Posts Tagged 'education'

Haven School

Chicago’s Haven Elementary School was located at 1472 South Wabash Avenue.  I often drove by the school in the early 1970s, when few people lived in the South Loop, and wondered how a neighborhood school could continue operating in that particular neighborhood.  It couldn’t—I took the picture in 1973, and Haven closed in 1974.

Haven School was named for early school board president Luther Haven.  The first school was built on the site in 1862.  Within twenty years it proved to be too small, and was replaced in 1885 by a new Haven, the building in the photo.  Today Coliseum Park occupies the property at the southwest corner of Wabash Avenue and 14th Place.



Dr. Frank the Body-Snatcher

Frank Billings (1854-1932) was one of the giants of American medicine.  After receiving his M.D. from Northwestern in 1881 he studied in Europe, before returning to set up a practice in Chicago.  He was the longtime dean of Rush Medical College during its affiliation with the University of Chicago. (Contrary to common belief, the university’s Billings Hospital is named for A.M. Billings, no relation.)  Frank Billings also served a term as president of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Frank Billings

Billings knew all of Chicago’s prominent families.  Once of his acquaintances was young Ernest Poole, later a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.   Poole delighted in re-telling a story of Dr. Frank’s medical school days.

The laws of the time made it difficult to get cadavers for classroom instruction.  Medical students sometimes solved the problem by digging up fresh corpses from the county Potter’s Field.  One night Billings and two Northwestern classmates set out in a wagon to retrieve the mortal remains of a murderer who’d recently been hanged.  On the way they came upon a brightly-lit tavern.

Parked outside the tavern was a wagon belonging to Rush Medical College.  A figure wrapped in blankets was propped up in the driver’s seat.  The Rush students had gotten to the prize first.  Now they were inside the tavern celebrating.

Billings and his two friends transferred the body to their own wagon.  Just then the tavern door opened.  Telling his colleagues to get away, Billings quickly wrapped himself in the blankets.  He climbed into the Rush wagon and assumed the dead man’s place.

One by one, the Rush students staggered out of the tavern.  The first man got into the wagon and checked the corpse.  “Hey fellas,” he shouted, “this stiff don’t feel as cold as he ought to be!”

“And neither would you be, if you were burning in hell like I am!” Billings announced in a spooky voice.

The terrified Rush student tumbled out of the wagon.  With that, Billings grabbed the reins and drove off in the Rush wagon, laughing all the way.

No, medical school ain’t what it used to be.


Irritable Teachers (3-22-1933)

Chicago’s public school teachers had not been regularly paid in two years.  Today they decided to do something about it.

The Chicago school system had been a financial mess since the late 1920s.  The Depression hit, and the Board of Education ran out of money.  In 1931 the Board started paying teachers in scrip—which was basically an IOU.

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When the teachers tried to pay their own bills, many businesses refused to accept the scrip.  Other places were glad to take the Board’s paper, but only at a discount.  The teachers’ union got a court injunction to halt the scrip.  The Board responded with the occasional payless payday.

So today over 200 teachers descended on the regular Board meeting at the Builders Building on La Salle Street.  The teachers carried signs with slogans like “Irritable Teachers Are Not Fair To Children.”  A bill was pending in Springfield that would allow teachers to strike if their pay was more than six months in arrears.  The Board was discussing that bill.

One Board member spoke out against it.  He painted a doomsday picture.  If the bill became law, the schools would have to shut down.  Then the public would question the whole value of a formal education.  There would be demands to end schooling at the 8th grade.


The teachers in the audience thought this was pure bullsh—er, balderdash.  They hooted and booed.  The presiding officer was not pleased.  “If you have no more control over your pupils than you have over yourselves, I question whether you are worthy of your calling,” he snapped.

The teachers next marched to City Hall, where the City Council was in session.  They filled the gallery and started chanting “We want our pay!”  Acting Mayor Corr gaveled for order.  He decided to let three teachers address the Council.

One by one, the teachers stated their case.  The Council listened.  The aldermen agreed to move forward with a plan to raise cash by selling tax anticipation warrants.  That ended the day’s protest.

But that was not the end of the trouble.  There were more missed paydays and more demonstrations.  The Board of Education’s financial problems were finally resolved in 1934 by a $22 million loan from the federal government.


A Lab for Language (3-3-1954)

Students at Rosary College in River Forest were finding a better way to learn a foreign language today.  They were being introduced to the school’s new language laboratory.

Nobody is sure when or where the first language lab opened.  As early as 1947, the University of Toronto was using recordings to help students in French class.  The concept was still new in 1954.

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Rosary’s lab was the special project of its president, Sister Mary Timothea.  Her European travels convinced her that more Americans needed to learn a second language.  Part of the problem was the way foreign languages were taught.

College language courses had always stressed grammar and reading.  That wasn’t good enough.  American students should learn how to actually speak the language they were studying.  It was important to hear native speakers—German people speaking German, Spanish people speaking Spanish, and so on.

One way to do this was to study abroad.  Rosary had a program where juniors could spend a year in Switzerland.  But the $2,700 price tag was too expensive for many young women.

The Rosary Language Lab was an alternative.  Each student in the lab had her own set of earphones to access any of five languages.  She could listen to recordings in the language or monitor short-wave radio broadcasts.  Some lessons were linked to the textbook.  That way, the student could hear the words spoken as she read her assignment.

All the lessons were recorded by native speakers, or by faculty who had been trained abroad.  Students were also able to record their own speaking.  Then they could help each other work on their accents.

The lab was getting much local attention.  Already 65 children from five area grade schools were using the facility for after-school lessons.  Rosary was also starting a six-week advanced summer workshop in French and Spanish.  This was for high school language teachers who wanted to brush up on their skills.

Today, advanced technology has transformed the scope of language labs.  But the central idea—that students must actually hear native speakers—remains as important as it was in 1954.

Rosary College has also changed with the times.  Still located in River Forest, it now has both female and male students, and is known as Dominican University.