Friday, August 28, 2009
Then and Now: postcards provide a glimpse of the past
Back in 1906, Carlisle was a pretty quiet little place, but even then, visitors were appreciative of its pastoral atmosphere, and sent word to friends and relatives that they were enjoying a stay here. How do we know this? They sent postcards.
Residents and antique and flea market aficionados Steve and Terry Golson have started a collection of Carlisle post cards dating from the early 20th century. Terry says she has found them on eBay, as well, and has paid anywhere between $3 and $14 for a card depicting a Carlisle venue. The half-dozen cards in the Golsons’ collection were sent to various locations around Massachusetts between 1906 and 1910. There are pictures of the First Religious Society, the Civil War memorial statue in the rotary, Gleason Library and the Highland School. Small messages, usually promising lengthier letters later, were often squeezed sideways onto the card ends, and signatures were frequently just initials: A.A.W., for example, sent cards to Miss E.M. Wright and Mrs. George Wright. One can suppose that these people were related and may have been part of the Wright family, whose ancestors resided here as far back as the mid-18th century.
Steve Golson is interested in the stories the pictures tell, and has tried to reproduce the photographs on his postcards from the same angle to demonstrate the substantial changes that have happened in town over time. Most notably, there has been an increase in vegetation and, of course, the addition of power lines. “Lady Liberty,” the rotary’s Civil War memorial statue, appears more prominent in the Town Center without her surrounding Garden Club plantings. The large old tree on the west side of the Gleason Library is a relatively new addition, as it does not appear in the postcard photographs of the building circa 1907, nor do the woods behind today’s library. Without its addition at the rear or its shrubbery, the First Religious Society seems somehow taller and more imposing. The buildings’ architecture stands out against their plain settings and their details and embellishments are more immediately obvious. The visual comparison tells a story not only about architecture and style, but also about the look and feel of the Carlisle of 100 years ago. The buildings and statue appear sturdy, erected as they were by Yankee New Englanders, but also display a graceful, classical sensibility, and an attention to styles that were modern, even state-of-the-art, in their day.
Perhaps the most interesting card in the Golson collection is one depicting the Highland School. It is, first of all, the only one that we know originated in Carlisle. It was printed right here in town on 104 River Road by Edmund French, who operated his own Wayside Press business out of his home at that address. The sender, Mayola Furber, drew a cross on one of the first floor windows on the right side of the building and labeled it “my classroom.” Sent to one Alma Gould in Westford, the card indicates that Miss Furber was a teacher at the Highland School in 1910.
Mayola Furber was born in Maine in 1877 and raised in Londonderry, New Hampshire. She would have been 33 years old when she wrote the card. It appears that Miss Furber was a lifelong educator. Carlisle town records describe her and the other new hires of 1910 as “experienced teachers,” and certainly she was. In 1901, she was teaching in Amherst, New Hampshire, at an annual salary of $247.50. When she came to Carlisle, she seems to have received a promotion and was in charge of the Intermediate School at Highland, serving under Benjamin E. Martin, Superintendent of Chelmsford, Dunstable and Carlisle Schools. She was responsible a third of the 105 students enrolled in the school that year. Miss Furber did not receive a competitive pay raise along with her promotion, and actually made a little less in Carlisle than she did in Amherst. The New Hampshire State Public Instruction Report of 1916 indicates that in that year, she was granted state teachers’ certification for pre-secondary education in New Hampshire and was employed there in Manchester.
According to Martin’s report for the year Mayola Furber was hired here, a Carlisle education had a generally average quality, but was “a year or perhaps more behind in Geography and Arithmetic.” Among a variety of causes for the below average performance, Martin emphasized that Carlisle suffered from poor quality textbooks, especially in Geography. Martin cited another important issue as attendance, insisting that it must be improved by educating parents about the dire consequences of their children’s missing out on their educations. Town Truant Officer Arthur Lapham was paid $1 per month, or thereabouts, for his services. Students also tended to miss school because of illness. Diseases like tuberculosis and parasites like tapeworms were far more common in the community of 1910 than they are today.
The vintage postcard written by Mayola Furber to Alma Gould with the little cross to mark a classroom at the Highland School sheds light on educational history in Carlisle and other New England towns. Other cards tell stories about people’s travels or interests, and about whether Carlisle was home or a pleasant place to sojourn.
If, like the Golsons, you are interested in the stories that vintage postcards can tell, the Carlisle Historical Society has in its archives about 1,000 of them. They have been sent here from near and far or simply collected by Carlisle residents. Spanning the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th, there are depictions of local and distant scenes. There is historical commentary from the senders and collectors about the pictures on the cards, as well as quick messages that demonstrate the handwriting and language of written communication that place the cards directly in their time periods: wartime, peacetime, times of interesting or momentous local or wider-world events. Catalogued by Nancy Fohl, the cards are in the historic records room of the Society’s headquarters in the Heald House on Lowell Street.
The antiques trade classifies post cards as “ephemera,” but it is often through such small and seemingly trivial items that we can learn a great deal about the daily lives of people who went before us. In these collections, we can also see what our town looked like a century ago to the people who came here, worked here and lived here, and open a little window on history. ∆
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito