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Living history
Frances Cook Schnabel ’43
“With the flurry of war hanging over our heads in fall 2002, I remembered my first school because it was wartime,” says retired Mount Laurel teacher Frances Cook Schnabel ’43. Invited to speak at the school board’s monthly meeting, she reflected on her first teaching experience in the New Jersey town when schools were segregated, ladies always wore dresses and war rations were a way of life.

After she graduated from Glassboro State Teacher’s College, Schnabel drove her 1936 Chevy up a dirt lane to seek a job in Mount Laurel. Assigned to the larger school for caucasian students, she taught a second/third grade class.

Schnabel recalls that the local ration board supplied her “B” ration stamps to put gas in her car. Silk was used for making military parachutes, so women mended their nylons often. “I still have little balls of tan thread!” she said.

School days were long and teachers could not leave their students, Schnabel remembers. “We ate with the children,” she said. “If we had to go to the ladies room (which there wasn’t) we went when the children did, in their lavatory.”

Schnabel spoke to her audience of board members and teachers about experiences common to any teacher of the era. But that evening she had a privilege perhaps few of her peers have enjoyed: Standing where she began teaching 60 years earlier, Schnabel saw someone approach her. “From the hall came a 67-year-old man—Richard Sclaroff—the first boy I taught to read in 1943,” she said. Having planned to simply recount her early career that evening, she hadn’t expected such a reunion, but she was thrilled to greet her former student. “The night was a success,” she said. “Full circle.”

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