Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Esther Doster

ON A SNOWY SATURDAY in January, I talked with Esther Doster, 96, and her son, Howard, a Purdue University professor. They recounted a rich family history.

Esther was born and raised on the family farm on Brimstone Road near Harveysburg. Her parents, Daniel and Wilhelmina Underwood, were known throughout the area for their acres of fine apples. The farm land is on the north side of Ohio 73 and surrounds Jonah's Run Church. The boundary separating Warren and Clinton counties runs through the farm. "Most of Mom's life and her parents' life has been spent on the Clinton/Warren County line," Howard said.

Education has played a major part in the family history. About 1900, Wilhelmina Hahn was hired to teach at a one-room school east of Jonah's Run Church. She met Daniel Underwood at church and they soon married. Esther was the oldest of their four daughters.

As a child, Esther attended Haines School, a one-room school located about one-half mile north of her home. She attended Haines from the first grade through the sixth grade. The schools were then centralized and Esther attended Kingman School in Clinton County from the seventh grade through her senior year. She was transported to school each day in a horse-drawn school wagon.

During high school, she played basketball and was on the debate team. She graduated from Kingman as valedictorian in 1921.

"I won a scholarship of $25 to Wilmington College and thought I'd go to college for a long time," Esther said. "I planned to take science courses. Papa talked to the president of Wilmington College. I saw Papa's hand shake and I realized he didn't have as much money as I thought. I decided to make the best of it and not take the higher-cost science courses. I went one year to Normal School (teacher training at Wilmington)."

After Normal School, Esther taught for one year at White Chapel, a one-room school north of Wilmington near Xenia.

"I walked to school every day. Well, actually, I ran," she said. "There were three country schools within hearing distance of the bell and it was a matter of pride that your bell wasn't the last one to ring."

She lived with a family in the "nice community."

"I think I was paid $90 a month," she said.

She hired a boy to make the fire in the classroom stove, sweep the floor, and wash the chalkboard. He was paid $3 a month.

"When they trained us to teach in the country, they said you don't want to use anything to hit the students that will leave marks. Some teachers had used boards. We were told to use a rubber hose," Esther said.

"I think they meant like a garden hose size but I got one about the size of your little finger. I only used it once.

"I had a sore foot with a corn on it. I'd hung the hose up on the wall. We were getting ready to go on a field trip. I always felt the children should be marched out in some order - not fly out like geese. One student sitting close to the hose got out of line and stepped on my sore toe. I grabbed that hose and gave him a lick. We were all shocked."

As a student in a one-room school, Esther said she had a wonderful teacher, Inez Ridgeway Wilson, who taught her health practices that she used when she taught at White Chapel. One was to have the students make their own paper cups to drink water from the bucket. It was common practice at that time for everyone to drink out of the same tin cup from the well or the same dipper from the bucket.

She also had the children brush their teeth each day. Once a man from the county office came to observe her teaching.

"He told me that he could see I understood the problems," Esther said.

She also adopted from Wilson the practice of hanging the temperance motto, "Not too much of anything and some things none at all," on her classroom wall.

She had 25 or 30 students. "I had all eight grades," she said. "Some came that were 4 years old. The oldest was 16. It was a busy time."

After teaching a year at White Chapel, Esther returned to Wilmington College. While at Wilmington she played basketball, helped found a sorority and a dramatics honorary. She graduated with honors in 1926.

Next followed three years of teaching high school English at Highland. She also coached the basketball team and the class plays. In 1929 Esther received a high school life certificate for teaching English, history and home economics.

Although she had dated William Doster off and on since 1922, she postponed marriage because at the time most school boards didn't hire married women. Teaching jobs were scarce and boards chose to hire men or single women.

In 1930 Esther quit her teaching job and married William. They set up housekeeping in the house on Brimstone Road. They had four children: three boys and one girl.

William was elected to the Harveysburg school board and served for "perhaps 26 years," Howard said. He was president of the school board for many of those years.

When her children were in grade school, Esther and a friend, Helen Wall, taught monthly temperance classes in fifth through eighth grades. Her son, Howard, remembers learning the same temperance motto that used to hang on her classroom wall at White Chapel.

In 1960 Esther returned to teaching. She taught high school English at Harveysburg and then at Clinton-Massie when Harveysburg, Kingman, Adams Township and Clarksville schools consolidated.

Esther has retired from teaching and now lives in Wilmington. She has often returned to her birthplace on Brimstone Road where she has been heard to say, "This is the one place in the world where everything is in its right place."

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