Lura Eyestone began her 46-year teaching career in a rural Illinois school. Eyestone spent 38 of those 46 years teaching at Metcalf School in Normal. The Eyestone School on the campus of Illinois State University is named in her honor. The structure of the school resembles the nineteenth century one-room schools at which Eyestone began teaching.
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Lura Mary Eyestone was born in Bloomington, Illinois on October 14, 1872 to Theodore Riley and Martha (Liston) Congleton. When Lura was born, the family lived on the north side of Front Street and east of Davis Street.
Her father Riley (as he was known to most) was a police officer with the Bloomington Police Department. He was appointed to this position in May 1868. During his time as a police officer, he made several arrests that were reported in the local newspaper, The Pantagraph. One such instance reported that Congleton, and fellow officer Joy, observed “a couple of fancy gentlemen” who appeared to be “lookin’ for somethin’”. Congleton and Joy then witnessed the duo steal some shoes that were “hung out at Howard’s boot and shoe store” (located at 116 N. Main Street). The officers proceeded to chase the “gentlemen” and apprehended the thieves a block or two down the street. After serving on the police force for about six years, Congleton resigned from his position in 1874.
Lura’s mother, Martha, was not Riley’s first wife—and would not be his last. Riley had also been married to Elizabeth Liston (Martha’s older sister). Elizabeth passed away at the age of 32 on October 3, 1865. A little over a year later, on December 30, 1866, Riley married Martha. Unfortunately, Martha passed away just eight years later in 1874. That same year, Lura was adopted by Charles and Martha (Johnson) Eyestone of McLean, Illinois. Her birth father, Riley, moved to Indiana and remarried twice, once in 1878, and then again in 1883.
Lura had three sisters: Letha, Cora, and Dora. Letha was the daughter of Elizabeth, and Cora and Dora were daughters of Martha. According to census records, it appears that Cora followed their birth-father Riley to Indiana. Dora (“Dottie”) remained in Bloomington and was also adopted by a local Bloomington-Normal family, Oliver and Ellen Hodge.
Charles W. Eyestone, Lura’s adoptive father, was born on August 7, 1846 in Sycamore, Wyandot County, Ohio and was a farmer. Before moving to Illinois, Charles fought for the Union Army during the United States Civil War. He enlisted in 1864 as a private in Company H of the Ohio 144th Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Charles later moved to Illinois, and on January 28, 1873, married Martha “Mattie” Johnson in McLean, Illinois. In 1876 the Eyestones moved to an unknown address in Bloomington. Six years later they moved to Normal, living in a home off of Empire Street, near what was then the town limits. After working as a clerk at the Johnson & Co. grocery store (located at 619 N. Main Street in Bloomington), Charles later established his own fruit farm. By 1900, when the family lived at 720 Sudduth Road in Normal, Charles had twenty acres of fruit, including approximately three acres of strawberries, seven acres of blackberries, and three acres of raspberries. He was one of many fruit farmers in the area. On March 6, 1907, approximately one year after he sold his farm and retired, Charles passed away after seven years of dealing with heart trouble. He is buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery.
Martha (Johnson) Eyestone was born January 8, 1853 in Bardstown, Kentucky. Her parents were Samuel and Mary (Ellis) Johnson. After the U.S. Civil War, Martha’s family moved to Lincoln, Illinois, then to McLean where she later met Charles. After they moved to Bloomington, she, along with the rest of the family, belonged to the congregation at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. Martha was a member of the Women’s Home Missionary Society and was very involved in the church’s quilting circle too.
Upon the advice of others in the community, Lura’s parents originally sent her to the Normal public schools due to a concern with the quality of education received from practice teachers—i.e. students who were training to become teachers through Illinois State Normal University (today known as Illinois State University). Towards the end of her life when she gave a speech during an annual Founders’ Day commemoration, Lura recalled that as a young girl, when she would take strolls on ISNU’s campus, she admired what she saw. It was because of these experiences that young Lura decided to “finally rebel and insist upon going to the Model School, now, University High.” While at University High School, she became a member of the Sapphonian Society, an all-female literary society named after Sappho, a female Greek poet. Founded in 1887, the Sapphos actively engaged in programs of music, recitations, declamations, orations, and essay readings as well as debates at their weekly meetings. In Lura’s last spring semester at the school, she was elected president of the club. She graduated from University High School in 1892.
Lura decided to continue her education by first attending Illinois State Normal University for one year from 1892 to 1893. After that year of study, she spent a year teaching at Rose Hill School in rural Normal. She was initially supposed to teach there for three months, but only worked for two weeks because the roof of the school was blown off in a storm. She earned $35.00 for her two weeks of work (which would be worth approximately $972.22 in 2018). She returned when the school reopened in the fall, and remained for the entire school year.
Teachers in rural, one-room schoolhouses often taught eight grade levels at a time. Younger students learned from overhearing the older students’ lessons, and older students had the opportunity to help teach the younger students their lessons. When students misbehaved, corporal punishment was often used, such as a dunce cap, a swift ruler to the knuckles, or keeping your nose to the blackboard in the middle of a circle while standing for a period of time. To heat up the schoolhouse, teachers would arrive early in the morning each day to add fuel to the potbelly stove. Schools often had very little supplies, with the only writing surfaces being slates and the blackboard.
As a woman working in a rural schoolhouse, Lura would have been subjected to the discrimination that many female teachers experienced during this time period. If a woman teacher were to marry, she could lose her job. In fact, even spending time alone with men could have violated her school contract. Her behavior outside of school was scrutinized. She would not have been permitted to drink, smoke, or be outside of the home late. Women teachers’ clothing was policed as well, with a prohibition of bright colors, dyed hair, short dresses, and a requirement for two petticoats. Women teachers often lived with their students and frequently changed their housing location. This would have helped to enforce these rules, as there was always someone to watch the teacher. Most of these rules did not apply to their male counterparts.
After Lura’s time in the rural schoolhouse, she taught at the high school level in the Normal school district from 1894 to 1901. The school at which she taught, located at the corner of School and Ash streets, was voted to be built in 1865 at a cost of $13,600 (approximately $209,230.77 in 2018). Called the “Old Ark,” the building was later expanded to accommodate high school classes. The high school developed a three-year program in 1895 and two years later was accredited with a four-year program. In 1901, the same year that Illinois State Normal University’s Model School joined the Normal public school district, Lura began her 38-year-long career as training faculty at ISNU (which was interrupted by a one year teaching stint at Greenway School in Bisbee, Arizona from 1920-1921).
Lura was not only an educator of children, but she was an educator of future teachers. She was a critic teacher at the Training School (renamed Thomas Metcalf School in 1914) at ISNU. Critic teachers, also called training teachers, trained the student teachers at the university. They led by example, demonstrating how to teach by teaching pupils themselves, and critiquing the student teachers once they started teaching in the lab schools. The two lab schools at ISNU were Thomas Metcalf School and University High School (originally called the Model School). In a speech she gave to celebrate the 106th anniversary of the founding of ISNU (presumably in 1963), she stated that “it was the aim of the school to teach teachers, in other words to go into the classroom not to teach subject matter, but to show by example how to inspire the pupils to appreciate the values of life, to get information, to develop character, [and] to foster the spirit of altruism.”
Her first year at ISNU was a year full of change. Prior to 1901, the Training School lacked students and rooms sufficient to provide proper training for student teachers. In the spring of 1901, the Town of Normal brought the Training School into the public district, simultaneously providing students and building space. Dr. David Felmley, the president of ISNU at the time, had a vision for the future of “The Normal School.” He reorganized the training school, appointing a director to supervise all eight of the grades and a training teacher for each grade, and also added a kindergarten department in 1903. According to Lura, Felmley frequently visited the Training School to ensure its success, even occasionally teaching arithmetic classes. Critic teacher Thomas Metcalf (after whom the Training School was eventually renamed) visited high school classes and gave kind and constructive feedback.
Even as Lura instructed future educators, she continued to further her own education during school breaks. She attended the Chicago Normal School during the summer of 1896, Columbia University during the summer of 1905, and she earned a two-year diploma from Illinois State Normal University in 1906. She also attended the Teachers College at Columbia University from 1906 to 1907, eventually earning a Bachelor’s degree from the same school in 1911. Of the 37,481 Bachelor’s degrees conferred in the United States in the school year of 1910-1911, Lura was one of 8,934 women to receive a Bachelor’s degree. According to this statistic, only 23.8 percent of graduates with Bachelor’s degrees that year were women.
Lura published many works related to education during her career. Beginning in 1907, she became a regular contributor for the Practical School Journal. In 1910 she published Rimes and Stories, a collection of nursery rhymes and other short passages to help children learn how to read. In 1915, she, along with Douglas C. Ridgley, co-authored Home Geography, a textbook designed to “develop a research spirit among the pupils” through examining one’s surroundings to learn about geography. Lura wrote a series of ten articles in the textbook. Each article described peoples that would be foreign to the young students, such as North American native groups, Eskimos, the Swiss, and the Dutch.
In a Founder’s Day speech written for the 106th anniversary of ISNU, Lura reflects on the impact that teachers can have on their students: “How little we teachers know, or think of the influence we are exerting every day!” She understood her role as going “into the classroom not to teach subject matter alone, but to show by example how to inspire the pupils to appreciate the values of life.” One way in which she executed this was through charity work outside the classroom. In 1931, the children of Thomas Metcalf School supplied six orange crates of food supplies to The Baby Fold in Normal for Thanksgiving. Among the items included was applesauce made by Lura’s third grade class. The Baby Fold is a local Christian-based charity that provides aid to orphans and other children in need of family support, whether it be educational services, fostering, adoption, or counseling. This community engagement is but one example of the “values of life” that Lura strived to instill in students.
Throughout her 46 years of teaching, Lura was able to not only teach her young students, but also impact the future generations of students that would later be taught by her student teachers. Lura was posthumously recognized for her skills in teaching children in a letter to the editor of The Pantagraph from Thelma Force, the appointed “specialist in the upper grades” at Thomas Metcalf School. In working with Lura and training her college students, she praised Lura’s demonstrative teaching, as she “could keep the [third grade] children and college students on the edge of their seats with interest in an arithmetic lesson.”
Both during her career (and after she retired), Lura remained very active in the Bloomington-Normal community. A member of the Normal Women’s Improvement League, Lura and dozens of other women worked to improve quality of live in the Town of Normal. Established in 1907, the league aimed to promote civic engagement, love for art and nature, and citizenship ideals for children. Among many other lasting town improvements, the league started trash collection in the town of Normal, funding it until the town started its own collection service in 1919. The League petitioned for a train station in Normal, succeeding in 1923. And it also started a children’s gardening club, providing the children with seeds to either sell or give away. Additionally, the League held annual garden shows, an endeavor in which Lura was particularly involved. In 1945 Lura was the chairman of the exhibit committee for the 30th annual fall exhibit of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, grown by the members of the Alice Jean Patterson Children’s Garden club, which the Normal Improvement League sponsored. Children involved in the club exhibited bouquets, vegetables, unusual plants and flowers, and canned goods. The exhibits were open to the public, and judges assessed the children’s entries.
Lura was a life-long member of the Methodist faith and attended Grace Methodist Episcopal Church (later called Grace Methodist Church) with her family. She was present when the cornerstone was laid for the church on September 3, 1886. Lura and her adoptive mother were members of the Women’s Foreign Ministry Society. However, due to a dwindling congregation, the church merged with Wesley United Methodist Church in 1952. After this merger, the building for Grace Methodist Church was razed. Lura was present when the time capsule that was inside the cornerstone was opened. After the move to Wesley Methodist Church, Lura became very involved in her new church, joining the Women’s Society of Christian Service.
Outside of her church activities, she was also involved in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Founded in Ohio in 1874, the group advocated for a constitutional amendment for the prohibition of alcohol. The group succeeded when the Eighteenth Amendment was passed in 1920, until the amendment was repealed in 1933. Under the belief that social problems cannot be separated, the WCTU provided women with the platform to advocate for many other reform movements beyond temperance, such as women’s suffrage and workers’ rights.
Being a teacher at the Metcalf School, it was only natural that Lura would be involved with the school outside of her teaching duties. She was a charter member of the Metcalf School Parent Teacher Association, founded in 1908. In 1948, she was elected the historian of the organization. That same year, she was honored by the Metcalf PTA with a lifetime membership in the Illinois Congress of Parents and Teachers.
Lura was also a member of the Idlers Club, which was created “for the study of history and literature and for recreation” by a group of young women of ISNU community. She was the second member voted into the Idlers club by its nine charter members after the club was established in 1896. Lura was an especially active member of the club. She was elected club president several times; 1899, 1925, and 1948. In 1905, while attending one of the club’s many informal parties, she won a “handsome Plymouth Rock chicken, presented alive in a basket” after winning a scavenger hunt. When she moved to Arizona in 1920 to spend a year teaching at a school in Bisbee, the Idlers held a breakfast bon voyage party for her, giving her a gold friendship circle as a parting gift. Later, when the club had its 50th anniversary luncheon in 1946, Lura hosted club members at her home located at 202 W. Ash Street in Normal.
Besides these organizations, Lura was also involved in the Bloomington-Normal Garden Club, the ISNU Alumni Association, the Friday Evening History Club, the Normal Unit of the Home Bureau, the YWCA, and the Koda-Roamers (a photography club).
Lura frequently presented programs and talks to local organizations and at ISNU throughout her life. In 1928, Lura presented to 58 members of the Beginning Teachers’ Reading Circle on “Primary Number Work,” one of many speeches that she gave to inspire other educators. Outside of her professional expertise, Lura presented her knowledge in other ways. For example, in 1945, she gave a speech to the Normal Women’s Improvement League on the evolution of the peony. Lura also spoke to local clubs and groups on many occasions about her travels. She presented several times on her trip to Guatemala, including to the Gibson City Woman’s Club in 1937 and at a Guatemalan-themed dinner at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church in 1938.
Guatemala was one of many destinations that Lura visited throughout her life. With Lora Dexheimer, she spent over a month during the Christmas holidays in 1939 at the Turner-Hodge Mission School in Mérida in the Mexican state of Yucatán. In 1948 she traveled with Edna Gueffroy to New Zealand, stopping in Honolulu, Hawaii on the way. Lura later spoke about her time in New Zealand to the Women’s Society of Christian Service at the Wesley Methodist Church in a speech entitled, “A Methodist Woman Looks at Methodism in New Zealand.”
Besides international travel, Lura traveled throughout the United States as well. In 1914, she traveled to Boston and the surrounding area. She often visited schools, including other normal schools, while traveling. Lura seemed to be quite fond of visiting warmer destinations during her travels, spending her school vacation in California while she was teaching in Arizona between 1920 and 1921. Forty-two years later in 1963, Lura again returned to California, this time to visit Mrs. Charles Walgreens’ estate, Hazelwood, in Dixon, California. She also visited Florida a number of times; traveling to St. Petersburg in 1957 and 1965 for meetings of the Florida ISNU Club, and to visit other friends in the state.
Lura Mary Eyestone passed away suddenly on March 9, 1965 at 7:05 a.m. at Brokaw Hospital. Just a week prior, she had attended a luncheon of the Florida ISNU Club in St. Petersburg. Lura had been admitted about an hour before she passed away. She was 92 years old. Ever considering her community involvement, she requested that all expressions of sympathy be made in the form of donations to either The Baby Fold or to the building fund at her church, Wesley United Methodist. After a short visitation and funeral, she was buried at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Bloomington.
Lura’s legacy lives on through the Eyestone School. The Eyestone School, now located at the corner of College and Adelaide streets in Normal, was originally named Rose Hill School. This was the school at which Lura first began her teaching career in 1893. The school served students from the west side of Normal and the north edge of Bloomington. In 1855 these students would have attended class in a wooden frame building at the southwest corner of Hovey and Cottage avenues until 1864, when Normal Township laid out school districts. At this time, the old school was torn down and a brick schoolhouse was built at the southeast corner of Section 30 to replace it. The school was named Rose Hill School because of the multitude of wild roses that grew at this location. The brick schoolhouse was used until 1899, when it was destroyed by a windstorm. In 1900, the building that later became the Eyestone School was built, including a basement and newer, more modern equipment. Between 1927 and 1930, Rose Hill School was used as a training school for rural teachers through ISNU. In 1948, the school joined the Normal School District.
The school was moved to its present location as part of a project sponsored by the ISU Alumni Association in 1965. The school was dedicated to Lura Eyestone as a part of the Normal Centennial celebration. Lura was honored in this way because she began her career in the one-room schoolhouse, and was recognized as an outstanding teacher in the laboratory school of ISU for many years. The Eyestone School, one of the best-kept, one-room schoolhouses in the county, is now a museum where students of today can learn about what it was like to be a student during the time period that Lura was a teacher.