This series of articles is excerpted from a book manuscript, "From Maine to Kentucky: Letters of a Maine School Teacher, 1920-21." Information about Chandler Normal School came from Lexington Leader newspaper accounts, 1889-1920.
By Eleanor W. Cunningham - 2000
When Ethel Valentine Applebee (my mother) and her friend, Lena Spencer, teachers from Maine, arrived in Lexington, Kentucky, on September 26, 1920, they hardly knew what to expect. They were pleasantly surprised at the size and splendor of Chandler Normal School, so different from the poor, one-room schools, where they had taught in Maine.
They were even more surprised when they entered the large, partially-brick house that would be their home. In the entranceway was beautiful oak paneling and a winding staircase to the second floor.
Mrs. Werking, the director's wife, took the girls up and showed them their separate rooms. She then introduced them to a third teacher, Sara Leighton, also from Maine, whose room was next to Ethel's. Ethel took time that evening to write to her mother in Bucksport, Maine:
Dear Mama: I suppose you have received all the cards I sent along the way. I sent the last one from the station in Lexington, before we came up to the school.
Mr. and Mrs. Werking are nice and pleasant. They came down to meet us. My trunk hasn't been brought up yet; it will be in the morning. The fourth teacher, for some reason, did not join us, so thus far, there are only three of us: Sara Leighton, Lena, and me. Sara is only 21, and this is her first teaching job. I think I am going to like her.
This whole place looks very much like the snapshots I had. We have dinner at our "home." Our rooms are comfortable and well-furnished. I even have a little gas stove. We have dinner at night; white tablecloth, napkins, real silverware, and china. Please send my napkin ring. I forgot it. I had $6.00 left of $78, when I got here this morning.
Tomorrow morning, Mrs. Werking says she will open a mission barrel. A lot of Negroes come to buy, here, at low prices. This is a good place to send old clothes, if you find any laying around the house. Love, Ethel.
After a delicious meal of steak, baked potatoes, tomato salad, rolls, and applesauce with cream, Mr. Werking took the teachers on a tour of Chandler Normal School, set on the green lawns at the center of the campus. On a slight rise, it commanded a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside.
As they entered the front hallway, also oak-paneled, they saw a portrait of Mrs. Phoebe Chandler, benefactor of the school.
Mr. Werking explained, "Mrs. Chandler offered the American Missionary Association $15,000 to establish a school for Negro children in Kentucky. As is its practice, the AMA promises to name schools after their donors. It was Mrs. Chandler's generosity that built this school, so it bears her name. Her funds paid for the four acres, as well as the home and this building. Her donations have kept the school running for several years."
Other parts of the three-story building included cloakrooms, washrooms, a reception hall, recitation rooms, a music room, and a small combination reading room and library. Mr. Werking told the teachers the school library was the largest possessed by any colored school in the state of Kentucky. The rooms, where Ethel and Lena would teach, were on the first floor, and the high school and normal school classes, where Sara would teach, were on the second floor.
Ethel noticed that her classroom was fairly large, with shuttered windows overlooking the playground, where there were baseball and football fields. There were 35 desks and several blackboards. Mr. Werking pointed out there were 11 grades at Chandler, with a total enrollment of 200. Tuition was $10.00 per year for each pupil.
Mr. Werking then took them to the third floor and showed them the auditorium and chapel, which seated 500; where concerts, graduation exercises, and other special programs would be held. Its magnitude surprised Ethel. To close the tour of the building, Mr. Werking took them to his second-floor office. After seating the teachers in comfortable leather chairs, he took his seat behind his desk and told them of the standards of Chandler School and the American Missionary Association.
"At Chandler School, we hold to the highest
standards," he said. "Not only does the American Missionary
Association expect this, but we are agreed that education best
takes place, where there is discipline, along with good instruction
from dedicated Christian teachers. The aim of this school is
to turn out scholars, who can, in turn, teach their own people."
Mr. Werking, also, invited the teachers to take time to visit Mrs. Werking's "store," in a room at the back of the building. Mission boxes came from many women's aid societies and from churches of both the North and South. Parents of Chandler children came to buy clothes at low prices for their families.
That evening, Ethel wrote again to her mother in Bucksport, Maine:
Dear Mother: I met a good many of the colored people today. I am glad I got to meet some of them before school opens. All of them seemed to be a little shy of me, but that may change, when I get 30 or 40 of them in the room together. Mrs. Werking opened mission barrels today, and a lot of the Negroes have been buying.
School opens next week. Have worked all day getting ready. Glad I brought my books along. They seem to have a good supply of books here, though, which somewhat surprised me. Guess Mrs. Chandler thought of that, too.
I will try to write each week. Hope all are over their various forms of disease, and that you got the house roof shingled. Love, Ethel.
Mr. Werking called another meeting of the teachers in his office a few days later. He began the meeting by saying, "Young ladies, you are part of an education crusade, which Mr. W. E. B. DuBois called the "Tenth Crusade." He said it 'was the finest thing in American history, and one of the few things not tainted with sordid greed and cheap vainglory.'
"The American Missionary Association believes that whatever the text, your duty is to apprize Negro youth of their responsibilities to God, country, family, and society. These things are just as important as teaching academics.
"You will open the class each morning with patriotic songs, and throughout the day, teach good manners, truthfulness, punctuality, and hard work. You are expected to teach morality with your subjects. I am sure you have done this before, but I just want to remind you of the importance with which these standards are held by the American Missionary Association."
He continued, "You will find there is need for strict discipline, here, as many of the children have little at home. You are expected to be as strict as you need to be and require pupils to obey you. When they do not, it is allowed, if you think necessary, that you administer corporal punishment. For severe incidents, please send the student to me. The method of discipline, which works best, and I have used it often, is the threat of expulsion.
"The parents hold it as a great honor to have their children at Chandler. As you know, until a Negro high school is built in Lexington, we are the only school with upper grades open to these children. To be expelled is a blow to their dignity.
"Your patience will be tried and tested, but you must keep the upper hand, and while being strict, be kind. These children will surprise you with their accomplishments and abilities, before the year is out."
Chandler, along with other schools established by the American Missionary Association, such as Berea College (1859), Fisk University (1866), Talladega Normal School (1867), Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (1872), and many others, were made proud of the accomplishments of their students.
Chandler could boast of such graduates as Vertner A. Tandy, the first African American registered as an architect in New York state; Mary Britton, physician, teacher, and social activist; Isaac Scott Hathaway, sculptor; and educators L. W. Taylor and Andrew T. Paey.
Laura Carroll was a student and then a teacher at Chandler, and later became the first Negro playground director employed by the city of Lexington. The Laura Carroll Library, at Georgetown and Ash Streets, was named for her.
(Part Three Continues Next Month)
Eleanor W. Cunningham, 221 Hutton Street, Gaithersburg, MD 20877, shares this series and photographs with our readers.