By Bill Schuette
Attending a Baraboo school in the mid-1800s was quite different than it is today. The rules were different, and the teacher had absolute authority over the students, which included corporal punishment for infractions of the school rules.
Charles Wing recounted those tempestuous days in a speech to the Sauk County Historical Society in 1908.
As a boy, he attended a three-room school on First Street. After having completed one grade, he ascended to the next department upstairs where he had the unpleasant encounter with a teacher named William Joy. Wing recalled that “He was not much of a ‘joy’ to us boys, he should have been named ‘Sorrow’ instead. He had a crossed eye and we could not tell when he was looking at us.”
Mr. Joy had sequestered, in his desk, a riding whip, which he was want to use liberally on misbehaving young boys. One day, the boys broke open the desk and burned the whip. Not to be dissuaded, Joy procured a rawhide whip that he kept in his coat tail pocket. Mr. Wing recalled that the whip had an eight-inch handle, “was braided and would cut well.” Joy had the whip curled up and would throw it at an offending boy. Unfortunately, because of his crossed eye, the boys would not be able to tell when it was coming.
One day while out sledding during recess, several boys missed hearing the bell and consequently were late in returning to class. Joy was not happy. Mr. Wing continues, “Mr. Joy called them up and whipped them on the hands with that rawhide; but [a boy named] Hat he could not make cry which seemed to make Joy madder than ever. When the rawhide came down Hat would turn his hand so the whip would fly back and cut Joy’s fingers. It cut them so he wound paper around his fingers. Mr. Joy flogged his pupils without any mercy.” Wing noted that there were other teachers who did not flog their students and kept just a good a school.
Another of his teachers had sawdust scattered on the floor to deaden the noise. While the teacher was at dinner one noon, the students cleaned out all the sawdust, not knowing what would happen when the teacher returned. Unexpectedly, he sent to town for a basket of apples, and called for the ringleader to step forth. “Bell Case was pointed out to him and he had her come and sit beside him on the platform, peeled an apple, handed it to her and had a boy pass the rest around among the pupils,” noted Wing. I guess the teacher was just as happy that the sawdust had been removed, as were his students.
Another incident that Wing recalled was of an old chair which had fallen to pieces and was awaiting repair. The kids were told to leave it alone but acquiescing to the mischievous bent of youth, they would loosely put it back together to see what would happen. “One afternoon when all were quiet and sleepy, a knock was heard at the door, and the teacher very smilingly asked in his company,” wrote Wing. As the teacher escorted his company to the front of the room, he offered the chair to his visitor. Of course, the inevitable happened: “It tumbled to pieces, and [the teacher] was angry.” No one owned up to the prank, so no one was ever punished.
During another of Mr. Wing’s classroom escapades, he noted that the boys and girls would like to “party” during recess and at noontime. They would play drop the handkerchief, “and did not leave out the kissing part,” he said. “The parents of some of the girls objected to this last and the teachers ordered us to stop it. We got consent to play games if we would leave out the kissing and we agreed to this, but the temptation was too great for some of the boys and they broke their word often.”
So, the good old golden rule days were filled with pleasant and some unpleasant moments, all of which helped educate the youth of our early pioneers.