Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Uncooperative Lehigh River

     As the sun was setting on Bethlehem, on August 9, 1814, a crudely built ship, called an ark, was floating by on the Lehigh River. Its cargo would bring Bethlehem into the industrial age. The ark contained twenty-four tons of “black diamonds” or anthracite coal from the Room Run Mine. The ark was sixty-five feet in length and fourteen feet in width and built with hemlock wood. It began its journey at the landings at Lausanne with a crew of six men. Within a quarter mile the ark collided with a slate ledge that caused a gash its side. The crew ripped off their clothing and successfully plugged the hole. The ark stayed afloat all the way to its destination of Philadelphia, five days later.
     The Lenni Lenape were the first to discover the coal and spoke of it to the early settlers. Philip Ginter may have heard these rumors so when he stumbled upon some black rocks, in 1791, while hunting on the summit of the Sharp Mountain, he took them home for further examination. Ginter had migrated to the Mahoning region in the 1770s. He was a miller, farmer and landowner of 300 acres. It is believed that Ginter took a piece of this coal to the local blacksmith, Joe Neyer, who was able to ignite the rock, confirming it was coal. Next, Ginter gave samples of the coal to Colonel Jacob Weis who was living in the area of Weissport, formally New Gnaddenhuetten or Fort Allen.
     Weiss had served as the assistant deputy quartermaster-general at Easton (1780-1783.) Upon retirement in 1783, Weis purchased 700 acres, which included the former Fort Allen, from the Moravian Brethrens and moved his family to that location. He started a lumber business and farm. Weis took the coal to Philadelphia to seek the advice of his cousin, Michael Hillegas, United States Treasurer during the Revolutionary War, Charles Cist, a printer and his brother-in-law, John Nicholson, the Comptroller General of Pennsylvania. Cist was able to verify that the stone was anthracite coal.  With this discovery they decided to form the Lehigh Coal Mine Company in 1792. Weiss offered Ginter assistance in securing a land warrant in exchange for pointing out the spot where he found the coal.
     At first the company’s plan seemed easily accomplished. They needed to find coal deposits, purchase the property containing the deposits, improve the Lehigh River so transportation of the coal by boat would be unimpeded and develop a market for the coal. Every part of this plan proved difficult. Weiss took charge of purchasing 10,000 acres of coal rich land. As he attempted to buy land, counter claims would surface. Weiss eventually sorted out ownership with the company purchasing the land between Mauch Chunk and Tamaqua, along the Lehigh River. The idea of mining coal from shallow pits was abandoned for digging mineshafts at the Room Run Mine near Nesquehoning. This mine was closer to the river therefore reducing the cost of transporting it. Several attempts to clear the Lehigh River for transportation of the coal failed. In 1798, a separate company was organized to deal specifically with this task, the Lehigh Navigation Company.
     The War of 1812 raised the cost of coal and limited its availability through the British blockade of Chesapeake and Delaware bays. This inspired a new attempt of transporting coal from the Lehigh Coal Mine Company down the Lehigh River to the Philadelphia market. The Lehigh Coal Mine Company began leasing their mines to other enterprising men hoping to increase the value of their mines. Some of the original investors, Hillegas, Cist and Nicholson, had passed away. The next generation (Jacob Weiss, Isaac Abel Chapman, Jacob Cist, Charles Miner, and John Robinson) took their chances with the mining and selling of anthracite. Arks were produced at Jacob Weiss’ sawmill at Lausanne. They were sixty-five feet long by fourteen to sixteen feet wide. Each ark could carry from twenty to thirty tons of coal. A pilot who navigated with a pole controlled the ark.
     Josiah White and Erskine Hazard purchased a cartload of the coal that was piled on the ark that passed through Bethlehem in 1814. They wanted to investigate its usefulness for heating the furnace at their mill, the Fairmount Nail and Wire Works, at the Falls of the Schuylkill (northwest of Philadelphia). They experimented with lighting the coal for several hours but soon gave up. They shut the furnace door and left the mill, greatly discouraged. One of the mill workers realized that he had left his jacket. He returned to the mill thirty minutes later to find the furnace to be red hot. The closed furnace door increased the flow of oxygen and facilitated the combustion. White and Hazard saw the great potential of anthracite. Their involvement in the anthracite mining industry solved many of the problems encountered by the Lehigh Coal Mine Company.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

All Married Female Teachers Lose Jobs

1941 photo of married teachers from Liberty High School.
     The deadline of July 15, 1940, set by the Bethlehem School Board, came and went with no response from the district’s 33 married women teachers. Over a year before, at the June 29, 1939 school board meeting, the board voted 8 to 1 to request the resignations of all the married female teachers of the district. George B. Curtis, head of the board’s administration committee, made the motion. Only one board member, Dr. Frederick F. Bruch, a local dentist, opposed it. William J. Morgan, a Bethlehem Steel employee, was board president. Clifford F. Frey, school district business manager, reported to the board that he had not received one resignation by the dead-line.
     After the 33 women teachers received written notice to resign, they banded together to refuse the ouster. They hired an attorney and informed the school board that they could not be removed simply because they were married. They felt that board’s order was unconstitutional.  The women teachers warned that if the board followed through on their removal they would fight it until it reached the highest court in the state.
     The inspiration behind the board’s decision was to save money. The women teachers would be replaced by "applicants at a beginning salary rate." This, Curtis said, "would result in a saving of $24,700 the first year and eventually would reduce "the tax burden generally."
     Northampton County Superintendent of Schools, George A. Grim noted that the Great Depression had a terrible impact on Northampton County schools, especially in Bethlehem. Bethlehem had the lowest allocation of text books per students in the county. Between 1929 and 1939, there only was only a one percent increase in new students.
    The Bethlehem School Board of the 1930s and early 1940s was a fiscally conservative and autocratic board. A commission was formed in 1937 to study the problems of the district. It was headed by William E. Arnold of the University of Pennsylvania. The committee’s conclusions were presented in a 328 page book. The committee observed that the board gave very little authority to the superintendent of Bethlehem schools, W. H. Weiss. They commented that there was far too much fighting amongst board members and that the curriculum was badly in need of updating. This was an evaluation of the same board that decided for economic reasons to replace all the married women teachers. In 1945, a Citizen’s Committee was formed which successfully instated four new board members, including the first woman, Irma MacLellan.
     Before the Civil War, Northampton County schools employed mostly male teachers. Northampton County Superintendent Abraham Kind reported in 1865 that at least 70 of his male teachers had joined the army. Kind encouraged the employment of women teachers and remarked “Their success and usefulness was equal to that of the best male teachers.”
     In the late 1930s, several bills were introduced to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to give school boards the right to fire female teachers on the basis of marital status. None were successfully passed. The teacher tenure law passed in 1937 did not mention marital status as a condition of tenure. The law stated that a teacher must serve a three year probationary period before being awarded tenure or a permanent position. The Bethlehem School Board thought that the Pennsylvania School code gave them the power to order the resignations. The code stated, “The school board in every school district in the state may adopt and enforce such reasonable rules and regulations as it may deem necessary and proper regarding the management of its school affairs, and the conduct and deportment of all superintendents, teachers and other appointees or employees during the time they are engaged in their duties to the district.”
     The Bethlehem board’s decision of a marriage ban was reported in newspapers across the state. The board members did not make themselves available for interviews from reporters regarding their controversial ruling. We can assume the board did not follow through on their edict as the subsequent district yearbooks prominently displayed pictures of married female teachers. The priorities of Bethlehem soon were more concerned with national preparedness programs in the early 1940s. Again, a war drained the community of working men, resulting in a teacher shortage. This eased up the prejudices regarding married female teachers. Nationally the employment of married women rose from 26 percent in 1930 to 47 percent in 1940. After the 1940s, marriage bars for female teachers were unheard of.