North Central School

Etching of North Central School from 1899 Oregonian Newspaper article

Dear Liza,

I am still working on my children’s story. Maybe it will get done by the time you can read it! My characters are getting more interesting, which, of course, means I need to research more.

My main character, a girl named Clara, lives on the West Side of the Willamette River, in the more developed, stylish part of 1903 Portland. A character I am developing, a boy named Henry, lives on the more rustic East Side. Many of the streets weren’t paved yet, and only three bridges connected the two sides of the city.

My model for Clara

Henry is nine years old and goes to North Central School, so now I get to learn all about this school. This is difficult because the school doesn’t exist anymore, and even before it was torn down, its name was changed from North Central to Buckman, named after a man who helped to develop this part of the city. To complicate research, there is now a different Buckman School in the same neighborhood.

The boy on the left is my model for Henry

I am spending a lot of time on the Oregon Historical Society site, where dozens of Oregon newspapers over more than a hundred years have been digitally stored. I can look up every article in almost any paper since 1893 about any topic. I am learning so much, not just about the school, but about the life and times of 1903.

Most interesting is how children of that time, once they were ten years old or so, were treated more like adults. I have found articles about kids injured at work…yes, work. Some worked as newsboys, or in fruit packing plants, some delivering messages or sweeping out stores. They worked, for pay, instead of going to school, in order to feed themselves or their families

There are also want ads where kids as young as twelve were hiring themselves out to do housekeeping and child care chores after school for room and board, so they could stay in school. “Reliable 12 year old girl seeks position.”

Life for kids wasn’t all hard work, though. The Humane Society had an annual show, usually at big theaters downtown, where all the school kids had the afternoon off and put on performances, saw lantern slides of birds, and had a good time. There were contests of every sort, from building bird houses to writing essays, from relay races between Oregon City and Portland, to bicycle races.

Kids of more prosperous families had a very different life, of course. Piano lessons, train rides, and college educations were available to those with cash.

There seemed to be more death in children’s lives ( forgive the pun) back then. Children died of accidents, measles, infections, and food poisoning, things that are less common these days. There were more orphans, because parents died in childbirth and all those other things, as well. Extended families, when they could, picked up the slack, but many kids who became orphans joined the workforce.

All this information is letting me create characters that feel real. They have lives that make sense and are based on human needs that don’t change, like food and shelter, safety and affection, self-esteem and the need to prove yourself.

Having fun learning things is a wonderful way to spend a rainy winter!

Love, Grandma Judy

Author: Judy

I am a new transplant to Portland from Salinas, a small city in Central California. This is a blog about my new city.

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