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EDUCATION WORTH THE PRICE

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MARY E. WEST

The first several years of my school life passed pleasantly enough in the little district school at the corner of my father’s farm in Southampton County, Virginia. They are remarkable to me now not so much for the attainment which I made in the three “R’s,” as for the fact that they gave me the desire and ambition for a well-rounded education. I remember quite distinctly the first money I ever earned. I was ten, I think, and the amount paid me by an uncle for some nominal service, the nature of which I do not recall, was one dollar and sixty-five cents. My aunt asked me how I would spend it. I considered and then replied that I would save it, add to it as I got money and when the time came, go to college. She laughed, and her skepticism was justifiable, for the treasured sum was soon gone, leaving behind it, however, something of infinitely more value than the trifles purchased by its commercial value, namely; a definite hope for a college education.

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When I was thirteen, my mother died, the home was broken up and I, the oldest of five children, went to the little town of Wakefield to live with my great-aunt, 274 a widow of some means. It was her intention to educate me, giving me the advantages of college training, and at her death to leave me her small fortune. Fifteen months later while I was convalescing from appendicitis and typhoid fever in a Richmond hospital, she died after a short illness. She was delirious to the last and died intestate; therefore her property went to her nearest relatives and I returned to my father. He was and is a lumberman, owning at that time a sawmill in partnership with a younger brother. Naturally, I could not remain for a great length of time in a sawmill camp. The other children were with my father’s people. He considered for a time putting me in Corinth Academy, a Quaker school of Southampton County, but finally decided to continue me in the district school of Wakefield. I returned to this town to board and attend school. I finished the grammar school that year. During the summer the People’s Telephone Co. organized, and put the exchange in the hotel where I boarded. For the novelty of the thing, in the week preceding the beginning of the fall high school term, I learned to operate the switch-board with no idea of ever becoming its regular operator. Two weeks later the chief operator resigned to accept a position in the city, the assistant became the chief and I found myself the new assistant. It was my first year in the high school, and when the novelty of the new work was gone, and the demands of heavier school work became 275 insistent, I found that I had taken upon myself no light task. My office hours were long, from five to ten in the evening on emergency duty, a night bell in my room from ten at night to six in the morning, active duty again to seven, and one hour at noon to relieve the other operator. The work was not heavy or hard, but extremely irritating and nerve racking, especially the emergency duty. Those first months were hard indeed, but I steadfastly refused to give it up. It had gratified me exceedingly to write my father that I could bear a part of my expenses and the idea of resigning my position never occurred to me. My salary was small, twelve dollars a month, but to me it meant independence and I was immensely proud of it.

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But there was another thing working in my brain which gave me no rest. The other children were dissatisfied. We had been separated three years and I wanted to bring us together again as one family. Father could not be with us on account of the nature of his work, so a sister of my mother agreed to stay with us, and when the New Year came we were once more together in a little cottage not far from the telephone office and quite convenient to school. The active work of the home did not fall upon me, but the responsibility did. To me, father directed all instructions, made all checks, and of me required all reports. I think I am safe in saying that in the four years we endeavored to hold together barely a paper of pins was purchased without 276 my knowledge and sanction. I planned and thought out everything about the home from the daily menu to the hanging of the garden gate, kept up my office and school work, attended Sunday School and church regularly and did my best to live before my brothers and sisters a life which should stand for truth, honor and square dealing.

The years of my high school life came and went and often I despaired of the end. The state of family finance fell low. The business venture of my father failed to make good, through no fault of his nor of anyone else that I know, but because of conditions of the market and so forth. At any rate, I know that the small amount which I earned was welcome in the family purse, and I remember very well a period of perhaps two months when we depended solely upon my efforts.

Those years were by no means easy. There were conditions of which I may not write that were trying in the extreme—days when I despaired of the future—nights when I very nearly lost hope of ever attaining any degree of the cultural training upon which I had set my heart. It is by no means an easy task to finish a full high school course with credit, even with plenty of time and no serious problems of living to face. I have never been and am not a brilliant student—I make no claim to more than average intellect in any branch of study, and in some subjects I am hopelessly dull. But I had a strong determination to win if it was humanly 277 possible, and a very strong incentive and inspiration in the continued love and trust of those about me. To the faculty of the Wakefield High School I owe much for the encouragement they never failed to extend me when I became more than usually depressed. To Professor J. J. Lincoln and his wife, I am especially grateful. They not only gave me encouragement and inspiration in many difficult places, but kept alive in me the desire for education.

I finished at length the high school work, having earned in the four years about five hundred dollars and taken five prizes offered in the school for excellency of work, two of these being medals, and the other three, money prizes. Until the last year of the high school work I had entertained no hope of college. The desire and ambition were quite as strong in me as ever. The thought of the end to which I had devoted my childish earnings for a time, never left me. But it looked quite impossible and I resolutely faced the certainty of teaching once I had attained my high school certificate, and to this end I prepared myself. That last year, however, things looked brighter. Father’s business prospects brightened and I began to wonder if after all a college course was not possible. The idea of attempting it at my father’s expense at a time when he was beginning to straighten up past deficits and bearing at the same time a heavy running expense, I did not like. I conceived the idea of taking a course in 278 stenography during the summer and by means of it, paying a part of my way through college. We broke up the home and a week following my graduation were in Salisbury, Maryland, boarding with relatives, and my sister and I attending the business school. I saw directly that the time was too short to gain any satisfactory degree of efficiency as a stenographer, but my ships were burned behind me and there was nothing to do but work as best I could until the fall opening of Elon College, North Carolina, which school I had determined to attend.

We intended to make another home in the college town to which we were going and with this intention arrived there a week before the date of opening. I was tired. I still did not lack the desire, but the strong purpose which had before held me up could not longer spur me to the effort necessary to undertake the task before me. I realized that it was utterly impossible to manage a home and attend school. A way out of the dilemma was suggested by the President of the College. We became members of the Young Ladies’ Club, an institution conducted on the co?perative plan. My sisters and I became college students and my brother and two little sisters entered the graded school of the town.

It is nearing the close of my freshman year in college. With the exception of my tuition for which I had a scholarship from Professor Lincoln, I have been dependent upon my father for this year’s financial requirements. To continue my course in 279 college at his expense is from my point of view, quite impossible, willing and ready though I know him to be. His expenses, past and present, are heavy, his business status though steadier and daily growing better is still unassured, the other children are to be considered; so I have definitely decided either to teach the coming year or return to college, paying my own expenses. How I may be able to accomplish the latter, I do not know just now, though I have a plan which if it materializes will assure me the coming three years in college.

Of one thing I am assured; a college education is a desirable thing and worth the price to be paid for it. It is not quite as easy for a girl to pay her way through as it is for a young man, her opportunities are fewer and as a rule not so good, but even at that I have a feeling that if she desires it strongly enough and puts herself in a position to be worthy of an opportunity it will come quite as surely as to him and she will make a stronger, finer woman for having faced serious problems and grave difficulties and won out over them.

Elon College, N. C.

WORK NO CLASS BARRIER

LUCILE WRIGHT

Upon finishing my preparatory course at the University of Wyoming I desired to enter the University proper, and in order to do so, determined to earn money by teaching. For seven months I taught a country school about two miles from my home on the ranch.

Although it was rather discouraging to enter college a year behind my class, I did so, and during most of my freshman year kept house with my sister in two rooms rented from a private family. It kept us very busy getting our studies and keeping house, besides working in the musical clubs, basketball and Young Woman’s Christian Association.

The next year my sister and I lived at the girls’ dormitory. I earned most of my way by helping clean the girls’ rooms. Sometimes I made extra money by addressing bulletins, or fixing seals on diplomas, etc., in the secretary’s office.

Last year I helped in the dining-room at the dormitory, thus earning my board and room. Since I am specializing in household economics, I was given the position of teaching sewing in one of the classes in the Training School of the Normal School 281 of the University. With this aid I was able to pay all of my expenses.