We as an American people have been striving for years to make this country a place where every one has an equal chance for success, to make this a nation for Democracy. The nation has made a hard fight against the long prevailing spirit of the individual who considers himself of more importance than the welfare of the masses. But in spite of this fight there are still many people who regard their country merely as a place in which they exist, but not of sufficient importance to detract their time or attention from themselves. These same people have duties, which if they only realized it, are pressing heavily on their shoulders. The most important of these duties is the problem of teaching the rising generation the principals of Democracy.
The most important factor in the United States to-day for teaching equality is the public schools. If you wish your child to have a Democratic education, you will begin by having him taught the spirit of brotherhood and equality. You also will want him to learn that in later years, he will be measured by what he is and not by what he has. The schools of America are the only places where all of these things are taught.
It is well to remember that the real work of to-day is done by men who were in the public schools a few years ago. The school produces the real men who do the nation’s work, because the millions of young minds that the schools are training in Democracy and in the understanding of American character are the creative forces of to-day.
If we study our history we can see how education was regarded after the Christian Era of Europe. Alfred the Great believed that all people should be free and that education was essential to the maintenance of that freedom. He, therefore, sought to establish schools throughout his kingdom. This was the first step, and again in the latter half of the Middle Ages there arose a constantly increasing demand for secular education. Industrial conditions made knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic imperative among the merchants and artisans. And so, out of this demand there arose the forerunners of the public schools of to-day. Due to the influence of all these movements, which culminated during the last years of the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, the people of Europe emerged from the despotism of ecclesiastical and feudal institutions, and free and independent nations were established. If mere fundamental education could do so much for the countries of Europe, what more could an improved and democratic education do for a country already as far advanced as our America?
James Lowell said, “That it was in making democratic education not only common to all, but in a sense compulsory to all, that the destiny of the free republic of America was practically settled.”
The Schools do not only teach what the country stands for, but also what the country is. There is no sense in giving the man or woman the ballot, who does not know enough to have an intelligent opinion about the questions with which the government has to deal. In a Democracy the very life of the state is dependent upon the intelligence of the masses. Since an ignorant electorate is the most dangerous of foes, school houses in America are as important as a means of defence as our armies and navies. The truth that the safety of a nation is sought in the virtue and intelligence of its citizens has been recognized by statesmen in every stage of development of American institutions, although practical measures for the general diffusion of knowledge have often been unduly postponed.
The growth of the school system in the United States has been coincident with the growth of Democracy. It was not until the people began to come forward as real masters of government that provision was made for the education of all the children of the community. As Democracy grew stronger, public schools became more numerous, and at last it became a policy of every state to furnish free of charge an elementary education to every child within its borders.
The school itself is the training ground for the growing citizens. It takes the child who is acquainted only with inmates of his own home or a few playmates and makes him a member of a much larger world. He is not allowed to do as he pleases, but must learn to have consideration for others. And consideration for your fellow-men is an important part of Democracy. It has been said that, “All men are born equal but get over it before they die.” If all men are born equal, it is their privilege and their duty to protect that equality, and this they will be unable to do unless they have a democratic education which has fitted them to take their place among their fellow-men.
What we are to-day we owe to the free and democratic institutions of education. The greatness that we are destined to know, as the most powerful and enlightened nation on the earth, is the greatness that is being developed in the Democratic educational institutions of America. If the school is such an important factor in the progress of a Democratic nation, you have several duties as a citizen in regard to these schools. You should develop them, making them better each year, in proportion to the country’s growth and wealth, and above all keep them democratic, because Democracy is the cornerstone of our nation.
Fern Rheabelle See, age sixteen, a California gal
Valedictorian Needles High School Class of 1923
de-moc-ra-cy n. 1. government by the whole population, usual, through elected representatives. 2. nation or organization so governed
re-pub-lic n. nation in which power is held by the people or their elected representatives
James Russell Lowell; 1819-1891: The ultimate result of protecting fools from their folly is to fill the planet full of fools.
Miss Fern See
Needles, Calif. June 2nd, 1923
Dear Sister Ruth,
This is June 2nd and everything is over. Oh so much has happened, I don’t know where to start. I wish I could tell you about it instead of writing to you.
Sunday at 11 o’clock we had Baccalaureate Services at the theater. Mr. Smith, the Methodist minister, gave the address.
Mrs. Jack Claypool and Mr. Reiterman sang a duet and Mrs. Forsythe and Mary Hope and two other girls, who go to the Methodist church, sang a quartet.
Tuesday was our play. I told you about that in my last letter. Thursday night was the banquet. I was about three minutes late, and when I walked into the lobby, everyone gasped and stared. Oh, sister mine, talk about thrills! I wore the electric blue lace over gold satin, silver slippers and stockings, and the comb Emmet gave me.
Everyone said that my outfit was the prettiest one of the bunch, and I paid the least for it. If it hadn’t been for Aunt Ann and her cleverness, I never would have been able to have it for such a price.
Beryl Salsman was the toastmaster. I had to make a speech, the second one on the program. You know how they do in those clever after-dinner speeches—razz their friends good naturedly. They sure had it in for me that night. At the end of Glenn’s speech, he said, “They ought to give Emmet Murphy a note of thanks for letting Fern See stay in school as long as he has.”
In Mr. Thompson’s speech he said, “Not long ago in his Sociology class, he had asked me what an eclipse of the sun was, and that I had replied, ‘When Emmet forgets to kiss me.’”
And then Friday night—graduation! My gifts have been coming in all week and Emmet had a big armful to carry home for me, too. I love every one of them.
I got a looking glass from Aunt Frances, a tray from Grandpa. Aunt Emma sent me a large powder box. Grandma sent an ivory comb and brush.
A perfume bottle and ivory stand; white gloves and silk hose; a fancy shoe tree; gold lingerie clasps; silver lingerie clasps; a pair of large candle sticks; a corsage bouquet of white satin roses; a pink crepe dechine teddy; a white silk underskirt; two pair of pink silk jersey shirts; a pink silk shirt with a pink pin on the front with three little rose buds on it and lingerie clasps of the rose buds to match; a half dozen handkerchiefs; a pink bag with pockets in it to carry cream, soap and things when you are traveling.
Uncle Lewis gave me a check for $10.00 besides the dress that Aunt Ann made for me.
Now listen, Sweetie, and hold your breath!
A steamer trunk from Mr. and Mrs. See.
And one diamond ring from Emmet Murphy!
Talk about a thrill, honey. Emmet gave it to me on the way down to the Commencement Exercises. He didn’t want to give it to me until he had asked Papa, but I couldn’t wait.
Everyone thinks it a beautiful ring. The diamond is quite large. It’s a high filigree setting. The filigree work is of tiny forget-me-nots. Oh, I love it.
When we came home, Emmet called Papa out onto the porch. He didn’t know what to say at first,but he finally got it out. Then there was just silence. I suppose it was only a couple of seconds, but it seemed like two years. Then Papa said it was all right with him, if we promise to wait for two whole years. You see, it is only a year and five months until I am eighteen.
We promised to wait and he shook hands with Emmet and everything was all OK. Later Papa and Gertrude came out on the porch and winked at me and said very solemnly, “I gave my consent because they promised to wait four years.”
Emmet jumped up, “How many?” Papa got an awful kick out of it.
Sister, there is only one thing that spoils it all, though. Papa has made so many sarcastic remarks about the Catholics. He said that he supposed I’d want to join the Pope lovers now and that I’d probably be crossing myself the next time he saw me. Oh, well, I don’t suppose Papa means anything by it.
Emmet is sitting here now in Papa’s big chair in the den and he says that you owe him a letter. Emmet says he might come to North Carolina to see me this summer later on, if everything turns out all right.
Will quit now and let you rest.
Lots of love to you and Marty.
Five years later, now Mrs. Emmet James Murphy, at the lawful age of twenty-one, Fern cast her first vote granted to her under the new19th Amendment, and even though a Californian, it counted! Republican candidate Herbert Hoover took a landslide win with four hundred and forty-four electoral votes.
The United States presidential election of 1928 was the 36th quadrennial presidential election. It was held on Tuesday, November 6, 1928. Herbert Hoover was nominated as the Republican candidate, as incumbent President Calvin Coolidge chose not to run for a second full term. Democrat Al Smith was pitted against Hoover.
In the end, the Republicans were identified with the booming economy of the 1920s, whereas Smith, a Roman Catholic, suffered politically from Anti-Catholic prejudice, his anti-prohibitionist stance, and the legacy of corruption of Tammany Hall, with which he was associated. Hoover won a landslide victory bolstered even by wins in Democratic strongholds such as Texas, Florida and Virginia, leaving Georgia as the last state not won by a Republican candidate, which did not happen until 1964.
My grandmother Fern, whom I never met, died at the age of thirty within one year of the birth of her second son. Her first son, my father, was twelve at the time of her death. I wish I had known her.
Emmet did not keep his two-year promise.
Perhaps now we all can take a bit of Fern with us through our stressful politically correct day.
Written by Juliet Montague