September 1990

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Basket Boarding for School Girls

in Penn Yan


Shirley McNulty

When I was old enough to go to high school in the early nineteen hundreds, the nearest academy was at Penn Yan, ten miles away from my home on Bluff Point. It was not possible for me to drive or ride that far. I knew of only one young man who drove a horse and buggy the twenty miles daily. His father was determined that his beloved Forrest should have a college degree.

Few boys went to high school; they stayed home and worked with their fathers or worked out as hired men. The roads were poor and nearly impassable, with deep ruts or water in spring and fall, or drifts of snow in winter. I remember that our mailman in the winter would leave the roadway and drive zigzag across pastures around the drifts or he would stay in the woods where the snow was of a level depth.

But I did go to school in Penn Yan because the difficulty of daily transportation was overcome by an ingenious solution known as "Basket Boarding." Each week my father, either the day before school or early Monday morning, would drive me to the house in Penn Yan where I boarded with a widow lady. We also brought along a bushel of potatoes, a market basket filled with bread, butter, milk, half a chicken, a piece of beef or pork sausages. This was fare for the week for me and my hostess. She used the food we brought to prepare the meals for both of us. On Friday afternoons my family came in time to do their shopping and then collect me and my soiled clothing and bedding to take home for the weekend. I got to be with my family for two whole days each week. There was time enough then for washing and getting food together for the next week.

I wasn't the only girl who boarded during the school week with a widow lady. There were many. It was a marvelously sensible custom that enabled many girls to get high school training to become a rural teacher or go on to college and study nursing. While away from home at school we stayed in a home environment with the care of an older woman. Women who had houses with spare bedrooms received much of the food they needed from their basket boarders. Girls came from widely separated places and we didn't mix much with the local girls because we went home on weekends when they usually held their parties.

When roads improved and school busses appeared, basket boarding died out. It did represent an American way of solving a seemingly unsolvable problem, and made it possible for me to graduate from high school so that I could later go on to college.

1990, Shirley McNulty
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