chapter  III
31 Pages

Times of Troubles, 1915-1920

Inthespringof1916duringadrivingsnowstorm,AssistantSuperintendent AnnieKlingensmithdiscoveredKatiePoppaditch,"alamechild,without coat,mittensorheadcovering,fallingrepeatenly[sic]onsnowcoveredice, cryingandrubbingherfacewithfreezingwethandswhattimeshewasnoton handsandfeettryingtogetupwithbarehandsinsnowabovetheelbow." Shetookthechildhome,whichwaslocatedupanarrowpassagebetweena saloonandbarbershoponWashingtonStreetbetweenThirteenthandFourteenthAvenues.Frightenedbecauseoftheroughneighborhood, Klingensmithwassurprisedtofindinthe"shacksandflatsagreatcollection ofFroebelSchoolchildren."Shealsodiscoveredthatmanyofthechildrenin thepredominantlymaleneighborhood-composedofpoolrooms,barber shops,boardinghouses,andsaloons-wereunregisteredbecausetheteacherswereafraidtogothere."ThelargergirlsinFroebelbegthewomennotto gointocertaindistricts,outofwhichtheyhavebeenwarnedbytheir parents."Thechildrenlivingintheheavilyimmigrant,overcrowdedsouth sidehadwretchedhomeconditions.But,Klingensmithandmanyothers consideredthosechildrenluckytohavetheopportunityofattendingthe Froebelschool,thelinchpinoftheincreasinglyfamousGaryschoolsystem. 1

Theschoolsexperiencedsteadygrowthduringthewaryears,increasing theirholdonthecity'schildrenanddemonstratingtheirvital,expandingrole incivicaffairs.Theapproximatelysixthousandstudentsenrolledin1915 mushroomedtoninethousandwithinfiveyears,mostlyelementaryschool increases.High-schoolenrollment,centeredattheEmersonschool,wasover sevenhundredin1920.EmersonandFroebelhigh-schoolgraduatesnumberedforty-fivein1915andpeakedataroundeightybytheendofthedecade (in1918,fifty-fivegraduatedfrom.Emersonandtwenty-fourfromFroebel). Over60percentofthestudentswereforeign-bornorthechildrenofimmigrants,withthemajorityattendingtheFroebelschool(over80percentfrom EasternEurope),whichalsohadthelargestenrollment,withabouttwo thousandin1919.TheEmersonschool,attendedbynativewhites,hadabout fivehundredfewer,followedbytheJeffersonschoolwithonethousandinthe elementarygrades.TrailingfarbehindwerethetinyClarkRoadschoolwith sixty-sixandtheevensmallerWestGarybuildingwiththrity-three,outofthe

48 Children of the Mill

thirteen schools at the time. The teaching staff increased accordingly, from about 130 in 1915 to well over two hundred by 1920.2

While the students were commonly from working-class, non-Englishspeaking homes, the schools were in the safe hands of native white teachers and school board members. When an opening on the board appeared in May 1915, the Gary Civic Service Club, a women's suffrage organization, demanded that the city council appoint a woman. This strategy-women on school boards-was a common opening to an expanded female political role before the Nineteenth Amendment was enacted. Two years later a nightschool class was initiated at the Jefferson school "to instruct the women in everything pertaining to elections, primaries ... [etc.]. The idea of the school authorities is that with this instruction, the women who will cast their first vote will not become confused by awkwardly answered questions from varied sources." The women were temporarily frustrated, as the council named Henry Hay, president of the Gary State Bank, who served until1929. He was soon joined by George Hunter, general manager of the American Bridge Works, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel; Hunter resigned in 1917 and was replaced by A. R. McArthur, resident engineer of the tin mills, who also lasted until1929. The third member, Tolleston attorney E. Miles Norton, was followed by Herman Uecker, cashier of the First State Bank of Tolleston, in January 1919. Uecker's tenure was surprisingly short, for he was innocently killed during a bank robbery in June. The council then named Adele M. (Mrs. Charles W.) Chase, a Democrat and wife of the president of the Gary Street Railway Company, the board's first woman, who served until1932. The board managed to remain firmly in the hands of the city's elite, mostly male but now including a woman. Yet it exercised little power, preferring instead to trust explicitly in the managerial abilities and administrative decisions of Superintendent Wirt. 3

Entering his second decade at the helm of the schools, William Wirt was filled with confidence and energy even in the face of staggering family adversity. One problem was his oldest son, William Franz, who, ironically, adjusted poorly to public school, perhaps because of the family connection as well as difficult home conditions. Wirt was an aloof, domineering father who demanded strict formality at home as well as in his public life. In mid-1916, Wirt wrote to the Interlaken School in Rolling Prarie, Indiana, inquiring about their program. Established by Edward A. Rumely, a LaPorte industrialist and current publisher of the New York Evening Mail, Interlaken was a rural school committed to training boys in manual skills and physical survival in a "democratic" environment: "All this means rigorous living in plenty. But it is natural, outdoor living, normal primitive life-work and play in the sun and wind and rain, the hand in the soil. And the boys, many of them puny lads when they first come, get the vigor of the original savage." Wirt held off sending Franz, but not for long.4