Lura Augusta White (1871-1956)
Known to her friends as Gussie, Lura Augusta White lived on Center Road in the house that is currently painted blue.
She graduated from Framingham Normal School and was appointed to teach in Shirley in 1891. She began her career by assisting at the Primary School and the North School.
By 1896, Miss White was teaching the first primary and stayed with the youngest children throughout her career. In 1898, she was the highest paid teacher, receiving $378 for her services. Her wages were actually $9 per week and she was not a senior teacher. However, she must have had the best attendance, for when she didn’t teach, she didn’t get paid.
In 1899, the average membership of Miss White’s class was 39. Her average attendance was 33 pupils. Note that in the late 20th century the recommendations were for fewer than 20 in a primary classroom.
Supplies for this class included six erasers, three boxes of crayons, and two packages of drawing paper for the year. Note: This was before they hired an art teacher. The School Committee made six visits to her class that year. The Superintendent came twenty times and she had 37 other visits.
In the Assessor’s Report of 1899 it was stated that Miss White had a bike worth $30 and was taxed 43 ¢.
In 1900, Miss White’s salary was raised to $10 per week. The average attendance for her class that year was 39.AT this time, school age was considered to be from seven years old to fourteen. However, children from five to fifteen were welcome in the Shirley schools.
In the early 1900’s, school was in session for three terms. The fall term lasted from September through November. Winter term was December through March and spring term was March through June. Different district schools within the town would vary on the number of days they were open due to local physical problems and outbreaks of illness.
Many immigrants from Poland, Lithuania, Russia, and Canada had come to work in the factories in Shirley Village and in 1904, only four children of American parentage were in the lowest primary class. A sub-primary was begun for 4 ½ year olds to teach them English and the use of common school materials. However, this only lasted a few years.
As of 1907, the C.A.Edgarton Company and the Samson Cordage Company were helping out the schools by blowing whistles and sounding bells when school had to be cancelled. The bells would come at 7:45 a.m. for the morning session and 12:15 pm for the afternoon session.
Teachers were responsible for testing the vision and hearing of all children beginning in 1907. However, no mention was made of how this testing was to be done. Miss White’s average attendance for this year was 44.
Her salary was raised to $48 per month in 1910, $500 per year in 1911 and $550 per year in 1913.
In 1913, Miss White was appointed principal of the Church Street School. This was located past the War Memorial Building, at the end of the street. She also taught three penmanship lessons per week to all the classes in her building while still teaching her own first grade class.
The state retirement fund went into effect in 1914 with money being deducted from the teachers’ salaries.
In 1914, Shirley adopted the practice of tenure, the provision being that teachers needed to take courses or write papers that proved they were keeping abreast of current trends. Around this same time, Shirley made use of student teachers from Fitchburg Normal School.
In 1917, Miss White’s salary rose from $600 and to $650 in 1918.
In 1919, the state set cost-of-living standards for wages and would partially reimburse towns that complied with the guidelines. In the next few years, there was a frequent change in school staff due to teachers leaving for better paying jobs.
In 1920 the School Committee reported a teacher shortage and a problem with overcrowded classrooms.
In 1922, Miss White’s salary jumped to $1,100 for the year. By 1927 it was $1,250.
In 1928, American flags were presented to each classroom and have been hanging in every Shirley classroom since then.
From 1930-1932 Miss White had an assistant to help with her large class and perhaps to free her for some of her other duties.
The next few years showed attempts at cutting the school budget. In 1932, the teachers voluntarily contributed %10 of their salaries to the cost of running the schools. Volunteer art and physical education teachers donated their skills for the fall term.
In 1933, the School Committee took under consideration a study showing that children must have a mental maturity of 6 years, 4 months in order to comprehend reading symbols. The entrance age for school was then set at 5 years, 6 months. Younger children would be allowed if they showed advance tendencies. A fall testing program was instituted.
In 1936, Miss White’s salary was $1,270. She had been with the school system the longest but her salary was third from the top.
Plans for new school buildings had been proposed many times but postponed due to financial problems. Finally, thanks to the WPA, on January 4, 1937, Shirley students moved into a new school on Lancaster Road. Students moving out of the Church Street School helped carry some of their own materials to their new classrooms.
Neither Miss White nor Miss McNiff wanted to accept principalship of the new building to the exclusion of the other. They were appointed associate principals with Miss White in charge of the first floor, grades 1-4 and Miss McNiff in charge of the second floor with grades 5-8. Miss White’s salary was raised to $1,300 later that year.
In 1939 there were only ten children in the first grade. Up until that year, pay for substitutes was deducted from teacher salaries. Now the teachers were allowed one week of absences due to illness without their pay being docked.
In 1941, at the age of 70, Miss White retired after fifty years of teaching Shirley children.
A retirement ceremony was held in her honor on the front steps of the Lancaster Road School which was re-named in her honor.