Thursday, December 21, 2017

Always an Educator

Photo from Melissa Murphy Oliver
She was a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, and teacher. She was Sarah Ellen Steinly Murphy (1888-1968): the daughter of Lewis Steinly (1847-1923) and Susanna Housel (1860-1942), the sixth child of 14 children. She grew up in Greenville Township of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and in Allegany County, Maryland, near Cumberland.

Sarah, according to Phyllis Walker Pasterczyk, a granddaughter, attended Normal School in the community of Somerset, Pennsylvania (which is directly north of where Sarah lived).  A “normal school” was a school to train teachers. The length of the “normal school” curriculum was usually one to two years.

I have tried, without success, to find the Normal School in Somerset. I did find one for in Stoystown, Pennsylvania (in Quemahoning Township), but that probably would have been too far to travel. However, there was a Somerset Collegiate Institute in Somerset. I have not able to find out any information about this educational institution and its curriculum; but perhaps, this is where Sarah went for her training.

Townships in Somerset County
It is known Sarah taught for several years before she got married at the age of 19.  So, doing the math, she was quite young when she was a teacher. The 1940 U.S. Federal Census shows that she had an 8th grade education. Assuming she went to Normal School right after the 8th grade, she would have only been about 16 years old when she began her teaching career.

Sarah’s first teaching job was in a one-room schoolhouse in Pocahontas, Somerset County, Pennsylvania, followed by teaching positions at Miller School and Wetmiller School. All the schools were in Greenville Township. She taught all eight grades. As is usual with teachers at that time, she would have had to clean the school house, bring in wood for the pot belly stove, bring in water from the pump for drinking and hand washing.

Phyllis, relying on information from one of Sarah’s daughters – Regina Murphy Kirchner (1919-2017), reveals that Sarah had to walk to and from school each day. Most teachers at that time lived with a local family who lived near the school. It is not known if she did this or not. However, I suspect she might have as to walk to and from the school from her parents’ home might have been too much of a hike.

Typical Somerset County one-room school
Sarah lost her husband, James Bernard Murphy (1882-1927), and a son James Lewis Murphy (1910-1927) to a coal mine explosion in 1927 when she was only 38 years old.  Sarah was left with eight children to raise. One child, Eleanor Frances Murphy (1908-2003) had graduated from high school in 1926 and was married in 1928. So technically, there were only seven children to worry about. As coal miners did not have pension or death benefits, and Social Security did not exist, one can only imagine how Sarah managed to support her family: I am sure she had help from her family as there is no record or family recollection of Sarah continuing her teaching career after her marriage to James in 1907. But, she did not stop her interest in education.

After her children were grown and had children of their own, Sarah would visit the various families. Phyllis has a favorite memory of her grandmother, stating: “When I was in grade school and grandma would come stay with us, she’d sit down with me when I got home from school and help me with my homework. She made the homework much more interesting. Once homework was done and dinner was over, we’d play cards: 500, rummy, and other card games. She loved to play cards.”

It would seem that Sarah was always an educator, and that is a wonderful legacy for her family.

Photo provided by Phyllis Walker Pasterczyk
Great-grandmother of daughter-in-law
Melissa Murphy Oliver

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