You know you're getting old when you can personally relate to the likes of Elisabeth Bennet. She was at the very end of her career as an educator when I attended Barnard Jr. High School, the year was 1949. I had written an article about her and the Ninth District school fire in 2003 and that is when I realized how really old she was. A very capable person, she was responsible for Barnard, Nathan Hale, Highland Park and South schools all at the same time. I never had a run-in with Miss Bennet and more importantly, I never really had a fear of her because of her stern looks. Most of my male classmates were frightened to death to be in her presence. My mother made a home for my invalid grandmother when I was 7 years of age and therefore I had a love and understanding of older folks since she shaped me as a child.
When I did my research on Miss Bennet I was dismayed to turn up only one photo of her that was part of the Manchester Evening Herald publications. It was taken at the time of her retirement. I can tell you I never saw her without a hat, both in and out of school. The story went that she'd lost some of her hair during the Ninth District School fire while running here and there through the various facilities that made up the school to make sure all her students were evacuated. There is a tunnel that connected the East Side Rec with the Main Barnard two-story building, and the story suggests she might have lost some of her hair between the two facilities. Perhaps there was some truth in that story since it was the custom of women to wear a hat while out in public, however their hats were always removed when at home or work.
She had some good practices that made a lot of sense to me even as a young boy. She kept the boys and the girls separate from one another in the classroom. The girls occupied the top floor of the school building facing Vine St. and the boys occupied the ground floor. Many of our (boys') teachers were men like Charlie Potter, Mr. Miller and Charles Perry. We also had boy students that, had the term been used then, would have been considered Special Ed students, and surprisingly they were tutored by two rather tough but respected ladies, Mrs. Bernice Maher and Mrs. Ruth Bonney. On rare occasions we'd join forces with the girls. One case in particular was the year we performed Gilbert & Sullivan's, The Mikado.
I have many fond memories of Elisabeth Bennet.
As a side note, I don't believe I ever found Miss Elisabeth Bennet's name spelled correctly in any of the newspapers, and she was quite active in Manchester's many celebrations including our centennial.
Webmaster's Note: The following items were reproduced from images of articles supplied by Dick Jenkins. The first is presumed to be from The Hartford Courant, though only the date of the article, January 11, 1916, was available to us. The second, Ms. Bennet's obituary, was from the September 2, 1959 edition of The Hartford Courant, page 6E. The misspellings that Dick alludes to continue in the articles.
Play Room Opened.
A playroom for boys in South Manchester was opened in the basement of the Barnard School last night, bringing to a head a plan that Miss Elizabeth Bennett, a supervisor in the Ninth District, has had underway for several weeks, as told in "The Courant" some time ago. Miss Bennett has been giving a lot of attention to boys who attend the Ninth District Schools and has a great influence over them. About two years ago she opened up her own home for the boys to gather and play games, in this way keeping them off the street and away from harm. The rooms in her home were not large enough to carry out the work as she desired and others were interested in the project. As a result the play room was opened last night. It is equipped with games that boys can play, and the hours that it will be opened as at present decided upon are from 6:45 to 9:45 each evening. Teachers in the school will take turns in attending the boys while they are at play.
MANCHESTER (Special) --
School administration officials, former students and friends Tuesday [September 1, 1959] mourned the passing of Miss Elizabeth M. Bennet, 78, retired school principal, who had served 42 years in the local school system.
Miss Bennet died early Tuesday at Manchester Memorial Hospital after a long illness.
Superintendent of Schools Arthur H. Illing, when notified of her death, paid tribute to "the breadth of her vision, her personal interest in the welfare of her pupils and her tireless devotion to the field of education."
Miss Bennet started her long career in Manchester schools as supervisor and principal of the North District School, where she served from 1909 to 1917. She was named principal of Barnard School in that year and added to her principal's duties the supervision of Nathan Hale, Highland Park and South Schools in 1945.
She was born on January 22, 1881, in Danbury. She attended Vassar College and was graduated from the Danbury
Normal School in 1909. She earned a bachelor of science degree at New Britain Teacher's College and a master's
degree at Massachusetts State Teacher's College.
She leaves a brother, Robert N. Bennet, of Norwalk.
Funeral services will be held Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Watkins-West Funeral Home, 142 East Center Street. The Rev. John R. Neubert, pastor of the Community Baptist Church, will officiate. Burial will be in Wooster Cemetery in Danbury.
Friends may call at the funeral home Wednesday from 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m.
Elisabeth was the oldest of the four children of Archibald and Fannie Lewis Bennet. Elisabeth and her sister Sara lived together in Manchester during the years of Elisabethís brilliant career as an educator. Elisabeth was the daughter of hard-working people. Her father was a carpenter and her grandfather was also a craftsman, a joiner and millwright; another grandfather was a blacksmith. Elisabeth was a first generation Scottish-American on her fatherís side. Her mother helped run a boarding house that her grandparents had established. Elisabeth Montague Bennet died September 1, 1959 after a long and devoted commitment to the betterment of the minds of children. It is fair to say that she fully honored the sacrifices and hard work of her ancestors. Elisabeth M. Bennet School is named after her.
Webmaster's Note: For additional information on Elisabeth Bennet on this website, please click here. For a newspaper photo of Miss Bennet with Mr. Verplanck, see 1923 photo.
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