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Otisfield Historical Society

An Otisfield Teacher and Her Students

Gore School, Otisfield, ca. 1921
Gore School, Otisfield, ca. 1921
The brick Gore Schoolhouse, built after 1830, was replaced after 1922 and demolished. The only individuals identified are teacher Ruby Jillson in plaid dress; student Helen Brett, standing next to teacher; and Helen Ahonen, bottom left.
Item Contributed by
Otisfield Historical Society

Note: This story originally appeared in a Maine Historical Society Newsletter in 2007, when Otisfield Historical Society was the Featured Contributing Partner to Maine Memory Network.

The photograph leaves no clues about why the students and teacher posed on ladders and on the school roof – something unimaginable in the 21st century. However, it leaves many clues about a small town in Western Maine and the nature of education in 1920.

Perhaps the students and teacher posed as a farewell to the Gore School, one of 14 one-room schools in the small community of only about 650. The schools each served a different district. The Gore School pictured here, built in the 1830s, closed in 1922. It was torn down and a new wooden building replaced it.

The teacher, Ruby Jillson, of the 9 boys and 6 girls was only about 18 when the photo was taken. Teachers at the time were not required to attend special training and many rural teachers, like Jillson, were barely out of secondary school themselves.

The only other identified students are Helen Brett, who was about 9; and Helen Ahonen, bottom left. The latter, about age 8, was one of seven children of Finnish immigrant Carolina Ahonen, a widow. Three of Helen Ahonen's older sisters, ages 14, 16 and 18, were servants in private homes. Everyone in the family spoke Finnish as their first language.

Otisfield was primarily a farming community. Jillson's father, Bertram, was the first large-scale poultry farmer in the area. Her mother, Ida, had died in 1915, leaving Ruby and her younger brother. Helen Brett's father and Helen Ahonen's mother also were farmers. The Brett farm burned in 1917, but the family rebuilt it. The clothing suggests the families were neither wealthy nor destitute.

Jillson left teaching by September 1922 when she married Nathaniel A. Green. They had three children.