In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]’s Education: Common School

Kerosene Lamp from Economy Point Homestead

In my last post about my grandmother Velma Moore’s education, I noted that I had e-mailed the archivist at the Colchester Historeum in Truro, Nova Scotia to ask whether the school registration records held  in their archives included Velma’s common school enrollments (Grades I-VIII). I was hoping to learn which school she had actually attended so that I could identify the Economy  information from the provincial inspector’s reports that would have been relevant to her education.

The archivist send me a gracious response the very next day. Unfortunately, the only school registration records held by the Historeum are for Upper Economy from 1934-1952.1 There was scant information about the Economy schools in general, just this:

It would appear from this excerpt that in all likelihood Velma attended common school in Central Economy. However, at this point, I don’t think any additional insight is to be gained by burrowing further down this particular rabbit hole, so I’ll close the common school chapter on Velma’s education with information from the provincial reports that I expect would have had some influence on her early education.

To begin with, I can only hope that the following strongly-worded passage from Colchester West school inspector Inglis Craig’s 1904 report to the Nova Scotia superintendent of schools about conditions in some of the poorer rural schools in unincorporated towns had no bearing on Velma’s early education:

In these times, it should be unnecessary for a school official to keep a watchful eye upon the sanitary condition of the great majority of school-houses, outbuildings and grounds. But there are still cases in which the filth is disgusting, especially in the outbuilding. Moral instruction within the school-room, under such conditions, is more than neutralized by the influence of the foul and mind-polluting surroundings.

Certificates of medical men are received every year by the score declaring that this or that school was closed on account of an epidemic of diphtheria or scarlet fever.2

Working backwards from the year of Velma’s high school graduation in 1915,3 she entered Grade I in 1902. The subjects she would have been taught in Grades I-VIII include the following (taking into account that the source of this information is from 1914):4

Common school pupils were required to pass a standard provincial “terminal exam” to be admitted to a dedicated high school, such as Colchester County Academy,5 which Velma subsequently attended. High school pupils were then required to pass standard provincial exams to advance to the next grade level.6 These provincial exams also played a role in teacher licensing:

  • Grade IX provincial exam:  Class D License
  • Grade X provincial exam:   Class C License
  • Grade XI provincial exam:  Class B License
  • Grade XII provincial exam: Class A Licenses7

For the 1903-1904 school year, when Velma would have been in Grade III, 32% of the teachers employed in Colchester West held a Class D license, 32% held of Class C license, 19% held a Class B license, and 17% held a Class A license.8

Small wonder, then, that unqualified teachers in the rural schools were a continual concern for inspector Craig:

This year [1904-1905], twenty such favors [provisional teaching licenses] have been asked for, and many were granted. If the experiments are not more fortunate than last year, it bodes ill for education in this part of the province. In the winnowing process of examination for teachers, many enter the profession who have not the qualifications, natural or acquired. What will befall the profession if licenses have to be issued promiscuously to mere boys and girls?9

Based on Velma’s subsequent secondary and university education, I suspect that she was able to overcome any disadvantages posed by attending common school in rural, unincorporated Economy by applying herself to her lessons, taking the encouragement of her parents Baxter and Martha to heart, and doing a lot of reading on her own. The Economy farmhouse did not have electricity until after my mother was born, so in the winter months Velma would have read by the light of a kerosene lamp. I have one of those lamps on my fireplace mantle.

Learning about the common schools in rural Nova Scotia when Velma attended leaves me feeling a special kinship to her that I never knew we had when she was alive. I too overcame the disadvantages of rural elementary schools with the encouragement of my parents and a lot of reading on my own.

1Nan Harvey, “Re: Archival Inquiry: Velma Jane Moore,” e-mail message to author, September 18, 2017.

2Nova Scotia, Annual report of the Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia, for the year ended July 31st, 1904, 1903-04 ed. (Halifax, Nova Scotia: McAlpine Publishing Co., 1904): 124.

3Journal of education: being the semi-annual supplement to the report of the superintendent of education for Nova Scotia, 3rd ser., VIII, no. 3 (April 1915): 93.

4A. H. MacKay, “Monograph on the Curricula of the Public Schools of Nova Scotia,” in Imperial Education Conference (Halifax, N.S.: Commissioner Public Works and Mines, King’s Printer, 1914), 9.

5MacKay, Monograph on Curricula, 1914, 18.

6George E. Foster, Minister of Trade and Commerce, K.C.M.G., M.P., comp., The Canada Yearbook: 1916/1917 (Ottawa, Ontario: J. de L. Tache, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, 1917), 125.

7Foster, Canada Yearbook, 1917, 125-126.

8Nova Scotia, Annual report, 1904, 4.

9Nova Scotia, Annual report of the Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia, for the year ended July 31st, 1905, 1904-05 ed. (Halifax, Nova Scotia: McAlpine Publishing Co., 1906): 116-117.

2 thoughts on “In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]’s Education: Common School

  1. Very nice! Although (probably) not based on chromosomes, I think some essence of personal traits such as Velma’s diligence and dedication to learning gets distilled down and passed to subsequent generations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I expect you’re right. I’ve seen other family historians remark on how genealogy uncovers these unexpected points of connection with ancestors we knew and ancestors long gone before we were born.


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