Reconnecting McDowell County officials recently announced that two structures have been acquired in an effort to create new housing for teachers and other professionals who want to work in McDowell County. Referred to as a “teacher’s village” the housing would assist McDowell County officials with the recruitment and retention of teachers. However, one would only have to look at the coal-mining communities of the last century to understand the origins of such an idea.
In an effort to secure the most capable teachers, the coal company supplemented teachers’ salaries and built houses called “teacherages” for the female teachers to occupy. Mining community studies have identified the larger mining communities as providing so called clubhouses for their clerical, medical, and teaching staffs. The Pocahontas Fuel Company built a boarding house on West Water Street for the female teachers to occupy. These buildings were described as comfortable, well arranged, with modern conveniences available at a fair boarding price. The houses were equipped with bedroom suites, kitchen- dinette furniture, and a living area.
The “Teacher’s Clubhouse” was built in 1922 in order to provide adequate housing for teachers arriving in Pocahontas. The home was reported by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph to be “the most modern and complete building of its kind in this section of the State.” The coal company hired a hostess to clean the house, prepare meals, and watch over the teachers. The teachers shared the rent, utilities, and housekeeping expenses. The food was purchased at the company store where the teachers enjoyed a nice discount. The final bill was then divided up among all the clubhouse occupants. The coal company paid the electric bill. Pocahontas High School teacher Hannah Haga recalled $25 of her $110 a month salary going to pay her share of the expenses at the clubhouse.
The coal companies guarded the reputation of their teachers. Their conduct was closely observed and high moral standards were demanded. In most mining communities, teachers were expected to do social work, teach Sunday school, and assist with community activities. Wayne Wright, a Pocahontas High School graduate of 1944, recalled the strict dating policy enforced by the company.
In my courting days, I went with one of the teachers who lived at the clubhouse. When you dated a teacher, they would allow you to go into the parlor. There, a “lady of the house” would sit around watching you. They were very protective of the teachers who lived there.
Mrs. Hannah Haga also recalled the coal company being protective of the reputations of teachers living in the clubhouse:
When you came to work here you had to live at the clubhouse. Every night the hostess would lock the door at 11:00 P.M. You couldn’t marry. The men teachers stayed at Mr. Ellett’s place, but they ate their meals at the clubhouse. And some of the employees of the Pocahontas Fuel Company were allowed to eat there.
In Tazewell County, the school board was also protective of their employee’s image. The school board ordered that no married female applicants would be contracted for the 1932-33 school year. If a teacher married or was found to be secretly married, then her contract was automatically canceled. However, many of the teachers who came to Pocahontas met eligible bachelors, married, and decided to make the coalfields their home. The Teacher’s Clubhouse still stands on West Water Street in Pocahontas today.
Thomas Brewster – 2000, 2014