Biography Corner, p. 3

Union County, Georgia                                                                      The GAGenWeb Project

A Series of Union County Biographies
written by our Visitors

We'd like to encourage all of our visitors to contribute biographies of their ancestors--we'll gladly edit all submissions, so you don't have to worry about grammar and spelling. All articles should be no more than 600 words in length, and only deceased individuals should be profiled.

January 10, 1883 - September 22, 1931
School Teacher of Union County
Written by Martha Clayton Clement

Slates and slate pencils, no desks, a hard, backless bench to sit on, spelling matches, memorizing poetry, dippers and water buckets to hold water from the spring, walking to school, one teacher for seven grades…in this day and age of computers, water fountains, advanced program classes, teachers for every subject and teens driving their own vehicles to school, the early years of school in Union County seems to read like an old time story. In spite of enduring a life that necessitated spending every minute of daylight in providing sustenance for their families, many of the mountain folks looked upon getting an education with great desire. They knew of the importance of reading, writing and doing math and they wanted this for their children.

One room schools were created throughout the county, some in homes and most in churches. The school year was usually a short term of two months in the summer, four to five months in the autumn and winter. Many children welcomed the release from farm work to go to school. There was no set attendance requirement; indeed, most of the time, the schools followed the planting and harvesting times of the almanac.

In a 1916 report on Union County schools, W.N. Clement was the teacher at Antioch School (in the Ivy Log district). The report described his school as "three miles north to Ebenezer (another school). Good church building, painted, ceiled, comfortable. No school equipment, long benches. One teacher, enrollment 45, seven grades." It went on to say that "the children had very meager educational opportunities."

Narvie Clement was a gentle man that showered attention on his students. He taught all the grades and when needed, he would discipline any child if the need warranted. The way he would do this would be to send the troublemaker (often a boy) out into the woods to get a good switch! This did not happen often for the children in those days respected the teacher, and were taught to respect authority.

Narvie gave instruction in all areas of study, from geography, science, arithmetic, reading, to learning spelling from the Webster’s ("blue back") spelling book, as well as in many other subjects. We have many of the old books he used, slightly worn from the hands of the many children that shared them. These books date from 1890 to the late 1920s. We have one of Narvie’s teacher’s notebooks, showing his teaching outline for his classes. Among the notes are "teach masterpieces of American literature, tell of the Pilgrims from Bradford, talk about satire and criticism using Nathaniel Ward, history, Indian narratives, poetry" and even something that would be controversial in today’s schools, "teach theological matters, the works of Cotton Mather." Narvie’s love of poetry overflowed in his teachings. Every chance he got, he used poetry. He even taught moral and ethical skills, emphasizing the needs for kindness and compassion for each other.

The earliest dates on the old attendance rolls that Narvie kept is dated December 30, 1906. We have several of his teacher’s licenses, one which stated "W. N. Clement, having produced satisfactory evidence of good moral character, and having passed such examination as entitles him to a License of the Second Grade, is hereby authorized to teach in any of the Public Schools of Union County, Georgia, in which he may be employed for two years from this date. By order of the County Board of Education, September 11, 1905." It was signed by Charles S. Mauney, County School Commissioner. This is just one of several of his teaching certificates, showing that he had to be certified to teach each grade level.

Hindsight being what it is to an amateur genealogist, I wished I had thought to ask more questions about Narvie when his wife, Elbie Dills Clement, was still living (she died in 1980). I do not know anything of his early education toward becoming a teacher. The only thing I can provide as to what his previous education experience is an acknowledgment that I found in one of Elbie’s old trunks: "Certificate of Attendance. This is to certify that Mr. W. N. Clement has attended the Teachers’ Institute for Union and Towns Counties at Young Harris, ten days, and has done satisfactory work. Signed: Euri Belle Bottom, teacher, Leila R. Mize, teacher, Lula Edwards, teacher, and I. S. Smith, supervisor. Dated July 11 – 21, 1921."

Education and teaching was beginning to progress beyond the simple one room, one teacher schools along about 1930. Narvie was sent a letter, dated May 8, 1931, by the assistant director of the Georgia Department of Education which stated, in part, "if you are not a graduate of an accredited high school, it would be necessary for you to stand the state examination on high school subjects, or to validate your high school work by taking additional high school work at an accredited institution."

Sadly, Narvie was unable to further his teaching experience after receiving that letter. From January 1931 throughout that spring and summer, Narvie began a long decline in his health. He died of cancer on September 22 in the front room of the old farmhouse on Hicks Gap Road. He was 48 years old, leaving behind a wife and two sons.

The state laws today require that each and every child obtain an education, from elementary to high school. The mountain children of yesteryear would probably be envious of how our children of today are being taught. I believe Narvie would have certainly loved to have had the books, material, and other educational opportunities that teachers now experience. It is through the pioneering spirit of men and women like William Narvie Clement that the door of opportunity through education was opened for the children of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Click here to see a photo of William Narvie Clement

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This page was last updated on Jan. 17, 2005