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   Chapter 18 No.18

Two Years in Oregon By Wallis Nash Characters: 15254

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Life in the town-?Sociables-?Religious sects-?Sabbath-schools-? Christmas, festivities-?Education, how far compulsory-?Colleges-? Student-life and education-?Common schools-?Teachers' institutes -?Newspapers-?Patent outsides-?"The Oregonian"-?Other journals-? Charities-?Paupers-?Secret societies.

Life in these country towns possesses some features strange to a new-comer. Every family, almost without exception, is allied with some church organization. The association of such families in religious matters gives the connecting bond they need. Not contented with worshiping together on Sundays, they often meet in church sociables and in school entertainments and concerts, for which purposes the church-building is very commonly used.

To get up a "sociable" is a pleasant task for the matrons of the church. Having settled on the day, they meet and agree for how many it is likely they must provide. Then each lady undertakes her share, finding so much tea, coffee, and sugar, and so many sandwiches and cakes. It is a delicate compliment for outsiders also to contribute a cake to the common fund. Then, the evening having come, the company begin to meet, generally about seven o'clock, and are received by the ladies of the congregation. Every one is made welcome. The object of the "sociable," so far as money-getting is concerned, is met either by a small charge for refreshments as supplied, or by a charge for admission, making the visitor free of the room.

When the tea or supper is finished, there is a fine flow of talk, as all tongues are loosened. Then follows music, either as solos by such as venture to make so public an appearance, or in duets, glees, or choruses provided by the church choir. Interspersed with the music are recitations, readings, or short lectures. The recitations are as commonly given by young ladies as by the other sex; and the most awful and tragic pieces are decidedly the favorites. A good deal of gesture and action is approved.

Generally, a few words from the minister of the church close the entertainment, and the audience separate about ten o'clock, all the better for the "sociable."

The comparatively trifling differences which serve to keep one sect separate from another, result in a number of small congregations and weak "interests"-and also, I think, react injuriously on the education and condition of the various ministers. And I do not see any progress toward obliterating differences and combining scattered forces against the common foes of indifference, irreligion, and vice; rather, I notice in the meetings or conventions attended by representatives or delegates from the various congregations of a special sect, and held annually in some central place, a disposition to insist on differences, and enforce the teaching of each special set of distinctive doctrines on the young.

Outside of the Episcopal Church, which, of course, possesses and uses its own liturgy, the services of the other Christian sects are almost exactly similar; I except also the Roman Catholics, who are present in the State of Oregon in considerable numbers, and whose organization of archbishop, bishops, priests, and sisters is as perfect as usual. But I have reference to Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists, North and South, Baptists, Evangelicals-the order of their services is about the same, and unless by chance you were present on some occasion for enforcing the special doctrines of the sect, you could not determine to which belonged the particular church in which you might be worshiping.

The institution of the Sabbath-school is not similar to that pursued in England, at any rate. The church is opened at a special hour for Sabbath-school, and the children attend in numbers; the minister of the church holds a service for the special benefit of the young, but adults are also present. There is not the division into classes, and the enlisting of the efforts of teachers for those classes, which we have seen elsewhere.

CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES.Christmas is chiefly marked by the Christmas-trees which are so commonly provided; the religious significance of the day is hardly enforced at all. But the great Christmas-trees arranged by a congregation, lighted up in the church or school-room, and hung with presents contributed by each family for its own individual members, and only brought to the common tree that the joy of donor and receiver might be alike shared in by friends, are a pretty and a happy sight.

And this is by no means confined to the towns. The various precincts of the county have each their headquarters at the common school-house, and in many of these Christmas-trees are provided; and, if the gifts are less in money cost than those hung round the city Christmas-trees, they are none the less worth if got by so many hours of country work, and brought over many a weary mile of muddy road, and treasured in the old trunk among the Sunday garments till the happy day came round, and the Christmas frost hung the fir-trees with their sparkling load, and glazed the old black logs and gray snake-fences with their glittering covering of ice.

A common notion prevails that education here is compulsory. It is compulsory in the sense that facilities by way of school-houses and trained teachers, and superintendence by committees and clerks, are provided by the State, and paid for by the counties from the county tax. It is not compulsory in the sense that so many hours of school attendance can be enforced against parents or children by the public authority. Much is done; a strong and general interest is shown; expense is not spared, even where expenditure is severely felt; but still many children both in town and country escape the educational net. There is a State Superintendent of Education; there are county superintendents; there are many schools and teachers; and there are universities and colleges, with good staffs of professors, and a very high and wide course of studies in all. But very much remains to be done.

There is far too much effort at variety rather than thoroughness in study. However hard both professors and students may labor, it can not be possible in a four-years' course to fill a lad, who has previously had but a common-school education, with a satisfactory knowledge of Latin, high mathematics, Euclid, history, English grammar and composition, chemistry, organic and inorganic, geography, geology, mechanics, electricity, polarization of light, and various other studies usually required for the master of arts honors examination in a British university. But this is attempted here.

And, moreover, this extensive course is carried on in the State Agricultural College as well as in the universities of the State. It can hardly be said that the name of "agricultural" is earned, since there is nothing in the studies here engaged in to distinguish this from any other high-class college in the State.

TEACHERS' INSTITUTES.The course followed in the common school is open to much the same criticism-too much of the ornamental, too little of the thorough and solid, being instilled. This is hardly to be wondered at when it is considered that the teachers in the common schools are taken principally from the students of the colleges or universities, whose learning is of the class above described. There is a great need of a normal school, where teachers can be specially trained for that work; as it is now, a young fellow is ready to "teach school" for a year or two for want of, or on his way to, his intended niche in life.

The scale of payments at the schools is

moderate enough, but a large item of expense is in the school-books: they are dear, their use is compulsory, they have to be purchased by the scholars, and they are frequently changed by the Board of Education.

One great means by which it is sought at once to instruct, amuse, and infuse the school-teachers with common ideas and sympathies is by "teachers' institutes." In each county a time is fixed by the State Superintendent of Education, and for two or three days all, or as many as can be got together of the teachers in the county, are gathered in some central town, and for two or three days have constant meetings. This occurs annually.

The most experienced teachers give illustrations of their favorite methods of instruction in the various subjects, and free discussion on these matters follows.

The days are devoted to this practical work, and in the evenings some more general entertainment is provided in the shape of music, lectures, or readings, and these are thrown open to the public. At one of these the lecturer, who was one of the professors at the Monmouth College, descanted on the high general standard of educational attainments in this Willamette Valley. He pointed out, in proof, that whereas through the United States the population supported one newspaper to each eight hundred, in this valley the proportion was one to three hundred or thereabout.

NEWSPAPERS.I found on inquiry that the figures were about correct. And the fact is, that it is only in the newspapers that the country people find nearly all their literature, and that barely a farmer can be found who does not regularly take three or more papers, and this makes the continued lives of these papers possible. A town of a thousand or twelve hundred inhabitants will support two or even three papers. How is it done? Examine one of these papers and you will find the outside pages better printed than the inside, and filled with a special sort of romantic stories, and short bits of general information; extracts from magazines and from Eastern or English newspapers. The inside pages have the true local color. Here you will see the leader, devoted to the topics of the time and place; descanting on the railroad news of the day; expressing the editor's opinions on the rates of freight or passage, or on the advantages his town offers for establishing new industries; or criticising the recent appointment of postmaster. Then the correspondence from various outlying towns or villages, written very often by the schoolmaster, and abounding in literary allusions and quotations. And then comes the amazing feature of the paper-a column or two are devoted to "locals." This is the style: "Beautiful weather. New York sirup at Thompson's. The spring plowing is nearly done. Use the celebrated XL flour, the best in the market. Mrs. -- has been in --, attending to the woman-suffrage question, the past week. Our thanks are due to two fair ladies for bouquets of spring flowers, the first of the season. Our young friend Pete M-- called on us yesterday; good boy Pete. Judge Henry was at Salem the past week. Miss Addie Bines is visiting friends in town. Did you see that bonnet at the Presbyterian church on Sunday? The accidental pistol-shot the sheriff got is pretty bad. The rates of board at the Cosmopolitan Hotel are five dollars a week; three meals for a dollar. The Odd-Fellows will give a ball on the 25th. Our vociferous friend Sam N-- is starting for Puget Sound." And so on.

I observe and I hear that these locals are by far the best-read portion of the paper. A variety of items of scraps from the neighborhood, and advertisements, the longest of which relate to patent medicines of all sorts, fill up these two inner pages of the paper. The secret of cheap production lies in obtaining the paper, with the two outside pages ready printed, from an office in Portland, which supplies in this way twenty or thirty of these little newspapers. Thus the cost to the editor is reduced to the getting-up of the two inner pages, and, as will be seen, not a very high level of brain-power is needed.

"The Oregonian" is the only journal in the State giving the latest telegrams. Naturally it is published in Portland, and devoted mainly to the interests of that city. It is connected with the Associated Press, and possesses the practical monopoly of the supply of news, properly so called. Professing to be Republican in politics, it assumes the liberty of advocating doctrines and supporting candidates for office in direct violation of the acknowledged principles of the party and the wishes of the party managers. With a parade of fairness, and willingness to admit to its columns views and communications opposing the ideas it may be advocating at the time, it takes care to color matters in such form as to pervert or weaken all opposing or criticising matter. It is bitterly hostile to every movement in the Willamette Valley tending toward independence of Portland's money power and influence. While professing to desire the development of the State, it reads that to mean solely the aggrandizement of Portland. It enjoys a happy facility of conversion, and will unblushingly advocate to-day the adoption of measures it denounced last week. Unreliable in everything except its telegraphic news, and oftentimes seeking to color them by suggestive head-notes and capital announcements, it is a calamity to the State that its chief journal should be at once the most unpopular at home and the most misleading abroad.

Of course, "The Oregonian" is not the only journal professing to be of and for the State at large. Several are published at Portland claiming the character of general State interest. Such are the "Willamette Farmer," a journal chiefly devoted to the farming interest, and with which "The Oregonian" is very frequently at war; "The New Northwest," edited by Mrs. Duniway, a lady enthusiast in favor of woman's rights and woman's suffrage, but making up with a good deal of ability a paper containing much of general interest; the "Pacific Christian Advocate," a religious paper; and also a number of other papers, Democratic and Republican, of no special note.

Salem, Albany, and Harrisburg possess newspapers above the average of ability and circulation.

I thought there was a good deal of wisdom in the letter of a correspondent of mine in one of the Eastern States, who concluded a letter of general inquiry as to the State of Oregon with a request that I would send him a bundle of local newspapers, "by which," said he, "I can judge better of the present conditions of life in Oregon than by the answers of any one special correspondent."

There are very few poor people in Oregon-so poor, that is, as to need charitable help. Such are taken charge of by the county court, and from the county funds such an allowance is made in the case of families as shall keep them from absolute want. In the case of single persons they are given into the care of such families as are willing to receive them in return for a moderate sum, say three or four dollars a week.

SECRET SOCIETIES.The various societies and orders, namely, the Freemasons, the Foresters, the Odd-Fellows, the Order of United Workmen, the Good Templars, and others, have a large number of adherents in Oregon. I believe the Freemasons number upward of seven thousand brethren; the present Grand Master is the Secretary of State, and a very efficient head he makes. The Freemasons and other orders take charge of the needy brethren with their proverbial charity, and thus relieve to a great extent the public funds.

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