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Members of the Chrisman Shakespeare Club met on July 14th at Randall Manor. A dessert of brownies top with mixed nuts and a dish of ice cream were served to members with their choice of beverage.
President Nancy Harper called the meeting to order and thanked Nancy Hodge for taking her place at the previous meeting. The Club Collect was read.
Minutes from the previous meeting, along with the treasurer’s report was approved. Roll call was famous women from Shakespeare from history. Answers included: Ophelia (Hamlet- Shakespeare), Ruth, Cordelia (King Lear- Shakespeare), Jane Adams, Harriet Tubman, Betsy Ross and Queen Elizabeth.
Marilyn Fischer had the program for the meeting and chose to do it on the book ‘The Moonlight School’. “I became aware of the Moonlight Schools when I read ‘The Moonlight School’ by Suzanne Woods Fischer. It was inspired by true events,” Fischer said.
The book follows a character by the name of Lucy Wilson. Wilson goes to Rowan County Kentucky in the spring of 1911 to assist her father’s cousin, Cora Wilson Stewart, who is Superintendent of Rowan County Schools.
Lucy is appalled at the poverty she encounters in the county. Cora has a plan to help local illiterate people to read and write, The Moonlight Schools. There is a school master in the story that Lucy falls in love with.
Cora Wilson Stewart was born in 1875 and lived near Morehead, Kentucky in Rowan County. She trained for a career in education at Morehead Normal School and later at the National Normal University in Lebanon, Ohio. She began teaching at the age of twenty in a one room school in Rowan County.
In 1906 at age twenty-six, Cora was the first woman elected Superintendent of Rowan County Schools. In 1911, at age thirty-six, Cora was the first woman to be the President of the Kentucky Educational Association.
Also in 1911, Cora Stewart started fifty Moonlight Schools in Rowan County, Kentucky. She was convinced that adults should not use materials written for children. She wrote with the help of a few teachers and a newspaper, The Rowan County Messenger with short sentences and lots of repetition of the words on health, farming, recipes, and other topics for adults.
She wanted all the adults attending Moonlight Schools to learn to read and write letters to family members. Moonlight Schools opened on September 5, 1911, adults were taught in one room schools where children were taught by day.
They were called this because classes were held on nights when the moon cast enough light for the people to see the footpaths and the trails they followed to school. Teachers volunteered their time to teach in these schools. Students were eighteen to eighty-five years old. They expected a few at each school on the first night, but twelve hundred adults showed up in the fifty schools.
Moonlight Schools met Monday through Thursday evenings from 7:00 p.m. To 9:00 p.m for six weeks. At seven o’clock, there was devotional reading and singing. Followed by twenty-five minutes of reading lessons, twenty-five minutes of writing exercises, twenty-five minutes of basic mathematical calculations and the teacher led two fifteen minute drills in basic history, civics, health and sanitation, geography, home economics, agriculture and horticulture. Students left for home at 9 o’clock.
By the end of two six weeks sessions, they could sign a simple document, write simple letters, make basic mathematical calculations and read a few Bible verses. They were no longer illiterate. Cora visited the schools on horseback to check on the progress.
In 1912, there were sixteen hundred students enrolled in Moonlight Schools. Each year, there were fewer illiterate people in the county. It was estimated that by 1915, forty-thousand Kentucky adults had learned to read and write. From 1916-1920 the Kentucky illiteracy rate had dropped by four percent while the national rate had decline only one point seven percent.
In 1915, Stewart published ‘Country Life Reader: First Book’ and in 1916 she published ‘County Life Reader: Second Book’. Both featured functional material for an adult’s daily life. By 1916, eighteen states were enrolled in programs like Stewart’s Moonlight Schools and used her materials. During World War I, Cora was concerned with the fact that the Selective Service found seven hundred thousand men were totally illiterate. Cora published ‘The Soldier’s First Book’ to teach military recruits to read and write.
In 1923, Cora Wilson Stewart was elected to the Executive Committee of the National Education Association. In 1925, she was named Director of the National Literacy Crusade. Form 1929-1933, Stewart was the Chairperson of President Hoover’s Commission on Illiteracy. Cora Wilson Stewart retired from public life in 1936 at the ace of sixty-one.
Her private life was not as successful as her public. Cora was married three times, twice to the same man. Her only child died in infancy. Glaucoma left her blind in later life. In her last two years, Cora Wilson Stewart lived in a home for elderly poor in Tyron, North Carolina, alone with little resources. She died in 1958 at the age of eighty-three of a fatal heart attack. Cora Wilson Stewart had played a critical role in development of adult education in the U.S. She is considered a pioneer in literacy training.
In 1973, Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky acquired, moved and restored ‘Little Bushy School’ where Cora Wilson Stewart began her teaching career in 1895. It stands on the University Campus today as a museum to her work.
A constant reminder of the educators who continue her mission of educational service in the mountain regions of Kentucky. Many of her ideas about adult education are still used today.
The members discussed the book and the program. Fischer said that she would be donating the book to the Chrisman Public Library for anyone to read.
Notes were written and will be mailed to member LuluBell Wright. President Nancy Harper thanked the members for her get well card.
With no new business or announcements the meeting was adjourned, followed by social time. The next meeting of the Shakespeare Club will be on August 11th, 2022 at the home of Mary Lou Reader with herself and Marge Foor serving as hostesses.