during the period of growth, associate together.  In this way, race, sectarian and caste prejudices are obliterated, and the whole community grow up together as brethren.  Otherwise, in a generation or two, we shall have the people split up into hostile factions, fenced in by doctrinal bigotries, suspicious of one another, and antagonizing one another in politics, business and everything else."

Douglas Township, Stafford Co, KS school about 1917
Isaac was a member of the Farmers' Alliance in his community, and he contributed books from his own library to the local organization. Isaac had more confidence in educating farmers than in political activities, although he did support the People's Party of the progressive era.  

In Isaac's time parents were eager to have a school nearby for their children to attend, unlike some of today's parents who make the choice to home school.  While most of the schools in Isaac's old region are public, in urban areas, private and charter schools are numerous.  How best to teach children, and what to include in the curriculum remain disputed issues.  The educational ideals envisioned by progressive authors of Isaac's time for the 20th Century have not been implemented.  (See "Once There was a Community," 3-5-2015 and "A One-room School House Surprise," 7-12-2012 in the blog archives.)

Everyone wants what is best for the children, but deciding what is best remains the subject of rancorous debate!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Music and History

Ad from The Etude, Dec. 1915
Recently I have had many reasons to reflect on the role of music in our lives.  The most personal reason is that my piano had been in storage for 2 1/2 years, and having it available to play once again is wonderful.  It was on its side atop a piano mover's dolly, covered in packing blankets and a canvas drop cloth in our home during the construction, and as carefully as we protected it, I was worried.  I was also worried about the process of putting it back together and on its legs again.  It has been moved a few times before, but usually I hide during that process, afraid to watch.  This time I was needed to help with protecting the newly installed and finished floors, so I couldn't hide.  I even stayed to photograph the pivotal moment of attaching the third leg.  All went well, without a scratch to piano or man. The piano tuner concluded with the playing of Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor when he finished--a real treat!  (I do play, but not well enough to deserve this beautiful instrument.)

Setting up my piano
As the construction on our house nears completion, one of my tasks is sorting the things from our storage room into the "save" and "discard" piles.  This is a particularly difficult task for a genealogist and history researcher, but I am slowly making headway.  Among the things that made it into the "save" pile is the December 1915 issue of The Etude, from which the advertisements in this blog were taken.  The magazine includes not only articles but also music, and the editorial near the front of the 1915 Christmas issue read, "But the world is purging itself of the horror of war and the makers of war.  All the more reason why we should do our utmost here in America to proclaim the great message of peace."  (See "My Steadfast Tin Soldier, A Sequel," 10-2-2014 in the blog archives for a reminder of that era.) 
Ad from The Etude, Dec. 2015

Although the issue of The Etude that I found is not quite of the era in which Isaac B. Werner lived, it made me think of him nonetheless, for Isaac loved music.  His journal includes references to music in the churches of Rossville, IL, to spending evenings with friends who played musical instruments, and to the enjoyment of singing at Farmers' Alliance meetings.  (See "Music on the Prairie," 1-24-2013 and "Songs for Farmers' Gatherings," 11-5-2013 in the blog archives.)  The Etude magazine from 1915 contains advertisements for cabinets to hold sheet music, disk records, and player piano rolls, but for Isaac and most of his neighbors their musical entertainment had to be self produced.

Music is not just about entertainment.  I was recently reminded of that by folksinger, storyteller, and autoharp virtuoso Adam Miller, who performed at the library in St. John, KS.  As his brochure says, "Folksongs travel through History.  History travels through Folksongs."  
Adam Miller
Performing with autoharp and guitar, he sang one song using a version naming Texas rivers in its lyrics but told us that the same song is found in other regions includes the names of rivers from that locality; he also sang a traditional hobo song, a song about Amelia Earhart, and a song about a Kansas pioneer, among others.  He described American folksongs with their roots in English ballads.  There are folk songs about war, railroads, and sailing.  Folk songs were sung by cowboys, soldiers, sailors, and pioneers, and the lyrics tell of their lives.  It truly is history put to music, and Adam shared many examples.

An appreciative audience listens to Adam Miller

He especially enjoys singing folk music in schools, and if the young man in the audience at the St. John library is a typical example of how students relate to Adam's music, they must love it!  He calls his programs Singing Through History! and according to his brochure he has performed live for over 1.5 million American students in 48 states.  As someone who considers knowledge of history essential to the citizens of every nation, I especially appreciated the idea of bringing that history to young people through folk music!

Enjoying Adam Miller
If you want to learn more about Adam Miller or check out some videos of his performances, you may google Adam Miller folksinger.  You can also go to his website to sample some of his songs or buy CDs.

The next time you listen to a folksong, pause to consider the history it contains.  Remember:  "Folksongs travel through history.  History travels through folksongs." 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Transportation Then and Now

Ribbon cutting at the Kansas Aviation Museum
When Isaac B. Werner arrived in Kansas in 1878 he did not have a horse.  His only means of travel was on foot, unless he was fortunate to catch a ride with a neighbor going to town with a wagon.  More than once Isaac wrote in his journal about walking to St. John, the county seat about sixteen miles from his homestead.  Eventually, Isaac bought his horse, (See "Isaac's Dolly Varden, 12/28/2012 in the blog archives), and later he acquired his own wagon.

The H. Russell Bomhoff Attrium
Recently we attended the grand opening celebration of the restored Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita, Kansas, and I could not help but contrast Isaac's mode of transportation on foot with the rapid advancements in flying only a few decades later.  How rapidly transportation changed during those years!  Wichita calls itself the Air Capital of the World, and with justification, considering the number of airplane manufacturing plants, other aviation related manufacturing, McConnell Air Force Base, several general aviation airports, and the commercial airport recently renamed Eisenhower International, with its beautiful new terminal, all located in Wichita.

Museum building center front 
The history of aviation has its roots in Wichita and its future role in aviation firmly secured, so it is appropriate that the beautiful Art Nouveau terminal at the old commercial airport be restored to house the museum.  Art Nouveau was most popular during the period 1890-1910 and is now considered a transition period in architecture between the popularity of historical revival styles and the new Modernism.  As these buildings disappear, the restored terminal becomes an even more important example to preserve.

Dreams and plans for a terminal at the airport finally brought about the start of construction in 1932, but the Depression caused work to cease temporarily before resuming in 1934, with the completion of the terminal in 1935.

Detail of front
With the military base next door, commercial air space was no longer appropriate at the old airport, and the new commercial airport was relocated several miles to the west.  Various uses were found for the old terminal, but without air conditioning it became unsuitable for any modern use.  Demolition seemed its likely fate.

Additional details
With the cooperative efforts of the city and the generosity of donors, the terminal was rescued and renovated.  One of the major donors to the project was the father-in-law of our niece, whose generosity is honored in naming the refurbished atrium the H. Russell Bomhoff Atrium.

It was in the atrium that the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held, and guests enjoyed a buffet, which included clever cookies with the Kansas Aviation Museum logo on them.  We walked around to see the exhibits and visited the room designed for young visitors.  At that time the museum was hosting Home School Programs for ages 6 to 17 and Summer Camps for various ages, sharing the importance of Kansas Aviation with another generation. 
Visitors study a display

I mentioned in my blog about Castle Rock how often we ignore interesting places nearby ("Castle Rock," 8/27/2015), and the Kansas Aviation Museum is a place that Kansas residents especially should add to their list of interesting sites.  Whether you love aviation or architecture, it is a place all visitors would enjoy!  

Display case, TWA stewardess
Isaac, who died in 1895, might never have imagined that people living at the time of his death would one day fly or that Kansas would be so important to the Aviation industry.  However, the way he enjoyed tinkering and inventing things, I am certain the possibility of flight would have intrigued him.  

Cookie with logo
(In order to post more photographs I have published the images in a small format.  To view them in a larger size, just click on the image.)

Museum information:  3350 South George Washington Blvd., Wichita, KS 67210; 316/683-9242;

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Status of manuscript update

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick.  Stereoscope similar to Isaac's
As those of you who follow my blog know, it has grown out of the research I have done about Isaac B. Werner, acquaintances mentioned in his journal, the community and its activities, and the exciting political era in which Isaac lived.  You know how I found Isaac's journal (See "Finding Isaac's Journal," blog archives 10-23-2011), how we visited his childhood home in Wernersville, PA ("Isaac's Birth & Childhood," 11-4-2011) and his home in his mid-twenties in Rossville, IL ("Isaac's Years in Rossville, Illinois," 2-23-2012).  You also know what an important part of Isaac's life the political issues of his day were ("Politics & Wealth in Isaac's Day," 10-18-2012).

Merely by looking at the dates of those early blogs, and knowing the prior transcription of Isaac's journal that took 11 months and the hours and hours of research before I could begin the first draft of the manuscript, you have some idea of how long I have been working on sharing Isaac's story.    You may even recall that in the blog "Writer's Angst," posted 8-23-2012, I declared the manuscript "finished!"  I was wrong...

Titles of books that were in Isaac's library
Since then there have been many revisions and severe editing to reduce the length of the manuscript.  There were also two years during which I served on the board of the new Filley Art Museum in Pratt, KS, during which Isaac was neglected. 

Since leaving the museum board, I have returned to Isaac (in between obligations connected with construction at our farm house, which have definitely been a distraction).  However, to all of you who have followed the blog so faithfully and those who have continued to inquire about the status of publication, encouraging me by sharing your eagerness to read the book, I offer this status update.
Political cartoon of workers confronting the wealthy
I set out to tell Isaac's story in such a way that it was of value to scholars but enjoyable reading for general readers.  Perhaps that was impossible--leaving some references too superficial for scholars but intimidating  general readers with all the footnotes.  I am about to tackle a major re-examination of the manuscript, focusing more on writing a history for general readers.

Two editors who reviewed the book proposal were kind enough to offer their advice.  One advised that it was apparent that my primary interest was in telling the story of Isaac and his community and suggested I eliminate most of the political history.  The other advised that it was apparent that my primary interest was in telling the story of the political era's impact and suggested I reduce the emphasis on Isaac.  I appreciate the advice given by both of them, as apparently contradictory as it may first seem.  In fact, I think both were right and that their advice relates to my problem in trying to write a history for both academic and general readers.

Hay rack typical of what Isaac owned
Recently I read a review from London's Guardian newspaper of the book, The Great Silence: 1918-1920, Living in the Shadow of the Great War.  The newspaper reviewer wrote:  "If, instead of looking at the great sweep of find out the small, everyday things that people of all stations in life were can convey a sense of the past that no conventional history can offer."  The reviewer concluded with praise for the book's author, Juliet Nicolson, calling the book a treasure "...from a writer who understands the vital importance of small details."

Isaac's Journal
Juliet Nicolson used such individuals as the king and his manservant, the prime minister and the postman, to describe daily life following W.W. I. To reveal conditions during the so-called Gilded Age of Andrew Carnegie and George Pullman, I have Isaac and his community, as well as the leaders of the Progressive Movement, who often came from the working class of farmers, miners, and factory workers.  These ordinary people illuminate the vast differences between them and the better-known wealthy class.  The everyday struggles of workers just to survive explains the rise of the populist movement intended to confront the political power of the wealthy.

Too many people think of Kansas in terms of cowboys and Indians, tornadoes, Dorothy Gayle and the Wizard of Oz, and KU basketball, but Kansas has an even richer history.  I am confident  that Isaac's journal has given me the opportunity to share the history of the Progressive Movement during the late 1800s through the daily lives of real people in Isaac's community.

The confrontations between men of the Gilded Age and workers in the Progressive Movement during the late 1800s is no less interesting than Britain after W.W. I.  I hope by focusing more on a history for general readers, I can revise my manuscript to make it even better!  My goal will involve what the Guardian newspaper reviewer called "the vital importance of small details," with less emphasis on footnoting every reference to Isaac's journal and generally known historical facts.  Thanks to all of you for your continued encouragement and interest.