Frontier School Teacher
May 09, 2013 | 2499 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Bertie Mae Layman left home at age sixteen to attend the teacher's college in Bowling Green, Western Kentucky State Normal School. She, sister Gay, and cousin Clyde Layman - a girl in spite of her name - all went off to live near the two year college and learn to become grammar school teachers. The three stayed in a boarding house while attending the Normal School.

Bertie grew up with a slight speech impediment, one she would learn to correct while attending college in Bowling Green from age sixteen to eighteen, from 1908 to 1910. She had trouble with words such as her own last name. She would say "Wayman," instead of "Layman." Her dad always said "she's got a thick tongue." A professor at the school recognized the problem as one of technique, not structure. He dismissed Bertie's father's assessment. The professor taught Bertie how to practice placing her tongue in the proper place to enunciate the sounds she had trouble forming. With solid instruction and much work, sixteen year old Bertie learned how to correctly say her own last name for the first time in her life.

In those days, schools were one room and one teacher taught all children from ages six to sixteen. Grammar school ended by age sixteen. Most teachers were single women. Sometimes the teacher would live in a cabin called the teacherage, provided by the community. A teacherage was a combination cabin and classroom. Other times, a teacher would rent from a boarding house typically run by a family or an older woman, perhaps a widow, in the community.

Bertie graduated from the Western Kentucky State Normal School in 1910, just shy of eighteen years old, and took her first job teaching in a nearby community. She taught her first day of class on her eighteenth birthday, July 31, 1910.

For the next four years, Bertie Mae taught grammar school in the area. By age twenty one, she had been teaching three years. She had also become engaged to a man. His jealousy and other issues would give her pause, however, and his anger greatly worried her. She came to fear him and his reaction if she might break off the relationship. She asked him point blank what he would do if she broke off their engagement. "I'd probably kill you," came his shocking reply.

Faced with a fiancé she did not love and did not want to marry - and his violent threat - Bertie decided to leave the home and area she had known all her life. She made a plan in early 1910 to relocate to Montana, where her aunt Lydia Layman Dover lived with husband Albert "Bert" Dover. They were cattle ranchers with a big spread they called Doverdale.

And so it was that Bertie came to be boarding a train headed sixteen hundred miles to the northwestern state of Montana at the tender age of twenty one. A young woman traveling alone to such a place at such a distance was very uncommon. Her mother, a lifelong Baptist, warned Bertie before she left about two concerns - one regarding harsh winter weather, one regarding religion. As a Baptist, her mother did not take kindly to a similar but more conservative branch of Christianity - the Church of Christ. Many called that church and its members "Campbellites," after Alexander Campbell, considered an early leader to the group. "Don't get lost in a blizzard and don't marry a Campbellite," Bertie's mother warned. Alas, Bertie would travel to Montana and do both.

(Next week, Part III in the life of my maternal grandmother, Bertie Mae Layman. See my archives for Part I)

© 2013, Jim “Pappy” Moore,

All Rights Reserved.
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