Ruth Rosner’s Memories of Manumit Pawling New York 1928

June 11, 2006


At 11:50 A.M. on Tuesday, May 23, 2006 I went into the Cedar Tavern. Nothing had changed…the same big old bar, mirrors, pictures, smoky atmosphere. In my Village boozing years, I virtually lived at Cedar Tavern (along with The White Horse, Lions Head, Louie’s). But I had changed. Instead of going to the bar and ordering Finlandia on the rocks, with a twist. Double. I headed for the designated Manumit Reunion Table. There I found John Kramer. “Are you Ruth?” he asked. “I am”. Then I met the people coming in. All greeted me warmly. We exchanged stories. It was the most wonderful, exhilarating, sad, merry time.

I had been trying, without success, to find out about Manumit, to find people who were there with me. But here at Cedar Tavern were some of those who came after me. I’m 90 years old and I can assume most of those who were with me in the early twenties are gone. My brother, Donald , is alive at 88, . He’s sending along some of his memories of Manumit Pawling.

But what brought me to Cedar Tavern on that date at that time? A most strange, fortuitous coincidence? It was somehow meant to be? I don’t know. I was visiting a friend at Cragsmoor on May 20 th. We went to the village library. There we met up with Wendy Harris, a friend of my friend. In casual chatting with Wendy I thought I heard her say “Manumit”. “What did you just say?” “ I asked. She said “ Manumit School. My aunt Nancy Peake went there.” “But I went to Manumit. It’s wild that we met this way.” I exclaimed. Of course Nancy didn’t go to Pawling. She was in Pennsylvania, years later. But Wendy was the link that brought me to Cedar Tavern. She told me of the reunion to take place just two days later. And put me in touch with the site. The rest is history.

My brother Donald and I were sent to Manumit, Pawling, New York in 1928. I was twelve and he eighteen months younger. We were Fatherless. Our father Joseph E. Klein died, at the age of twenty-six, in the 1918 flu epidemic. He was an active Socialist and lawyer who, in 1914, was a candidate for Congress. My mother was a trade union organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. She was out there, changing the world, uplifting the masses, fighting the bosses. She was the socialist candidate for Assembly in Brooklyn. (By the way my mother, Gertrude Weil Klein, was the first woman elected to the New York City Council in 1945. On the American Labor Party ticket.) I had grand-parents and they did take Donald and me into their home from time to time. My maternal grand-father, Joseph A. Weil, spent twenty-four years with the Socialist movement in America. I found an article on him, along with his picture, on the Internet recently. It tells me that he devised the arm and torch emblem for the New York Socialist Party. The article quotes him as saying: “I saw in socialism the light that shall eventually lead the world out of darkness into cheer and joy and human happiness.”

But apparently Don and I were to find that joy and happiness on our own. I know that my first night in Manumit I turned my face to the wall and cried myself to sleep. “Forget about your mother. You don’t have one. Get over it.

Manumit in 1928 was a real working school. We all milked the cows, slopped the pigs, mucked out the stables and curried the horses. A very sorry collection of nags, I might add. We grew our own vegetables and I have a vivid memory of being on our big truck farm, the reins of a horse wrapped around me as he pulled and I steered a hand-held plow, digging up roots and stone from the earth we were about to plant. We grew potatoes, beets, carrots, squash, kale and rhubarb. Why does it seem to me we ate rhubarb and Kale morning, noon and night. It was Scott Nearing, the well-known communist and vegetarian I worked alongside of. He was married to Nellie Seeds who was the director of the School at that time.

One big project we worked on and completed, was to dam up a deep part of the stream that ran through the property. We built a dam of wooden planks at one end, and had a wonderful swimming hole under some big leafy trees. Pure bliss on a hot day.

On of the ideas on which the school operated was that children should be free to learn, not forced to classes. That they would go out of sheer love of learning. Well, yes and no. I hated math and never went to a math class. But I spoke French, did a great Lady Macbeth when I was thirteen years old.

I also have idea that we “seniors” had an equal vote with the faculty when we held meetings on various issues. I remember that we voted that we would set our own bed-time and have a recollection of kids being chased down the road by faculty members, trying to herd us back.

Another recollection comes to mind. My house mother, Margaret a no-nonsense type unusual in our faculty said to me one day: “What were you doing in the hay-loft with Sam?” “Pitching hay.” “I don’t think so. Did you get your period?” “No”” Well, we’ll try some hot baths to bring it on.” Which we did and it did. But I was telling the truth. We were pitching hay. Another house-mother, Sally Cleghorn, who became a well-known poet, was a sweet long-suffering type and we made her life a living hell. One of her poems I remember:

The golf links lie so near the Mill

That almost every day

The laboring children can look out

And see the men at play.

While I wasn’t the tallest girl at school I was the most energetic and I was selected as captain of the girl’s basketball team. I have a photo, dated March 24 th, 1928 of our team and the Walden School team. On the back it says we beat them 6 to 3. And we absolutely creamed the Cherry Lawn School girls later on. Our team cheer:

Root to toot

Root to toot

We are the girls of the institute

We are not rough

We are not tough

But we are sooo determined.

Life at Manumit was wonderful in many ways. But under it all, we were children who had been sent away from hearth and home and that hurt. And tell me, what good in my life to follow did milking cows, farming, archery, speaking Esperanto do for me.

Come to think of it, folk dancing did come in handy later on. There was a joint on 8 th Street in Greenwich Village called the Village Barn. How I don’t remember, but some of us ended up with a gig there performing English and American folk dances. And this little country girl (born in Brooklyn) was handed her first alcoholic drinks, by some of those bad big-city boys working the Place.

Here I am now, at age 90, sober 18 years, and just hitting my stride.

Ann who? Prettiest girl in the school indeed! So I’m capable of retrospective jealousy. Someone thought I was pretty cute…on the train going to Pawling that first time one of the boys wrote me a note…addressed ..”to the girl in the green dress…” don’t remember what else he said but I’m sure it was flattering. About walking into town. I don’t remember the movies but do you remember “The Sugar Bowl” on main street, where we went for candy and stuff. My Uncle Lou regularly write us and always included a dollar in his letters. I know I walked back from town (with the handsomest boys) with my “bloomers” stuffed with Milky Ways, which I still love. Another memory. Somehow we in our dorm (me, Dorothy Costrell, Tanis Tugwell, Naomi) rigged up some sort of device between us and the boys in the Gym, and sent some sort of Morse Code …dot dot dash…etc… back and forth. Also hung out the window and smoked cigarettes (don’t know how we got them) as if we were fooling poor dear Sally Cleghorn. Best and more to follow. Ruth

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