On my first visit to the Herkimer County Historical Society, several years ago, I was particularly struck by a portrait of a formidable-looking lady in masculine clothes. Our guide told us it was Margaret Tugor, a local educator of note. I wondered if anyone had written a biography of her. I had a vague thought of writing one myself but, as I don’t know how one goes about writing a biography, it came to nothing.
Flash forward to 2014 when I saw in the Herkimer Telegram that Bill Rosenfeld had written a book called Reminiscences of Margaret Tugor and would be giving a program on it at the society. I made immediate plans to attend.
Margaret Tugor was principal at South School in Herkimer NY in the early 20th century. In those days, the railroad tracks ran down what is now State Street, distinctly separating north and south Herkimer. Many poor immigrants lived in South Herkimer. South School was later renamed the Tugor School to honor Margaret Tugor.
Miss Tugor was a truly memorable character. Although she was a strict disciplinarian, she was very kind to her children and inspired them to do their best. She showed and demanded respect for all.
Mr. Rosenfeld had one prop to illustrate his program: Old Faithful. This was a wooden plank, a little larger than a ruler. It had been made at the Standard Desk Company by a former student. Old Faithful replaced a switch which had previously been used. Yes, Margaret Tugor ran South School at a time when corporal punishment was the accepted mode of discipline. Rosenfeld looked at Old Faithful speculatively and remarked that in memory it had seemed larger.
Mr. Rosenfeld’s program was very informal. He said he did not want to tell what was in the book, because, well, it was in the book. In fact a lot of the people attending had already purchased a copy. I was not one of them, but I am confidently expecting one on my birthday. Rosenfeld opened the floor to questions and said if anybody had any memories of Miss Tugor they could share them.
One man had been a student at South School during Tugor’s tenure and had felt the sting of Old Faithful. Another attendee had not known Tugor but had grown up hearing about her from his parents. A woman had taught at the school after it had been renamed the Tugor School. Many reminiscences were shared.
Rosenfeld said he hoped to inspire others to also record their memories of Margaret Tugor. He said he would like to see a whole shelf full of books about her. Judging from the memories and stories shared, this seems well within the realm of possibility.
I sat jotting notes about the various reminiscences in my notebook. Perhaps I shall write another blog post recounting some of the stories. Or perhaps I should seek out more people with more reminiscences and add to that shelf of books Mr. Rosenfeld would like to see.