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Schoolteacher Fights Back

By Thomas P. Farner | Mar 28, 2012

Excitement was at a fever pitch in March 1886 in the village of Colliers Mills, in western Ocean County. The richest man in the village, Ephraim P. Emson, a former senator and a freeholder who had built the local schoolhouse, was pitted against Louise Blackman, a young Quaker schoolteacher who had been born in Tuckerton.

Emson had hired Blackman to teach at the village school. Then, according to her, he began to court her by sending an employee with candy. She rebuffed Emson but became friendly with the employee, Ive Reynolds. Rejected, Emson first took out his anger by firing Reynolds. But Blackman continued to see the young man. Finally, Emson came to the schoolhouse and made advances toward her, which she rejected.

The National Police Gazette reported her allegations in April 1886.

“From that time, Ephraim began a series of persecutions which drove me nearly wild. He circulated slanderous reports about my relations with Mr. Reynolds and about my character generally. He tried his best to get me removed from that place which for more than a year he urged me to take within view to bettering myself.”

In an age before women had the vote and equal rights, the prospects for a single woman were limited.

The Trenton Times reported on March 22.

“Then it began to be whispered that the ex-Senator was spreading stories that tended to ruin the pretty teacher’s reputation. This, of course, added to the excitement, and hence it was that a large crowd assembled at the special meeting for the election of an additional trustee, whose vote would decide the question.”

Blackman told the Gazette why this meeting would be so important.

“He would have got me out had he been able to control the three school trustees. Some of these trustees, Judge Conover among them, had opposed my taking the school at first, but at Ephraim’s insistence they consented. When, however, he wanted to throw me out, and everybody knew why he did, these very trustees who had opposed me would not hear of it.”

The New York World, in an April 30 article, explained why Emson was expecting to get his way.

“To say that the country folk are excited does not begin to express the agitation which exists there. Colliers Mills is a village of 900 inhabitants about 20 miles inland from Toms River, on the Jersey coast. The nearest railway station is at New Egypt, 5 miles away, and is reached by rail only once a day. The village is surrounded by a dense forest intersected by highways so narrow that the tops of trees meet overhead. Strangers are frequently lost in the mass of crooks and crossroads. In this out-of-the-way world ex-Sen. Emson is almost like King. He owns about 9/10 of the real estate in the village and employees nearly 1/3 of the population he has the largest house for miles around is reputed to be worth thousands of dollars and has represented the people twice in the assembly and once in the Senate.”

In preparation for the critical meeting to elect a new trustee, Blackman had cut three birch branches and hidden them behind a map. She told the New York Sun, “My object was to disgrace him, for he had tried his best to bring me into disgrace.”

The election was supposed to take place on March 15 at the packed schoolhouse.

“One of the grounds of complaint against me was that a panel of the school house door had been kicked out, and he carefully pointed this out as he came in. This irritated me and when later in the proceedings he let out slurs and hints, all the memory of the wrong which during month after month, he had heaped upon me, came to me and moved my arm as I seized a whip.”

The New Jersey Courier reported, “As the vote was being taken for a new trustee, the young school teacher opened the door and pushed her way through the crowd to the spot where Emson stood. She carried in her hand a strong birch switch, and as she came opposite her enemy she began to thrash him with it. Those present crowded back to give her more room. The burly Ex-Senator tried to ward off the blows which fell thick and fast. It was not until she was completely exhausted that she stopped plying her whip.”

According to The Times, “The teacher entered the school room and, walking directly up to Trustee Ephraim Emson, began to belabor him over the neck and shoulders with a tough looking birch switch. Emson, who was seated in one of the front rows, jumped to his feet, but the blows fell thick and fast. The big cranberry grower warded them off as best he could and made no attempt to strike back. When the pretty teacher was exhausted she handed the switch to one of her friends and sat down with cheeks aglow. All the time the thrashing was in progress the audience, who had gathered in force to witness proceedings of the meeting that had been called for the election of an additional trustee, held its breath. The moment the thrashing stopped there was great excitement. A motion to adjourn was carried.”

The Gazette reported, “Ephraim assured the reporter that the thrashing did not hurt, and that he had no difficulty in taking one of the sticks out of little Miss Blackman’s hand. Miss Blackman admitted that Ephraim did succeed in grabbing one of the rods from her hand. The other two she broke on his ample shoulders.”

Shortly after the incident, according to The Times, “The young schoolmistress is a very pretty and petite young woman, who has always borne a blameless reputation and it is understood that she is engaged to marry a New York lawyer. Since Thursday she has been suffering from hysteria and nervous prostration, caused, as her friends claim, by the damaging and untruthful reports spread by Emson. She proposes to fight it out, and it is said the chances of her candidate for trustee are good. She has been congratulated by her friends for her action.”

The question was would the king of Colliers Mills accept his public humiliation or seek revenge?

Next Week: To court.

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