Miss Velma Coleman Matthews


Biography Index || Stories From Dawson Texas


 Miss Velma Coleman Matthews
Submitted by Carl W Matthews

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 "Grand-fathered."

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 session 1898.

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 following May.

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 Street.

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 date.

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 Christmas.

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 in 1924.

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
POB 454
Roswell GA   30077      770  587 4350        [email protected]

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