Submitted by Carl W Matthews
MISS VELMA TAUGHT AT BRUSHIE
Velma Coleman Matthews 1900-1972
Credentials for the Frontier School Teacher were based on little
more than how convincing one could be to a committee assigned
the task of obtaining a teacher. Hundreds of one room schools,
scattered across the State of Texas, searched annually for
someone....anyone.... to teach in those schools. Some were
good. Some were very good. Some were horrid!
A minimum standard for teachers was established by the State
Legislature based on a test to be administered at the county seat of
each Texas County. No college or university
training was required, but persons who passed the test could teach
in certain schools. Thos who had been teaching were
Oscar S Hellums, who lived for many years in Dawson and taught at
Spring Hill and McCandless, was teaching in Ellis Co. Texas when he
was twenty and had never seen a college.
Pat Geraughty, who served as State Representative and as County
Judge for Navarro County began his career as a teacher at age
twenty. Five years later, he was teaching at Couchman
School in Freestone County. One of his pupils was Mary
Lavacie Coleman, daughter of J J Coleman and sister of W A Coleman.
Teachers and pupils were not supposed to be attracted to each other,
but the two married immediately following the end of the school
Pat Geraughty had been teaching for twenty-five years when the Texas
Legislature created the "Minimum Standards Test."
His niece, Miss Velma Coleman, daughter of W A and Ollie Jane Bland
Coleman, had excelled in English grammar and mathematics throughout
her school days and had graduated at the High School at Richland,
Texas in 1919. It was Pat Geraughty who encouraged Miss Velma
to take the "Minimum Standards Test." She passed
without difficulty and was recommended to the Brushie Prairie School
in Western Navarro Co.
Brushie Prairie was approximately twenty-five miles west of
Corsicana and several miles north from Dawson. Miss Velma
forwarded her application and letters of recommendation to the
School Board and was invited in early June 1920 to meet with the
group. She took the train to Dawson where she was met by one of the
School Board members and driven to Brushie Prairie in a buggy.
The trip left the Dawson Depot and headed north on the Spring Hill
Road. The "Brushie Road" began at the new Spring Hill
Store and Pete Bill's blacksmith shop across the road from each
other. The "Brushie Road" headed due north and
began to descend toward Richland Creek...over a small bridge and up
the hill to the community of Brushie Prairie.
The one room Brushie Prairie School was located in a grove of Post
Oak Trees and was already showing signs of age and the need of
another coat of paint. The structure rested on
heavy blocks cut from large cedar tree trunks that raised the floor
of the school two feet above the ground. Several steps led to
a small porch and to the single entry door. Miss
Velma, as she was called from the moment she was met at the Dawson
Depot, was ushered into the one room structure to waiting members of
the School Board.
Miss Velma had worn her best dress, silk stockings, and one of the
latest hats offered by J M Dyer Dry Goods Store in Corsicana where
she and her sister worked. The members of the School
Board had received and discussed her credentials... now... they
wanted to "size her up." Miss Velma responded
favorably to their questions. She was a pretty young
lady. She appeared to be one who would set a good
example for the young people of the community. She was
what they were looking for.
Then the School Board made an offer to Miss Velma. They
would provide her with room and board......one month with one
family, one month with another, then another... and so on.
Salary would be $50.00 for each month school was in session.
No salary would be paid during the summer months.
Parents would furnish wood for the large pot bellied stove that
stood in the center of the large single room. Water was
available from a dug well located just outside the door.
Miss Velma accepted the offer and agreed to teach for the coming
academic year that would begin in September 1920 and end the
Miss Velma spent the night with one of the School Board Members,
returned to Dawson the following day, and caught the mid day train
to Corsicana where her parents had built a new house on Sycamore
Miss Velma continued to clerk at Dyer's through the summer and in
September her father drove her to Brushie Prairie to begin her first
year of teaching. She was to live the first
month with the Raley family and a special room had been prepared for
her. The room contained a single iron bedstead, a
wood dresser, a small desk and chair, and a kerosene lamp. A
white porcelain bowl and pitcher sat on the wood dresser.
Nails had been driven into the wood wall on which to hang clothing.
Miss Velma was informed that a large wash tub filled with warm water
would be available each week for bathing. And...there was a
outhouse for other personal needs.
Members of the community had cleaned the school building.
The two outhouses...girls & boys...had been repaired.
Broken windows had been replaced. A large supply of wood had
been split and stacked just outside the front door. A new rope
and bucket had been purchased for the well. A new water
bucket and dipper rested on a bench just inside the front door. Grass
and weeds had been cleared from around the building and a hitching
rail for horses had been placed under some of the trees at the rear
of the building. Everything was in readiness for the
school year. Crops were "laid by," but the gathering
of the cotton crop was still ahead and would be an interruption for
some of the students who would need to help.
The first day of school was the second week of September and Miss
Velma was at the school early. She stood at the
doorway to greet each of the students and to meet parents.
Brushie Prairie was a friendly community and she was made to feel
comfortable from the first moment.
When the parents had left, the task of assigning seats began with
each grade seated together. More than fifty students had
assembled and ranged in age from seven to seventeen.
This group would be a challenge for the beginning teacher, but older
students would assist with the younger pupils.
When all seats had been assigned, the school day began and the
students stood to recite The Lord's Prayer, Pledge
Allegiance to the United States Flag, and sing the hymn,
America. Every day would begin in the same manner.
That day, the routine was followed by Miss Velma telling the
students who she was, where she was from, where she had gone to
school, what the students could expect from her, and what she
would expect from them. The students sat quietly in
their seats as Miss Velma continued her introduction.
Children in those days were taught early to have respect for their
elders, for teacher, clergymen, and government officials.
Mrs. Raley had, however, mentioned to Miss Velma that there was a
certain older boy who had given problems to teachers in past years
and had named the rowdy teenager. Miss Velma made a
mental note of where the boy was sitting and as she moved about the
room she kept one eye on "Mr. Rowdy." Sure
enough, "Mr. Rowdy" began to show off before the other
students with smirks and under his breath remarks. Miss Velma
observed him pulling the hair of the girl who sat in front of him.
Miss Velma continued talking...moving slowly all the while toward
the seat where "Mr. Rowdy" sat. The
other students were very aware of what "Mr. Rowdy" was
doing and waiting anxiously to see if Miss Velma would call
his hand or permit him to disrupt the entire class as had happened
the previous year. When Miss Velma came near where
"Mr. Rowdy" sat he was sure that he had the upper
hand...so sure that he was not watching Miss Velma.
He was whispering something to a boy across the aisle when Miss
Velma grabbed him by the shoulders and began to shake him and lift
him from his seat. When she was finished shaking the boy
she threw him back into his seat...informed him that he was there to
learn and that if he remained in
her class he would act like a gentleman...that the antics he had
performed in the past were not acceptable. He never gave
her any trouble from that day on. And....the incident
served as a notice to other pupils.
Miss Velma had been dead several years when Neely Parrish, one her
pupils, was interviewed and recorded on tape. Oh
Yes...he remembered Miss Velma very well. The best he
could remember was that he was twelve or thirteen years old at the
time she taught at Brushie and remembered her as a very pretty
no-nonsense woman who majored on discipline.
"But," Neely said, "She was fair and everybody liked
her." One of Neely's duties was to bring a supply of
firewood from the wood pile outside and place the firewood in a
large box near the potbellied stove.
Other families who lived at Brushie Prairie included: Bennett,
Chastain, Cleveland, French, Hagle, Halbrooks, Kendall, Martin,
Prater, Price, Raley, Ritter, Shuttlesworth, Slater, Thompson,
Toten, Vaughn, and York.
Years later, usually on the side walks of downtown Corsicana, a
stranger would approach Miss Velma and her children and question,
"Are you Miss Velmer Coleman?" Her children knew
immediately that this was another of her pupils from Brushie Prairie
who never learned to pronounce her name correctly, a deficiency
which she despised.
A daughter recalled that Miss Velma became ill during the Fall
Semester of 1922 and the family with whom she was living at the time
called Dr. H L Matthews of Dawson. Physicians made house calls in
those days and Dr. Matthews responded within a matter of hours.
He made a diagnosis and decided on a treatment plan which included
medicinal powders carried in his large black bag. He,
also, made mental note that Miss Velma was a very pretty school
teacher and that he had a single son at home who just might be
interested in meeting her.
The son, Carl, went with his father on the next trip to Brushie.
Miss Velma had recovered from her illness, but Dr. Matthews wanted
to check on her condition. He, also, made a point of
introducing his son. And....Carl made a point of driving
his father each time there was a need for medical services at
Brushie. And.... soon.... Carl and Miss Velma began to
Miss Velma had a pretty sister who was four years her junior who
came to visit from time to time. Carl had a
friend, Homer Fread, who lived across the street in Dawson.
One week end Homer went to Brushie Prairie to meet the blonde and
vivacious Nina Coleman. That was the beginning of many
weekends the foursome would spend together.
When the Christmas vacation arrived in 1922 at Brushie Prairie the
area had experienced days and days of rain. The Richland Creek
bridge was covered with water, roads were impassable even for wagons
and buggies. Getting to the railroad depot in Dawson was
impossible, but Miss Velma wanted desperately to be home for
Soon after school was dismissed for the Christmas vacation, Carl and
Homer arrived with saddle horses. Carl would see
that Miss Velma got home for Christmas and Homer Fread would see
Miss Velma's sister, Nina. Homer and Nina were married
The following morning Miss Velma, dressed in a riding habit which
she still had in the 1930s and, carrying additional clothing rolled
and wrapped in canvass, joined Carl and Homer for the twenty-five
mile ride to Corsicana. They crossed the muddy
fields and stayed on the high ground until they reached the
Sycamore Street home of The Colemans.
Carl may have proposed to Miss Velma that Christmas.
They were married the following October 4, 1923 and went to the Ft.
Worth Stock Show & Rodeo for their honeymoon.
Carl and Miss Velma had three children, all of whom taught school at
some point in their careers. One daughter married
a school teacher and, together, served the Bryan, Texas
school system for more than seventy years.
Carl W Matthews
Roswell GA 30077 770
587 4350 [email protected]