Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Some probable estimates about Lovecraft's 1898-1899 class


Mr Thomas B Stockwell Commissioner of Public Schools of Rhode Island … in his annual report for 1899 printed … Thirtieth Annual Report of the State Board of Education of Rhode Island (pp 67)

The census … of pupils { between ages of 5 and 16 years old} last year was 79,825 or 526 more than for the previous year. The greater part of this increase is reported to have attended the Catholic schools, the public schools having lost a small number and the army of non attendants having gained. Perhaps this increase in absentees may be more than offset by the fact that the number of those who had attended school less time than the minimum required by law has fallen off more than a fifth or the actual loss in the number of these short timers is nearly three times as large as the increase in the number of those not going to school at all. …

The regularity of attendance has deteriorated during 1899 … with the large number of non attendants is regarded as largely due to the prevalence of childhood sicknesses and to the increasing precautions taken to prevent their spread by contagion.

p. 199, 200 American Statistical Association, Publications of the American Statistical Association, Volume 7, 1900

Elsewhere, statistics show in yearbooks of the same number, 79,825 students in the system, with an average enrollment of 46,087. This is 58% attendance. If one takes the reported number of teachers – 1913 – and schools – 534 – one comes up with an average school attendance of 86 students per building. As most buidings other than high schools were small, each with a few rooms, Lovecraft's Slater Avenue could be estimated of perhaps 75 students in all grades at Slater Avenue. Each school had about 3 or 4 teachers, and primary and grammar school most likely three, as high schools would have more teachers. Thus, three listed teachers in the Providence year books for 1898-1899 is spot on the average - and maybe a few student teachers supplemented by the Normal training system.

Educators were livid at the level of truancies – most due to children being employed at factories, so new legislation was forced that factories could not hire a student-age child without a school authorized work permit. This would not have affected Lovecraft, but it would have created turmoil among immigrant enclaves that desperately needed the children's extra incomes.

All in all, Lovecraft would have been in a very quaint, small school house filled with about 80 children spanning 5 "grades". It would have been stuffy, and the desks somewhat stilted and antiquated. He would have had one-on-one contact by Principal Abbie Hoffman and her assistants in a way that would probably astonish us today. (By 1902, the school system would be enormously expanded.) After morning rituals, and a general class lecture, Lovecraft would probably have been shunted off in a corner to do self-regulated study so the teacher could work with those who needed extra help.

The teachers would have attenpted to keep things clean, but without a doubt numerous childhood diseases would have quickly swept through the kids - not much different than today's day cares.

For more on his school, see this record from the Providence City Records

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