Schools – East Greenwich News
By Glenn King
This is another article by Glenn King about “his” East Greenwich, the East Greenwich of the 1930’s and 40’s. You can read its first part HERE.
I believe that most of my classmates will agree that they spent the most meaningful and enjoyable 12 years of their lives gaining an education at our two world-class educational institutions, James H. Eldredge School and East Greenwich Academy, prior to East Greenwich High School in 1943. Most students walked to school and went home for lunch.
The Eldredge School was built in 1927 and named in honor of Doctor Eldredge, an icon of his time. The school had a vacuum system. As a prank, the students lifted the vacuum cleaner cover to hear the screeching. This system was used daily by School Administrator Hub Wilson. Mr. Wilson had a pet monkey that he kept in the boiler room. We often looked into the boiler room and saw the monkey smoking a cigarette. The schoolyard was not only very large, but also well equipped with slides, swings and a maypole. For the boys there was a very large field in front of the school where they played baseball, kick ball (a prelude to soccer) and played many running games. Most teachers were local residents and walked to school, eliminating the need for a large parking lot. In later years, the playground and all of its equipment was demolished to make way for a parking lot. There were very few bus students.
Eldredge may have been the only school in the area to have a full dental office. Once a week, Dr. Scott left the school to take care of the students’ dental needs. The fee was 25 cents but if you couldn’t afford it it was free. In Eldredge, Mrs. Bertha Carr taught an after-school dance class at the gym for 25 cents. Several dances were performed each year. At the dances, some of the girls quickly realized how popular they were. There was no dress code for the students, but everyone always looked neat and clean. The girls always wore dresses or skirts and always had beautiful hair. The boys always looked very casual. Most wore blue jeans and high-top tennis shoes. Most students only had one pair of shoes. In the late 1930’s, lumberjack boots (high cuts) were the footwear fashion for boys. The boots had a small pocket on the top left boot for a pocket knife. Each boy played a knife game called Mumbly Peg. The girls played jump rope, hop scotch, tag and jacks. My classmate Gwendolen Ellis was the best and fastest Jacks player I’ve ever seen. She could nab a handful of boys in no time.
The first agenda in the classroom was morning exercises. The pledge of allegiance to the flag was changed in the early 1940s. You no longer stretched out your arm when saying “to the flag” as it looked like the German salute. Instead, like now, you just kept your hand on your heart. The next exercise was the Lord’s Prayer. In third grade, our teacher, Mrs. Adams, chose Psalm 23 for us instead of prayer.
Every Tuesday was Bank Day in Eldredge. Most of the students opened a bank account at the local bank with their parents’ permission. Most weekly deposits were very modest, barely over 25 cents. This was a chore that the teacher had to deal with as she had to put the children’s money in the bank every week. When World War II started, we all bought war stamps once a week. When you filled your stamp book with $18.75 worth of stamps, you started another book. At the end of the war you redeemed your book at the post office for $25.
I vividly remember all the teachers I would consider East Greenwich icons: Mrs. McPartland, Miss Adams, Miss Teff (affectionately called Old Lady Teff, but never to her face), Mrs. Barker and Hub Wilson, ours caretaker.
By 1943 East Greenwich had no high school. The city paid tuition to the school of the student’s choice. Most Catholic students in Providence went to school every day. The boys went to Lasalle Academy and the girls to Saint Xavier Academy, the rest of the students went to East Greenwich Academy. The academy has been dubbed “The Heart of East Greenwich”. The academy was on Peirce Street opposite the Kentish Guard Armory. The school was built in 1802. It was built of red brick, three stories with two towers. In one of the towers was a set of bells. It was a common prank for Academy students to sneak into the school on Halloween night and ring the bells. Last time I went to the bell tower it was full of pigeons.
On the third floor was an elegant chapel with a large pipe organ. The boarders would man the giant organ pump. Classrooms were on the first and second floors. In the basement was a large cherry dining room. The school was East Greenwich’s educational and cultural center for 141 years. The school had a very large and well-equipped gymnasium – a gift to the school from the Swift family. The gym had two bowling lanes, showers, locker rooms, trophy room, gymnastics equipment, indoor running track, a stage for performances, and a large field for baseball and soccer. The school owned the Rose Cottage in front of the school. It was the headmaster’s house.
In June 1938, President Roosevelt approved a $112,500 grant to build a new high school, but it was rejected by a vote of 345 to 175 at a city special assembly. This meant that the city had to continue paying tuition. In August 1942, citizens went to the city assembly and in nine minutes agreed to purchase the academy for $41,750 to be used as a city high school.
All baseball and football games were played on the field behind the school. All games were played right after school. Neither school had lights for night games. Our teacher and trainer was Mr. Nicola Carcieri*, a local boy. Going to school in East Greenwich in the ’30s and ’40s was something of a melting pot. I attended school with many classmates who were first-generation Americans. Many of my classmates were bilingual. A cross-section of America’s East Greenwich was represented by multiple nationalities, including Jewish, Irish, French, Italian, Swedish, Black, English, and Armenian.
During the 12 years that my classmates went to school in East Greenwich, some got nicknames like:
Dan “Fearless” Harrington
Donald “Squeaky” Anderson
Eugene “Fire” Byrnes
Wilber “Tiny” Wilson
Kenneth “Bauer” Hamilton
Ernest “Mussolini” French
Donald “Soda” Soderlund
George “Creppy” Crepeau
Elsworth “Ebby” Spencer
Albert “Saint” Martin
George “Senator” Bristol
John “Flash” Olson
Russell “Red” Wilson
Gerald “Hut Sut” White
The population of East Greenwich was 3,842 in 1940, an increase of 176 in a 10-year period. In the 1930’s, the average full-time wage per week was $25.75 for a man and $22.14 for a woman. Very few people in town could afford a phone; instead they had a party line. The phone stood on a pedestal. When you called, you were greeted by a “Hello Girl,” you gave the number you wanted, and she put you through. Most of the numbers were very short, mine was 536W, some of my classmates’ numbers were 67J, 131R and 93. Very few people had an electric fridge. We all depended on the ice cream man who delivered ice cream by horse and cart once a week. The children asked the iceman to knock off a piece of ice. They all loved petting his friendly horse. To tell the Iceman how much ice cream you need, place a card with an a in the window Color code for the size of the ice block. One of the very important chores for someone in the house was to empty the ice tray every day. Ice was cut at Bleachery Pond and stored in a very large barn on the property. In winter the streets were kept snow-free by Mr. Suss and his large truck with a plough. Only three streets were too steep for him to plow. King, Queen and Church Streets from Peirce to Main Street. Queen Street was often closed to allow the children to have an exciting slide down to Duke Street. Very often adults asked for a ride. Payne’s Pond was a popular place to go ice skating and play hockey after school. We’ve never owned a puck, we’ve used the rubber heel of a shoe or a lump of coal.
There were two city characters. One was Fat Henry. He was severely overweight. He ran the city’s only taxi service. When he sat in his cab, it leaned on the driver’s side. The other well-known and popular character was Rose Koralewsky, “The Waking School Teacher”. She never owned a car and walked everywhere at a stiff pace. She was hit by a car while crossing the street in front of Earnshaw’s drug store.
East Greenwich was a wonderful city to live in as a youth. I and my many classmates received an excellent education and were pointed in the right direction by our teachers, coaches, Scoutmasters and other excellent civic leaders.
*Carcieri Field at East Greenwich High School is named for Nicola Carcieri, father of former Governor Donald Carcieri.
Glenn’s previous series:
Old East Greenwich: The Sounds
Old East Greenwich: Main Street
Old East Greenwich: Parades
Old East Greenwich: Second World War
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