Historically Speaking: Country girls
For a young person today, attending four years of high school is a normal and necessary part of their teen years; living at home and having lots of time for study and fun. Not so for young country girls during the 30s and 40s. I am sure many readers can identify with the situation I found myself facing during my high school years.
Having attended a rural school and upon graduation from the eighth grade, my thoughts and desires were to go to high school and then college, as I wanted to be a teacher. I was too young to drive and lived in a rural area many miles from the nearest high school.
My first year of high school, transportation was solved by our near-neighbors who already had high school kids driving back and forth to school each day. For a dollar or two a week for gas, I had solved my problem for my freshman year. The transition from a one-room rural school to high school was somewhat frustrating but also enjoyable and a definite learning experience.
After completing my freshman year and enjoying a summer vacation at home, I was concerned since our neighbors had moved to Laona and now I was without transportation to high school. The first six to eight weeks of that fall proved to be quite an adventure. Each morning I would row our boat down stream on the Wisconsin River for about a mile to Gardner’s Kennels and the old “Coffee Pot”; secure the boat along the river, hike to highway 47 and catch a ride with a friend who was a plumber at Frasier’s Plumbing. Late in the fall, the river was not passable. The ice was unsafe so I faced another hurdle. Again friends came to the rescue. I was asked to stay with family friends who lived on Lincoln Street. There were kids in the family who were life-long friends of mine and their parents were dear friends and former neighbors of my family. I helped with the housework and dishes as did the girls of the family. During my sophomore year, I would get home a few weekends, or my family would come for a visit. It was at the end of my sophomore year that I became acquainted with a program to help country girls find a place in town to work for “room and board” in exchange for a place to live while attending high school.
In my junior year, I took advantage of this program and was situated at the John Sweberg home just across from the high school on Frederick Street. Mrs. Sweberg was very kind to me and treated me as one of her family. There was a boy and girl to watch evenings when the parents went out socially and I spent hours reading to them, plus having time for my studies and homework. Mrs Sweberg was very considerate of my need for time to study and in turn I gave all I could to the family. I could take part in “some” of the after school activities but I owed it to my “adopted” family to be home at a reasonable time helping with the children and getting the evening meal ready. I owed a lot to these kind people. I remember the nice Christmas presents, a little spending money now and then and help buying books and school supplies. I was allowed to go home on weekends and my father would come pick me up. One Thanksgiving weekend, Mrs Sweberg attempted to drive me home and we got stuck in a terrific drift and asked the farmer living near by to pull us out with his team of horses.
I was fortunate to stay with this family for two years. I graduated in June 1939 and stayed with them to the end of that summer.
There were several country girls in the same section of the city working and schooling as I did. We realized how important it was to have a good family to work for and what a good service they provided for us. Most of the families were doctors, lawyers, dentists and business men from the paper mill that opened their home to us.
Years ago, education was not handed to anyone. It depended on how badly you wanted it. This prepared us for future struggles and helped us reach our life’s ambitions. My humble “thank you” to the many who helped along the way.