As part of our extensive oral interviews with past Cary residents, Peggy Van Scoyoc recorded the following interview with beloved Cary teacher, Ruth Cathey Fox. We're reposting this interview as part of our September focus on the naming of Cary Regional Library's rooms to honor the Town's past.
Peggy Van Scoyoc (PV): This is Peggy Van Scoyoc. I am in the home of Ruth Fox in downtown Cary. It is Thursday, June 10, 1999, and I am here today to speak to Mrs. Fox in her home. So Mrs. Fox, you where reading some notes to me just now. Some notes and information that you had written down for our interview today, and I would just love if you would go through them for us on the tape.
Ruth Fox (RF): Walker Hotel, as I have known it. I moved to Cary from the Charlotte area in 1919 when I was only seven years old. My father was connected with the Seaboard railroad. He roomed at the Walker Hotel for six months before my mother and I joined him. No meals were served at the hotel, no electric lights and no indoor plumbing. History has it that when the Hotel was first opened, passenger trains, the Seaboard and Southern, had regular meal stops at the Walker Hotel. I lived nearby and had friends who lived in the Walker Hotel after Mrs. Walker’s death. How we did enjoy running up the stairs to the third floor [to visit friends who were boarders]. After Mrs. Walker died, they rented that building. A family lived there, they had one daughter that was about my age in the same grade. I would visit her and we would have a lot of fun running up the steps to the third floor.
Cary High School and Farm Life School - the first public high school in North Carolina dating back to 1908 according to the cornerstone in the building. Many from out of state boarding students attended school here and how the townspeople would meet the trains as the students would arrive. We had a boys’ and a girls’ dormitory, and teacher training course granted a Class C teachers certificate. Farm Life and Dairy Poultry School - many exhibits at the State Fair. School was granted a two day holiday to attend the fair.
Streetlights in Cary were turned on each evening by hand. Central location, the corner near what is now South Academy and West Chatham Street. The telephone office was upstairs above the corner drug store. Only two churches - the First Methodist in the present location, and the Baptist was at the corner of what is now West Chatham Street and West Streets. However, the Baptist Church now is located on South Academy Street. We had a lovely so-called boarding house here, that was called the Westside Inn and it has been demolished. No house to house mail was delivered. We rented a box at the post office. And I remember our box number was 174. And no zip codes then. Telegrams were sent to the ticket agent at the railroad station, the Seaboard and Southern, and then they were delivered to the addressee.
PV: That was fantastic. Thank you so much for writing all that down and sharing that with us. That is so valuable to us. Life was a little different back then than it is now.
RF: I wonder how it sounds.
PV: I’m sure it sounds wonderful.
RF: I married Charles Fox [who] had three children [from a previous marriage.] He taught poultry science. I went to Lewisburg College, the oldest junior college in the nation, 1787. Then I transferred to Columbia College, Columbia South Carolina. I majored really in music. [I began teaching] in 1933. I taught the second grade at Cary Elementary School for 34 years. I drafted into the first principal-ship at Briarcliff School. I had forty years service. I also directed the high school glee club for a number of years. I directed the choir at the Methodist Church for eight years.
PV: Tell me about the early years of your teaching career. What you taught, the methods that you used, and how those have changed for you over the years?
RF: Well, at that time we had so many rural children that were bussed in, you know. We had very few, not too many here in the Cary area, but they came in from Morrisville and that area. And they were so attentive, and the parents, oh they appreciated the teachers so much. The little boys, at that time, lived way out in the country, you know, near the airport at that time. And they had what were called rabbit boxes they put out in the woods to catch rabbits. Well, those mothers would dress those rabbits and send the rabbits in to me already dressed. In the cold weather, we’d put them out on the ledge of the window to keep them cool. They would send me homemade butter, big old collards they would bring in on the bus. They were so, so appreciative.
PV: And how did you see that change of the years?
RF: Well, more sophisticated families, I’ll say, moved into the Cary area and having come from large cities moving in here, that made quite a difference.
PV: I would imagine so. How did the curriculum change over the thirty-four years that you taught second grade. From the first few years of teaching until the last few years of teaching the second grade.
RF: Well, of course, the teachers were required to go to summer school, you know, to review all the new inventions that came in.
PV: Every summer?
RF: No, not every summer, but periodically.
PV: The curriculum changed?
RF: Oh yes, we had to be brought up to date on that, you know. Of course, they don’t even teach phonics anymore. But many years, we did teach phonics.
PV: Do you think that was good? Did it work well?
RF: Yes, I thought it was good.
PV: What else changed?
PV: How did it start out and how did it change?
RF: Years ago, the children and their parents, whatever the teacher said was law and order. There was so much appreciation from some of the folks. So much appreciation. But I enjoyed the influx of Cary. McGregor Downs. I had all the McGregor Downs’ children over at Briarcliffe.
RF: [Briarcliffe opened in] 1967. M.B. Dry was superintendent Principal at Cary High School when I was a student. And I came back as one of his teachers. [Mr. Dry] was so understanding as my Principal when I was at school and also as one of his teachers. [He was principal for] about twenty six years. His wife, Mrs. Dry, was in charge of the boarding students, the meals. That was done away with in 1933, the boarding students. I was so fortunate at Briarcliffe during integration. They had closed Holly Springs school which had been an all black school and all those students came to Briarcliffe, which made it very, I won’t say easy, but it was very convenient to have all of them there together rather than from here, yonder and everywhere. My former students still come to see me. [I was Principal of Briarcliffe] 1967 to 1973. I took my graduate work at Appalachia State University in Boone [for] three summers. When I first started teaching at Cary Elementary School, second grade, the parents were so appreciative of every little thing that you would do. They seemed to find no fault about anything. Most of them were farmers, not too well educated, maybe to high school. They thought what the teacher did was absolutely fine, anything. We had black teachers too. I was never accustomed to black teachers at Cary Elementary when I taught there. The black teachers were very loyal. Of course, our custodian and maid, they were black. Some of the cafeteria workers were black. We had excellent food service [at Briarcliffe]. The house that we bought [when I was a child] had electricity but it had no indoor plumbing.
[As a child we played] jump rope, drop the handkerchief, London bridges falling down. Who’s that knocking at my door and the person would say, it is I. But sometimes they’d forget and say, it is me. Hide and seek. Sometimes they’d have a baseball game. Farmer in the Dell. I haven’t thought of those things in years. [I’ve lived in this house] since 1950.