Rudimentary Studies and Tall Tales

One Hundred Years of Schooling in Aurora

The Spring 2014 exhibit is titled “Rudimentary Studies and Tall Tales”.  The title comes from the observation of an outside observer who noted that the Aurora Colonists aimed to teach their children only the rudimentary studies of reading, writing and arithmetic.  This summation was not entirely accurate. 

Schooling in Colony Times

The primary teacher at Aurora during the colony period was Charles Ruge, a scholar trained in a German University.  The education that he provided was above the bar of that generally taught in other parts of rural America.

However, Dr. Wilhelm Keil was quick to note that the colony did not labor to send their children away from the community unless they intended to return with their learned skills.  Thus, the colony would support the medical training received by Martin Giesy at Willamette College in Salem because he opened his practice in the newly constructed Aurora drug store after he completed his courses.

After Dr. Keil’s Death

By the time that Dr. Keil died however in 1877 all had changed.  The majority of the members decided that communal living was not necessary for Christian life and Aurora became a more typical American village.

Even though they still wear home-spun clothes they were modern children.  More and more they expected the presence of a camera to document their lives. It was their time. The past was gone.

The first teachers who worked in Aurora after Keil’s death enhanced this new tone in the village.  Featured in this exhibit are Mollie Barlow, Nellie Meacham, Helen Griffith and Lottie Galbreath.

The 20th Century

Ralph Southwick, the school principal in 1924, was a World War One veteran. He told the local farming parents that finishing the harvest should not mean that the children missed school.  Southwick grew up in Oregon’s wild Wallowa County.  He was very self-reliant.  He drove the school bus and he was often seen repairing it.

A special section of the exhibit features the students of the White School near Hubbard some of whom were also descendants of the Aurora Colony.

We follow stories and tall tales from the 1930’s through the 1950’s.  Of special interest is the day that twenty five school buses delivered school children from all over the area to a local farm to see “Finnegan” a sea lion who had somehow swam up the river and made his way on to the land.  Finnegan, as it turned out, was a “Mrs. Finnegan”.

Finally, we let Gary Leiser take us through his eighth grade year in 1959-1960 with excerpts from his diary.  Gary inspired this exhibit and his own family foundation provided underwriting to make it possible. 

The exhibit will run until early June 2014.