John M. Whalin: A Kentucky
Through Years Of Struggling To Rear His Children, Whalin
By Charles R. Whalin - 2005
John Milton Whalin's life as a schoolteacher was devoted entirely to teaching first through eighth grades in Kentucky's one-room schools. Born in Grassland, Edmonson County, Kentucky, on January 1, 1817, his road through life was a rocky one.
The John M. Whalin Family at their home on Sunfish Creek, Edmonson County, Kentucky, on September 14, 1913. Back row, l-r: John Milton, Ella Davis, Clarence Milton, and Eugene Bryan Whalin. Front row, l-r: Ralph Warren, Alma Beulah, Carrie Lillian, and Roy Herchel Whalin. Ella died six-and-one-half months after this photo was taken.
(Photo courtesy of Charles R. Whalin.)
There is a story of a trustee interviewing a young schoolteacher who had applied to teach school and the trustee asked, "Young man, do you teach that the world is round or flat?" Thinking quickly the young teacher replied, "Sir, I can teach it anyway you want it taught." According to the story he got the job.
Harris School, Edmonson County, Kentucky, 1916. John M. Whalin was the teacher. (Photo courtesy of Charles E. Whalin.)
As he gained experience in the insurance business he was soon named Nashville's district manager of Metropolitan Insurance Company. This work, however, put John under so much stress that he developed severe stomach pains. John's doctor told him that he was dying and there was nothing that could be done. In preparation for his upcoming death John quit his job and moved back to Edmonson County, in order for Ella and their son to be near Ella's parents.
After their move, however, John did not die. For the rest of his life, to treat his stomach pain which probably was due to ulcers, John took a mush of bread and milk every evening before bedtime.
Returning to Edmonson County the couple first moved in with Ella's parents on Sunfish Creek. In 1898 Ella's father gave the couple 27 acres of creek bottomland across Sunfish Creek, and there they built a small, one-room, log cabin where they lived for several years. John purchased more adjoining land, and by 1906 they had acquired 148 acres, were operating a family farm, built a new home, and were rearing a family.
Eight children were born to this couple, with six of them surviving. Eugene, the first, had been born in Nashville. The others were all born in the family home on Sunfish Creek. They were: Clarence "Sam" Milton, born February 8, 1899; Roy Herschel, born August 26, 1902; Carrie Lillian, born October 13, 1904; a "blue baby," born August 10, 1907, who died the next day; Ralph Warren, born July 3, 1908; Alma Beulah, born April 18, 1912; and Thomas Beckham, born March 28, 1914, and died the next month on April 5th.
In 1913 John was hired as schoolteacher for the Sweeden School in Edmonson County about 20 miles from home. He taught grades first through eighth for 79 students. He and Ella looked forward to a brighter future with the additional teacher's income, but tragedy lay just ahead.
When Ella gave birth to Thomas Beckham Whalin on March 28th of the next year, the doctor who delivered the baby had infected sores on his hands and arms, and as a result Ella contracted peritonitis. Realizing her condition she calmly met privately with her husband and each child to say her goodbyes. She asked John not to ever remarry, because she was afraid a stepmother would not provide good care for her children.
John M. Whalin with his students at Little Mountain School. The date and location of this photo are unknown.
Ella Davis Whalin died on April 2, 1914, at the age of 42, leaving John, age 43, to rear their six children: Eugene, Sam, Roy, Lillian, Ralph, and Beulah.
Forced to immediately shoulder his new responsibilities as both sole parent and provider, John Whalin, in the same year that his wife had died received an assignment to teach the Hayse School in Edmonson County, several miles away. He traveled by horseback to his job leaving his oldest son, Eugene, to stay at home, farm, and look after the five younger children.
The next year in 1915 John was able to secure a teaching job closer to home, still traveling on horseback. That same year he sent his eldest son, Eugene, to Bowling Green in order to attend the Western Kentucky Normal School.
In 1916 John taught at the Bethel School in Warren County and had all of his children as students there. The following year, however, was much more difficult for the family.
In 1917 unable to find a teaching job closer to home John was forced to teach the Harris School near Leitchfield, over 45 miles away. Leaving Eugene and Sam, ages 20 and 18, to raise a crop and keep the house up, John took his four younger children and moved into a two-room shack near the Harris School. Here Roy, age 15, was charged with the responsibility of caring for the three younger ones during the day while John was teaching. As winter approached John moved the family into a vacant, three-room, log cabin where they lived for the remainder of the school term.
Despite these hardships John found time to devote to his brothers and sisters. A niece, Madge Miller Hack, recalled how every year John would come riding his horse for a short visit. Madge's parents had very little education and would tell him what they planned to build, what crops they wanted to raise, etc., and John would figure what and how much the family would need to buy. Madge credited her uncle, John, with enabling her parents to continue to farm for a living.
In one of the most loving and unselfish decisions of his life, John Whalin moved his family from the little farm on Sunfish Creek to Bowling Green where Western Kentucky State Teachers College (now Western Kentucky University) and the Normal School offered high quality education. All children enrolled at Western and the four sons eventually earned their college degrees there.
In November 1919 John purchased a house and lot in Bowling Green for $1,500. Next year, 1920, he bought another property from H. H. Cherry, President of Western, for $800, and began operating a rooming house for Western students.
The John M. Whalin Family, ca. 1908. L-R: Clarence (Sam) Milton, Ralph Warren (infant), Ella Davis, John Milton, Carrie Lillian, Eugene Bryan, and Roy Herschel Whalin.
For two years, 1921 and 1922, John taught at the Lockwood School in Warren County, and in 1923 he was employed to teach at the Boiling Springs School, also in Warren County.
Sources: Tally Books of John Milton Whalin, John Milton Whalin's old photographs, Edmonson and Warren County Kentucky Deeds, and Autobiography of Roy Herschel Whalin.
Charles R. Whalin, 2303 Newmarket Drive, Louisville, KY 40222; [email protected], shares this article with our readers. Charles R. Whalin is the grandson of John Milton Whalin.