Monday, July 27, 2020

Martha Stephenson – Education at Bacon College

Photo from UK Library

Harrodsburg historian, Martha Stephenson, was extremely interested in learning about the history of education in Harrodsburg. The following is a portion of one of her articles written for the Harrodsburg Historical Society’s newsletter:

“EDUCATION SINCE 1775 … aprons, white sunbonnets trimmed with scarlet lute-string ribbon; during summer, pink 'awn dresses with apron and bonnet like those used in winter."

Contemporary with all the schools (since the thirties, at least), that I have been writing about, was a teacher of notable renown in Harrodsburg and neighborhood, Prof. Ayre Askew, locally named-oftenest, Tobias Askew. One man dates him as a teacher as far back as 1810. He gives it on testimony received from his mother, who was born in 1819.

I am sure of making no mistake if I place his professional career as early as 1830; for the record of his marriage to Miss Trower, of Mercer county, is dated 1829, and teaching was his life-long profession. He was from Charleston, Virginia, and there is a general tradition that he came to Harrodsburg before the end of the eighteenth century.

He was a preparatory teacher for boys; was principal of the preparatory department of Bacon College after 1841, as has been mentioned in the account of that institution. He taught Greek and Latin in addition to English; and, if he was not liberally educated according to college standards, he as least was thorough as far as he advanced.

A distinct individuality and a forceful personality distinguished him. He exercised the severity of temper and discipline that McMaster and other historians mention as a general characteristic of the early New England school- masters, which gave origin to the appellation, "Knights of the birch." But, according to several testimonies, Prof. Askew's chastisements were penal- ties for violated law or neglected duty, and not mere outbursts of temper.

Apropos of this is the following story, narrated by one who was his pupil in the early fifties. The school was not graded, but a heterogeneous assemblage of boys filled the room. While the master was busy with a class, some unemployed boys slipped, one by one, out of the room until five had made their exit and got together behind a low fence to play a game of cards. They had not found out that Mr. Askew could see everything above and below, before, and behind, but they suffered an increase of knowledge very soon.

Prof. Askew missed the boys, and he too slipped out and arrived unobserved on the opposite side of the fence, just as one of the boys called out "Spades is trumps, and I have the left bower." Leaping over the fence, Teacher Askew shouted, "No, switches are trumps, and I hold the right bough."

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