Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Boys

This is a series of posts about Owatonna State School Museum (starting here), within a series of posts about our three week holiday in the US in June, which starts here.

I got the impression that there were more boys in the orphanage than girls, but perhaps this is because the only cottage remaining, number 11, was for boys or due to Harvey Ronglien being a prominent 'voice' for the State School children.

Typical boys' jobs were  scrubbing and polishing floors, mowing lawns, cleaning streets, helping garbage haulers, shoveling walks, working in the garden, dairy barns, bakery, hospital, laundry and nursery.  There was a policy that all school work was completed in the classroom, so as not to interfere with jobs. 

The railway ran past the orphanage just to the north and in the heydey of 'hobos', some of the boys hopped on the trains to try that lifestyle.  Others just threw apples to the hobos they sighted.  Given the rigid structure of their lives and the amount of work they did, it's no wonder that hobos were idolized by the boys.  (Who knew there was such delineation between the terms hobo, tramp and bum?)  Though the lure of the railway was strong, most of the boys who did run away returned after a couple of days, taking their punishment; for all it sounds a difficult place, they at least had food and a bed.

They will have worked hard.  There were about 270 acres of land given over to farming.   I was fascinated by the lists of produce, the amounts and the prices.  Of course the intention was that the school be entirely self sufficient and one doesn't feed, clothe and house 500 children and however many staff without work.  I love the idea of a quart of milk costing 3 cents.  I've yet to experience salsify; what is an oyster plant or a ground cherry?

I'm pretty sure that much of what was grown in the greenhouse was for sale though, asters and begonias not being not being foodstuffs.

I can't help but wonder about the balance sheet of this place.  If the children didn't pay their own way with their work, I'm sure they came close to it.

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I was 'struck' (ha) by the boxing gear. Around age 8 my Dad was into boxing; I have yellow satin shorts and a collection of photos to prove it. I think boxing was the 'in' sport of the day in the 20s and 30s.

There was, however, obviously time and energy left for fun - and mischief.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As I read this post, I found myself thinking of the writer Richard Rhodes. He has won National awards for his writing and grew up in an orphanage in the KC area. He documented this in a book called "A Hole in the World". I don't know the age of your father, but Rhodes is 10-15 years older than we are at least. This might give you another inside look at life in orphanges of the era.