(A story about St. Louis Park schools in the early 1900s)

By Dorothy Hatch Langlie


It was 1904 when Erwin Hatch became Superintendent of Schools in St. Louis Park. His daughter, Dorothy, was a small child when the family moved to the Park. In 1963 Dorothy Hatch Langlie recalled her formative years and her school experiences. The following material is excerpted and adapted from her work.
Not long ago, through a combination of circumstances, I discovered that I had been given a precious gift, Time. Time to think, to recall, to research, and finally to write the story of children growing up in simple surroundings at a time when life moved at a slower pace. The early years encompassed only a small part of our lives, less than a third, and the years which followed were far more interesting, more productive, more rewarding. But would they have been so without the foundation upon which they were built?

Lincoln School:
Among my earliest recollections is when my father took me, a small child, to look at the brick Lincoln School across from the Congregational Church. We walked carefully on the board walk and came to the school yard where Mr. Lufkin, the janitor, was raising the flag on the pole near the door. How does one recapture the peculiar odor of an old-time school house – even one as meticulously clean as Mr. Lufkin kept this one? The sharp, penetrating smell of cleaning compound and floor wax, chalk dust and musty books, food from stale lunches in brown paper bags and disinfectant from ancient plumbing mingled with the lingering scent of generations of children. I thought it was the most wonderful building I had ever seen – surely the largest. The classrooms were big and airy. Geraniums bloomed in boxes on the deep windowsills, and there were pictures in every room. Two broad flights of stairs led to the second floor. Holding tightly to papa’s hand, I reached the landing half-way up and stiffened with fright on encountering a huge and overpowering bust of Lincoln.

I could tell that Papa was pleased with everything and proud, too. This was his first assignment after several small country and village posts. There were other schools in outlying districts, but Lincoln was the town’s educational center. The system was to be his responsibility for the next sixteen years.

A New Home:
We moved into a brand new house on Minnetonka Boulevard. It was located two miles from Lincoln school, and papa drove a buggy drawn by our gray horse, Lady, for several years. Later Lady was replaced by a Model T Ford.

Our house was a plain, square, clapboard structure with a porch extending across the front. It was a house designed not for its architectural beauty, but to provide the most possible living space within four walls. There were no electric lights at first and because my hand was small it was one of my chores to wash and polish the glass chimneys for the kerosene lamps. The only plumbing consisted of a hand pump near the kitchen sink. The dug out cellar was a place, not for a furnace, but for storage of winter vegetables. I always knew it was almost time for Papa to come home when Mama handed me a lighted candle and sent me down into its scary darkness for a panful of potatoes for supper. This was a task that I accomplished with the utmost speed.

Our lot was not wide, but very deep with a small barn and adjoining chicken house as well as the out house – so cold on wintry nights! For a time, we kept a cow pastured in the back meadow, and it became one of my chores to deliver tin pails of milk to the neighbors. Papa had grown up on a farm and never felt quite at home without chickens and farm animals around. Ours was one of the first homes built in that section of town and I had no girl playmates. It seemed that each incoming family produced only boys. I probably tagged after my brother, Lloyd, and made a nuisance of myself. When Lloyd turned six and trudged off to school, I was desperately lonely and lost. Mama fixed up a corner of the kitchen for my “desk” and it was there that I learned to read and write while Mama washed the dishes or did her baking. Papa’s studies for the teaching profession came when he enrolled at Mankato State Normal School. It was there that he met Mama. [Anna Belle West, born August 2, 1899 in Aurora, South Dakota. They were married in 1898. Lloyd was born in 1901, and I eighteen months later. Papa’s great talent for working with young people undoubtedly motivated his choice of a life’s work. He gave each student a full measure of encouragement and opportunity. Every summer he added to his small salary by taking the school census. It gave him a chance to talk to the parents about their children. I went along to drive Lady from house to house, fortified with a stack of books to occupy the hours. It took a long time to cover all of the streets in town for he visited at great length. He was as congenial with the poor, uneducated people, eager for a better life for their children, as with the more worldly citizens – of which there were few in our town.

Mama was “the power behind the throne,” though her efforts were not for herself but ever bent toward increasing Papa’s stature in his work. She helped him with library research, reading and criticizing his thesis for a master’s degree at the University and editing his reports and speeches. With her intelligence and organizational ability she could have been a modern career woman. She chose to use her abilities behind the scenes, deriving pleasure from Papa’s accomplishments and, later, ours. Mama had been a first grade teacher so she shared and understood Papa’s education-oriented life. He always said that she was the best teacher that he had ever seen in a classroom. Many a time Mama was hastily summoned to substitute for a missing teacher.

Manhattan Park School:
Papa was very proud of the school in the Fern Hill area, the first of several to be built during his tenure. It was a modem school for those days, a large, square, red brick building; still, there was only one classroom with adjoining cloakroom, a small supply room and a hall. Children of today would be aghast at the huge black stove which heated the classroom. Behind the building, discretely concealed by overhanging trees, were two wooden toilets, separated by a high board fence.

When I started school, I already knew the teacher, Miss Bertha Bates. On several occasions I had visited the school with Lloyd. In those days, one didn’t hire babysitters. Small brothers and sisters were not infrequent visitors in rural schools. Five grades in one room – with a single teacher! It was no wonder that learning was easy for me. The first grade books that I had already read, the words that I could write and spell, and the sums that I had done at my kitchen desk enabled me to finish my lessons quickly. As soon as our assignments were completed, we were allowed to choose a book from the “library” to read. With my eyes on my book and my ears absorbing the lessons in progress for the upper grades, the ensuing five years held no real work for me. Lloyd, too, was a good scholar. How proud I was the day that he won the spelling bee in which all town schools participated.

Church was an important part of our lives. On Sundays, there was no question about going to services unless we were ill. After all, Papa sang in the choir and both he and Mama taught Sunday school. We rode to church in the buggy with Lady plodding along through the snow or over dusty roads. It seems we were brought up on church suppers – that sturdy institution which provided a backbone of fellowship and was suited to the budget of most.

Papa’s Pride – A New High School:
Papa was in the vanguard of educators who introduced the Junior-Senior high school plan, and his Master’s Degree work at the University was on this subject. Soon after I became a sixth grade student at Lincoln School, the new High School building was completed and Lloyd and Papa were both involved with that fine new educational center. I remember Papa talking about one of the new teachers, Cora Krueger. She was a tall, spare figure with a severe face and drab clothes. She was to become a gem of a teacher and a loyal friend to Papa. One thing is sure, no one left her class without knowing all there was to learn in her courses of study, and no one ever failed to receive inspiration, encouragement and appreciation when it was deserved. With her rusty serge dresses and her hair severely combed back into a knot, she ruled with the iron hand of a German general. We appreciated and loved her after we left the eighth grade when our growing maturity gave us a different perspective on the very real qualities of her mind and her heart. She was only one of the many fine teachers who guided us through the years.

I was eleven in the summer of 1914, and things soon changed rapidly for the family. Mother was pregnant, and Dad was busier than ever with the expanding school system. It seemed wise to move closer to Dad’s base of operations, the new High School. Dad had found a new house to rent, directly behind the high school, a most convenient location. We felt we were rich indeed! The house fitted us perfectly, even though we still didn’t have a bathroom. However, we couldn’t have everything, and after all, how many people in that town did have one?

The new school was a model of the latest ideas in school planning offering every facility for work and play. The classrooms were large with huge windows designed to take advantage of sun and air. The seventh and eighth grades had their own homerooms, but for the high school there was a spacious assembly hall with classrooms opening off of it. There was a sunny library for reference work, sewing and cooking rooms, a horticulture room with a greenhouse, manual training workshops. Chemistry laboratory and a big auditorium for programs, plays, gym classes and basketball games. On the grounds were tennis courts at the rear. How wide our world had become!

I was fourteen and Lloyd sixteen when the United States entered World War I in 1917. Immediately we were inspired with patriotic fervor to do our part. Some of the local boys, older than we, went off to war with great fanfare, and a few did not return. A Red Cross unit was established at school and the girls and women spent long hours making bandages and sewing. There was a controversy at school as to whether girls should be allowed to knit in class. Dad finally settled the matter by giving permission as long as grades were kept up to standard.
As Lloyd’s 1918 class prepared for graduation, it appeared that the war was turning in favor of the Allies. Much to the relief of my parents, it appeared that the war would end soon and Lloyd could go on to college rather than enter the service. I remember well the Armistice Day celebration in downtown Minneapolis when the armistice was signed in November, 1918. I was to complete my last two years of high school with a good academic record and many pleasant memories. After my graduation in 1920, both Lloyd and I attended the University of Minnesota. It was in 1920 that Dad decided to try a different line of work. The Hatch years in St. Louis Park became the foundation for many interesting chapters of our family history.

My parents left St. Louis Park for the State Teacher’s College in Dickinson, North Dakota and had 20 satisfying years there. It was in 1947 when Dad retired and he and Mother decided to return to their St. Louis Park home. On the eve of their departure, Mother passed away suddenly. [November 1947, coronary thrombosis]. It was a sad homecoming for Father. He kept busy with worthwhile educational activities as long as he could. He died at age 82 [January 3, 1955].

My brother, Lloyd, joined 3M Company in his early years out of college and had a very rewarding career with that fine organization. I was a teacher and married an educator. My husband and I live in Norwalk, Connecticut and have enjoyed the many advantages of life on a college campus. [Also brother Robert W. Hatch]
From Erwin Hatch’s obituary in the Dispatch:
Erwin Stearns Hatch was born in Rochester, Minn. He was chief of occupational centers for the Veterans Administration after leaving the St. Louis Park school system in 1920. In 1947 he retired from the office of dean of men at the Dickinson, North Dakota, State Teachers College. He was a member of the Union Congregational Church, and was affiliated with the Odd Fellows, Minneapolis Old Timers Club and the Professional Men’s Club.