[See the previous entry in this series here]
Bertha Morris Parker was born in a small town named Rochester, Illinois — a few miles east of the state capital at Springfield — on February 7, 1890. Her father owned a drugstore in “the village” which, as near as I can determine, was at the corner of Main Street and John Street. Here’s a photo of the store, at right (click to enlarge). The photo comes from an historical memoir of early Rochester, As I Saw It, by an author named Justin Taft with family ties to the area. The two-story building on the left was called the Twist Building — you can see the word “TWIST” on the facade, at the top — after a private telephone company which occupied the top floor. The H.D. Parker drugstore took up half the floor below it, just to the right of the stairway and the left of the bank.
I know little about the home where Bertha Parker grew up, except what she recorded in a collection of “autobiographical notes” in 1979*: “My family… lived in a big house surrounded by an acre of ground dotted with walnut and maple trees.” (I did find a report of Parker’s father having bought a house in 1904, but I don’t know if this was the house she grew up in.)
The drugstore sold lots of stuff besides drugs, of course. A history of Sangamon County, Illinois (published in 1881) says that Parker, with his partner at the time, “are engaged in selling drugs, groceries, hardware, queensware, etc., and have a large and lucrative business. In politics he is a Republican.” (Love that last bit.)
An elderly area resident recalled, in a 2004 interview, that the store included a soda fountain, and that out front — hence the cars at the curb in that old photo — stood the first gasoline pump in Rochester. It also “stocked tires, tubes, and those things that people needed for their cars,” cosmetics, and Victrolas (!). She added, with what I imagine to be a little touch of small-town insider’s whispered rumor:
I’m not even sure if he was a registered pharmacist, because there probably was very little prescription medicine at that time. Most everything was just sold over the counter. Medicines that were [sold] probably, the doctors told people what to buy and they’d go to the drugstore and buy it.
For schooling, Rochester offered but a single four-room building, with one teacher per room. Bertha Parker recalled that the seventh- and eighth-grade teacher did double (or rather, treble) duty as the school’s principal. Yet “the teaching staff was of higher caliber than one might expect,” thanks to the presence of a teachers’ college in nearby Springfield which supplied the outlying areas with a steady stream of well-educated, ambitious educators. Still:
…the curriculum was chiefly reading and writing and arithmetic. It offered no challenges. No child was ever asked to express an opinion of his or her own. No problems were presented without a pattern for solving them. There was always time for studying while other groups were reciting. Nothing was provided for those who did not need so much study time.
Most damning, perhaps, in Bertha Parker’s later memories — yet maybe the most important single fact in her professional life to come:
It apparently hadn’t occurred to the teachers in our school that interesting plants and animals were common in the vicinity of the school and could have been used to give children an excellent introduction to nature study.