Catholic and Private Education in 1930’s St. Mary’s County 

Prior to 1930, most of the people who lived inSt. Mary’s County worked as watermen and farmers. To work in those professions there was no need for a formal education. At that time, St. Mary’s County was predominantly Catholic. All the schools were either Catholic or private because there was no public education. There was a white Catholic high school and a black Catholic high school, the Cardinal Gibbons Institute. There were two private secular high schools, the Charlotte Hall Military Academy and Leonardtown Hall.

John Hanson Briscoe: “I attended St. Mary’s Academy (currently the main building at the Collegeof Southern Maryland) for twelve years. And I spent twelve years there beingtaught by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, obviously a Catholic education.What was unique for me was that it took me four minutes to get to schoolbecause I lived right next door, in the house currently owned and occupied byJan and Chipper Norris. All I had to do was go out the side door; I could neverbe late for school. I just walked across a sage brush field; there was nothingthere at the time but just that field and I could go right to the school, go inthe side door, and that was it. And I spent twelve years there.”

Alfred Mattingly: “St. Mary’sAcademy was co-ed. There were two grades to a room in grade school. In highschool they were separate. I walked to school because I lived right here intown, right up the street from Johnny’s house. The only problem with going toschool at the Academy was you got two classes, like the first and second grade,in one classroom with one teacher. Maybe thirty or forty kids in one class. Youdidn’t get a whole lot of personal instruction. You either made it or youdidn’t. The convent and the boarders’ house were located behind what is nowCSM. The house was huge. The girls and nuns lived together. No boys livedthere. The groundskeeper lived in a nearby house.”

Lari Mako: “I went to St. Mary’sAcademy when I was in, I guess they call it kindergarten. In the older woodenbuilding.When my father was ill, I was even there for a boarder. I liked it. Ithink the second and third grades were together, that’s the last Iremember…….see, I must’ve gone there until the fourth grade or so. Iremember the Academy when I was very young. There were a lot of people havingplays there; people from town, they made their own entertainment.”

Dr. John Fenwick: “Dad would take usto school, he would drive down to Our Lady’s which was about a mile and a halfdown the road or something like that. We would get up in the morning and getthe wood stove going and usually it was my mother that did it and cook biscuitsand we’d have sausage or bacon with it. You know? We had a good breakfast. Andhe would take us off to school. Well my mother, with 5 kids, she often had toiron a shirt or something before we left. All this stuff, we rarely got toschool on time. I remember getting, as a matter of fact I found it years later,we were married when I found it: a report card from Our Lady school. I forgetwhat year it was, but anyway it was final report card for the year and it gaveyou your grades and then it had “Days Absent” and I think I had 2. But then ithad “Days Late” – 168. I remember in elementary school, there was afamily that lived across the(Breton) Bay that used to row across the bay to OurLady’s school. They used to leave their boat down at John Drury’s, at Hunter’sRetreat and walked down to the school. Kids got educated early about the waterand dangers like that and so forth. And they didn’t have any engines on thatboat. They were rowing across.”

Elizabeth “Bee” Fenwick: “But thentherefor a while the nuns started charging them a quarter for being later. Thatwas at the St. Mary’s Academy and they finally quit doing it because they werestill late, it didn’t change their habits. They said these families can’tafford it because they’ve got 5 kids.”

J. Frank Raley: “I went to school atSt.Michael’s…..down the road a way in Ridge. It was an old weathered boardedframe building, it had four rooms. The first and second were on the south sideand the third and fourth and fifth and sixth were on the north side. And ofcourse…when it got cold and the wind blew from the north, I can remember itand I was a little fella they always set me up front and the big heavierpeople, the boys they’d sit in the back and it would be so damn coldupfront…but I don’t even remember it being a, you know, a really bad time, itwas just the way it was and, of our living. Thecounty was about eighty per cent Catholic. TheCatholics dominated politics. They therefore were sending most of theirchildren to Catholic schools. They didn’t want to be taxed to spend too muchmoney on public schools and since they controlled the election there wasn’tmuch spent and our school system was in a pretty poor position. Although theCatholic schools were better, really, in those days than the, they were mostly taughtby nuns who came here and the ones who taught me were all New England nuns thatcame here, really dedicated women came down here and they had those accents andthat was a problem with these, some of our local people who had, who justcouldn’t get used to that, in effect used to make fun of it.”

Norris Shepherd: “You were talkingabout going into town and what not, I’ve traveled to church and store andvisited with my grandfather in horse and buggy. And the church at the time wasdown by Cecil’s Store off of Great Mills Road. It’s a barn now. I don’t believe it’s any kind of chapel now. The last I knowit, it was stacked full of hay. But I went to school at Little Flower, and itwas only a two room I guess, or only a one room, for eight grades I guess. Wedone our own cooking, we done our own washing and clothes, done our ownironing, we done our own sewing, patching, and…That was on Chancellor’s RunRoad. And we got up in the morning. It was before you went to school. See thiswas the thing, the hard part about going to school was we got up in themorning, there wasn’t, when you got up you had hogs to feed and water, you hadhorses to feed and water, cows to feed and milk, chickens to feed and water, andthen run to the house and try to get some breakfast, and then run a mile to getto the top of the hill so the school bus driver would see you coming and he’dwait for you. If you didn’t, you walked. Many a time I walked to the end ofChancellor’s Run Road and Norris Road off of Chancellor’s Run Road; I walkedfrom there all the way to Little Flower School. About an hour and a half walkis the best I can remember. I get there at best in an hour, maybe. I graduated from eight grade over at St. John’sschool and whatnot. Because I was living with people over in that area. Andwhen it come time to go to high school, the people I was living with, thefeller told me ‘ You go in today so you can sign in so they know you’re goingto be there, but when you do tell them you won’t be back for two to three weeksbecause we got this crop to get in.’ A lot of young boys did the same thing. Alot of young men…..And it happened to them. And of course, when you go in andyou’re three weeks behind, two weeks behind, you can’t catch up, and they can’tstop and try to help you along. Cutting tobacco would be the first thing; latesummer, early Fall. But then if it was a good day and we had plowing to do, Istayed home and plowed. School was a secondary thing, work was the first thing. School was secondary for a lot of young men,I can tell you that.”

Caroline Cecelia Thomas Countiss: “Iwent to school at Crossroads Hurry, Maryland. One room school house there. Andthen they had two schools. One was from 1st through 6th grade and then you’d goup to the other school. And they called that the high school. There wasn’t nohigh schools for the colored people, there was just for the white.”

Ann Camalier Wathen: “All of us wentto the little school on Lawrence Avenue. First grade to seventh. We had twoteachers. First, second, and third inone room; fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh in the other room. And where wewent we didn’t get bus rides either. We all walked no matter what the weatherwas. If you lived at the bottom of Wharf Hill, you walked to school. All of usgraduated from Margaret Brent High School. We had to take a school bus up toMargaret Brent. I don’t know if you know, but Catholics have a holy day ofobligation during the year. And they have to go to Mass on those days. So, onthis day, the bus driver would take us up to the church in Morganza. He wouldlet us all off, about nine of us. We would go to Mass, and then we would walkdown the road to Margaret Brent. Couldn’t do it nowadays because there are toomany cars and we would be killed; but in those days it would take about an hourto get to school. And of course you needed the little note from your parentssaying you had permission and there was no problem with it. Of course nowthings wouldn’t go on like that.”

Tom Waring: “I went to Chaptico, oneroom school, when I got here. The school was right next to the church. Oneteacher teaching all the grades. That teacher boarded at Fowler’s which wasright across from the school. The little ones would sit up in front. There wasa woodstove in the school house; the little ones needed the heat more. MargaretBrent had just been opened and that was a high school.”

Alfred Mattingly: “Leonard Hallstarted as an agricultural school run by the Xaverian Brothers. My father wentthere when it was still an agricultural school. I went there after it hadbecome a military school. Leonard Hall had a lot of cattle, horses, hogs, andchickens. Where the governmental centeris now, they had a lot of barns. They must have had thirty horses. They had adairy. A real set-up with the feeders and everything for the cattle, and a lot of hogs. They killed hogs.They produced a lot of their own food because they had probably a hundredboarders there. Two floors of that main building were all dormitory; doublebunks right next to each other. And all of the kids that went to Leonard Hall,with the exception of maybe eight to ten, were all boarders. Some of theBrothers stayed in the building that today houses the Office on Aging. Andduring the summertime, when they closed the school up, the Brothers would goover to where Ryken is today and run their summer camp at Camp Calvert wherethey had a lot of cabins. They only had a very few day hops at Leonard Hall.Where, in contrast, the Academy was probably seventy per cent day hops andthirty per cent boarders.”

Al Gough: “I went to St. Mary’sAcademy from the 1st to the 4th grade; went to Leonard Hall School, which was amilitary school at the time, from the 5th to the 8th, went back to St. Mary’sAcademy as a freshman. And then Ryken opened and I went from sophomore tosenior at Ryken High School. St. Mary’s Academy was run by the Sisters ofCharity. The Xaverians were running Leonard Hall. Leonard Hall opened in 1909.It opened primarily as an agricultural school. At the time, it was a highschool. But in the 1930s, for economic reasons I guess, high school was cutout. They went to a military school from the 5th to the 8th grade. And then,St. Mary’s Academy had been an all-girls school and at some point in time theyopened up to boys. When Ryken HighSchool opened up, St. Mary’s Academy went back to all girls. I got along a lot better with the nuns than Idid with the Brothers. The Brothers were a little rough. I can’t say at Ryken,but they were at Leonard Hall; they were a little rough. I think some of thatwas because it was a boarding school and they were used to it. St. Mary’s Rykenwas not a boarding school, so the majority if not all of the students werelocal.”

To read more on TheJohn Hanson Briscoe Historical Project, click here.