Column No. 30

Schooling in Ruby
Miss Olson should have been nominated for sainthood for accepting such a large class of young, wiggling children

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

In the early days of the isolated Ruby settlement, children had to travel (sometimes by mule or burro) about four miles northwest to Oro Blanco village for their education.

In 1917, with mining operations of the Goldfield Consolidated Mining Company (GCMC) just beginning, Ruby needed a school of its own. Coincidentally, just as officials made plans for a school in Ruby, workers were dismantling an adobe general store in Oro Blanco village.

People from Ruby approached Oro Blanco landowner Art Noon about the possibility of using some of the remaining adobe bricks, still in good condition, for Ruby’s new school building. Permission granted! Workers used these adobe bricks, along with others made on site in Ruby, to construct the first one-room Ruby school.

When GCMC quit mining in 1918, Ruby’s population quickly declined. The school closed until 1928, when the Eagle-Picher Company started mining. The Ruby school reopened in September 1928 with 12 students and one teacher. By December 1929, there were 80 students and three teachers.

In the middle of the single schoolroom, sat a potbelly stove to provide warmth during the cold Ruby winters. However, the teachers had another use for the stove – tossing in toys that students should have left at home.

The one-room school served well during Eagle-Picher’s initial mine production period from 1928 to 1930 and through the shutdown from 1930 to 1934. But when the mine reopened in 1934, Ruby’s population mushroomed almost overnight and the school had to be expanded.

The people of Ruby built a second schoolroom of lumber, north of the original adobe structure. In time for fall classes in 1938, they also built a third classroom, adjacent to the west side of the original adobe room, and also built of adobe. To accommodate the abrupt increase in the number of students in 1937, school officials set up a temporary tent only a few feet east of the original building. Students used the tent while workers built the permanent, third-room addition.

Ruby’s population peaked at about 1,200 people in 1938. Children from other nearby mining camps added to the student population. School enrollment peaked in that period, with a maximum of 169 students enrolled for the 1938-39 school year. Consistent with the resident population, about 85% of the students were of Mexican heritage.

The school handled elementary grades 1-8. Older students went to Nogales or Tucson.

As the student population grew, so did the number of teachers. At maximum capacity, there were four teachers, holding as many as four different classes in each room.

Columnist Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon remembered her school days in Ruby:

“The lumber classroom was my first and second grade room. Miss Edith Olson was our teacher. Each year we were packed in, seated on long benches, at equally long tables. First grade occupied one side of the room, with an aisle down the center, and the second grade on the other side.

“Miss Olson should have been nominated for ‘sainthood’ for accepting such a large group of young, wiggling children, some of whom were non-English speakers. By today’s standards classrooms were austere. Only a few first graders knew how to count, knew their alphabet, or knew how to print their names.

“The school day began at 9:00 am with the sound of the school bell. Students lined up near the door of their respective rooms. After we students entered the room, roll call was taken. We then stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and to sing:

Good morning to you.
Good morning to you.
We’re all in our places
With sun-shiny faces.
Oh, this is the way
To start a new day.

“We were then seated. The first grade practiced printing the alphabet and numbers while the second graders learned words with Miss Olson. Tablet paper and ‘penny’ pencils were distributed, as were books. Recesses at 10:00 am and 2:30 pm were about 20 minutes long. With the sound of the noon whistle at the mine, it was lunchtime, until 1:00 pm. Some children, who lived close-by, walked home for lunch, while those who lived farther away, brought their lunch to school.

“I lived close-by, so I went home for lunch.

“With another blast of the whistle at 4:00 pm, school was dismissed, and mill and mine employees had finished their shift.

“'During the construction of the third classroom' grades three and four were assigned to the tent. Heat came from a wood stove. Mrs. Ferguson was the teacher.

“Because so many of the children also labored with these [reading and language art] skills, Mrs. Ferguson required each third grade student to stand and read the same paragraph. When this was completed, they would begin the next paragraph. Some students became very bored with Mrs. Ferguson’s method and by the time it was their turn to read aloud, had the text memorized!

“Playground equipment included maypole swings, a teeter-totter and a huge slide. The slide measured fifteen feet high and twenty-nine feet long! I remember my Mother cautioning me not to go on the slide. One day, I did try the slide, and the news beat me home that day. Remnants of the slide remain on the school ground today.

“During recess, in addition to playing on the equipment, children jumped rope, and played hopscotch, tag, jacks, and kickball.

“It was at school, in first grade, that I was nicknamed “gringa pecosa” (freckle face).”

Angela Coronado De Nault offered the perspective of a Mexican student forced to speak English at the Ruby school:

“It was definitely basic learning, reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and I mean they really drilled it into you. You knew the multiplication tables without any question. And of course, I had to learn English, either that or get beat every day. When you walk into a schoolroom cold turkey and know absolutely hardly anything in English because Spanish was the language spoken at home. … Like for instance, they would not only put you in the corner, but they would take a ruler and hit you so many times in the palm of your hand, or, they would take a yardstick and hit your back. Those teachers were mean, let me tell you. They were strict but they were mean and they were good teachers but they were mean. They meant business! So I was punished a few times.”

After Eagle-Picher closed down production at the Montana mine in 1940, Ruby’s population rapidly decreased. However, the school remained open because children from the entire Oro Blanco area attended.

According to Joe Ortiz, son of a Ruby woodcutter, there was a district requirement that a school needed at least 12 students to remain open. The Ruby school met this requirement until 1947, when the last class graduated.

(Sources: Conversations with Fred Noon; Nogales International; Teachers Annual Report – Ruby District, 1935-1942; Fred Noon, “The Ruby School,” The Connection; interviews with Angela Coronado De Nault and Joe Ortiz)

Ruby School

By 1938 the expanded Ruby school handled more than 150 students. (Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon private collection)

School Children

Ruby school students pose with their teacher Mrs. Ferguson (back row, extreme right). Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon is standing in the second row, eighth from right. (Photo courtesy of Tony Cordova, 1937)

Next time: Favorite Hangouts in Ruby

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