It all started as the 1895 school year was about to unfold in early September. Llewellyn tells us in his own words.
“The children began school Venia’s class was ordered in town I object to it as she is not old enough yet & we are having some trouble went up to see Dr Gaylord about the schools” 9/9/1895
The state of the art new Branford High School had just been completed in the Spring of 1895. The board of education decided to send the older students to this new school close to the Branford Green on Laurel Street (current police station site). Llewellyn felt strongly that Venia, age 13 should not have to walk the one and a half miles to the center of Branford to attend school. He was certain that she could continue her education at the Mill Plain Schoolhouse which was a mere three minute walk from their home. In his diary entry, he laid out his case, and with his entry “We are having some trouble”, accurately predicted what was about to unfold: In 3 days he had 2 meetings with Dr. Gaylord and 2 meetings with Miss Martha Robbins, Venia’s teacher. C. W. Gaylord MD was the Acting School Visitor and on the Board of Education. The meeting content is not clear but it can be assumed that Llewellyn was gathering information, getting an understanding of how best to proceed to prepare for his meeting with Dr. Zink, the chairman of the Board of Education on Thursday of this same week. Apparently, this meeting with Dr. Zink did not go well.
"I went up to see Dr Zink about our school at Mill Plain which they have declaired a Primary School only & which I declair shall not be" (9/11/1895)
Venia did not go to school the following day and Llewellyn wrote a letter to the school board for their meeting on Monday night and delivered it to Dr. Zink that morning. This second week, things only escalated. Llewellyn sought the support of other parents. His Wednesday meeting with Miss Robbins, Venia’s teacher, found that she also had some strong opinions about the matter. The previous year, Miss Robbins had 33 students enrolled and an average of 24 attending each day ranging in ages from 4 through 16 in her one-room schoolhouse on Mill Plains Rd. It is easy to appreciate why she would want the older students to go to the new high school. “She is mad”, he stated. She had a few surprises in store for him too the following day.
“I went up to Short Rocks and found Miss Robbins had been up the night before and induced Mrs Linsley not to let her boy go to school at Mill Plain The other children went to school but she would not admit them” (9/19/1895)
We end this week on Friday with Llewellyn communicating with Dr. Zink in both writing and in person. The reader is left hanging as to the resolution of the issue until almost two weeks later on Thursday
"After shop I went up to Dr Zinks and in the evening I went up to the meeting of the school board about the children going in town to school the Board voted to let them come out here at Mill Plains" (10/3/1895)
Note that Llewellyn mentioned “them” rather than just referring to his daughter alone. It can be inferred that this was an issue for some other parents also. The addition of the new high school and the subsequent redistricting of students and the reassignment of school staff can be problematic for any district. This appears to have been the case in Branford judging by the 1896 Annual Report signed by the newly elected board chairman, C. W. Gaylord, MD, the same man who Llewellyn first approached with his concern. Dr. Gaylord writes:
“the unfortunate placing of teachers and want of harmony in the School Board- a subject with which the public is only too familiar- has had a very depressing and discouraging effect upon all school work. Unfortunately the want of harmony and spirit of antagonism existing in the Board has been contagious, and indication of the same spirit has been quite manifest among certain of the teachers and scholars and as a result the general morale and tone of our schools has been decidedly lowered and for the same reason we have lost some of our best teachers.”
It appears from the report above that Llewellyn’s issue was just one of many surfacing with the advent of the new high school and the subsequent redistricting of students and reassignment of teachers. The next entry provides the conclusion to Llewellyn’s concern. Venia stayed at the local Mill Plains School. It probably didn’t hurt his argument that this dust up was just before the town elections on this same day! There were four members of the board of education up for reelection including Dr. Zink, it’s outgoing chairman. He was among three reelected to serve on the board for another three years.
Venia went down here to school as the board compelled Miss Robbins to form a class (10/7/1895)
So this episode gave Llewellyn a direct entrance into the workings of the school district. He had an issue, strongly advocated his position and prevailed. It is possible that others saw a man who cared deeply about his child’s education, possessed great energy, could write and speak well, and was capable of appropriately advocating his position. A perfect candidate for the board of education! It is total speculation as to whether or not this is the case. We only hear Llewellyn’s view on this episode. Martha Robbins’ voice is silent now and not available to us.
Llewellyn made no other reference to the school district until he reported being nominated and elected to the school board just two years later in October of 1897. He continued to serve on the Branford Board of Education for 12 years and was elected its Chairman in 1904.
His own educational journey is inspirational in the way he met his own personal challenges and revealing with regard to education in general in the 19th century. This will be the focus of a subsequent article.
Complete blog available at http://llewellynbarkerdiaries.wordpress.com/
Photos courtesy of Branford Historical Society and Branford Library