Thursday, November 01, 2018

Mary Parke Blair Hodges (1888-1988)

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75 Years of Teaching

"This century was just six years old when young Miss Parke Blair first came to Caswell County to begin her career as a teacher. Little did she realize that she was about to begin a chain of educators that would continue to teach Caswell students for the next 75 years and beyond.

Born  in Chatham, Virginia, in 1888, Parke Blair was educated in her young years like many other children at that time, with a private governess. Formal schooling didn't come til later, when she attended Chatham Episcopal Institute (now Chatham Hall) in 1905. A year later, classes at Roanoke Academy (now Averett College) rounded out her education, and she was ready for the teaching world.

The year 1907 found the Bill Neal family of Providence living in a house near Walter's Mill, and it was to this home that Parke Blair came for her first taste of teaching, as a private tutor. Boarding with the Neals, Blair taught the Neal children and some others from the community in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

"The next year, in the winter of 1907-08, I was hired to teach at Providence, for grades 1-4," she recalled. "It was just a rough two room schoolhouse cabin, and all the students in my classes were in one room, the higher graded students in the other, all day."

The one year of teaching at Providence was followed by two winters at Purley, where 60 students crowded into one room, and one year teaching at Park Springs, before Parke Blair married Arthur Hodges of Park Springs and gave up teaching. Many of her memories of schools in Caswell are worlds apart from the education scene today.

"The teachers were the first to arrive at school in the morning, and had to build the fire each day," she said. "Classes were much more serious that time, because school only lasted four or five months of the year, and you had to make sure the students got their proper education in that time." "Proper Education" in the early years of this century included just the fundamentals: reading, writing, and arithmetic, some history and a little geography.

Discipline was never a problem with Parke Blair. "As a rule, the students were cooperative, and usually loved the teacher, but if a switchin' was required, it was given, and the students knew if they got one at school, they'd likely get one at home, too." Some students had duties such as sweeping floors and washing blackboards.

Providence was still known by many as Hell's Half-Acre when the old two room schoolhouse was used, but it wasn't necessarily for the nightlife. "There weren't any restrictions on what a teacher could do after school hours, but there wasn't a  lot to do in those days," she admitted. "The most exciting activity was a square dance every now and then. Still, young folks were chaperoned everywhere. I remember going to a square dance with Luther Neal once, riding in a buggy. Bill Neal followed behind us, riding on a mule and keeping an eye on us."

For all her efforts in teaching, Parke Blair was paid the handsome sum of $35 per month -- at the end of the 4 months of teaching. And an interesting sidelight: in the days before buses, no school [day] was ever lost because of bad weather, unless the snow got so deep that the students couldn't walk through it to school.

In her years of teaching in Caswell, Parke Blair had many students who would on to various careers, but one in particular was impressed enough with education to continue study and become a teacher herself: Lenna Neal.

Source: "75 Years of Teaching." The County Magazine, Volume 1, No. 5, February 1982. Yanceyville (North Carolina): Creative Communications, 1982, pp. 12-14.

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