Audrey Tripp was interviewed by Mary Giles in 1976. She spoke about her childhood in Westport, her career as a teacher, and her activities later in life.
I was born in Westport. I’m a native daughter. I was born on Pine Hill Road in a farmhouse, which is now the home of Julius T. Smith, a well-known personality in Westport. This was my grandmother’s home and my father lived there and worked there as a farmer, and I lived there until I was 22 years of age, except for the time I was away at school for four years.
As a farmer’s daughter, I did chores, however, most of these chores were gardening chores. We had cows, but I never milked a cow in my life, believe it. I weeded and set out plants and brought armfuls of wood after school. I went to school at the Head of Westport, which is still standing and houses grades one through four. It was called the Head School, just as today. I went there through the first six grades. Then, I went in a Reo truck, which was used to transport cattle when it wasn’t transporting children. It had a canvas on the sides, which was taped down in bad weather, as a matter of fact, it was the Woods’ transportation, which is still used today for the Westport school children, of course, several generations removed, his father or later one of his sons. And from the Head School, I went to the Factory School, which is now a gift shop. It was condemned as being unfit several years ago, and I went there ‘til the 7th grade. It’s located on Beeden Road, which is just across from the parking area at Lincoln Park, and I was very impressed by one of my teachers, the teacher who gave me my first real love for poetry. His name was John Geery. I remember he took us to a home on Pine Hill Road, which I think is now the home of the Charigs, I’m not positive about that. At that time Mrs. Joyce Kilmer was living there and it was one of the thrills of a lifetime to have met Mrs. Kilmer.
From the 7th grade I went to the Milton Earle School, which was then the high school. I had some very fine teachers who gave me a good foundation for my four years of college, which was at Bridgewater.
I grew up in a neighborhood where there were no other girls, so I grew up playing boys’ games. It was either playing boys’ games or not play at all, Hide and Seek and Sardines, until J. T. Smith and his family came and then Jean Parsons, who was then Jean Smith, and Barbara Erickson, who was Barbara Smith, and I spent most of our time outdoors. We loved the farm and spent most of our time there. We skated on the pond and coasted on the hills and went on the river in the summer. I was not much of a swimmer, but the other girls were, and we went in the boat up and down the river, went crabbing. It was nothing to get a bushel of crabs in a day in those creeks. We were at home most of the time. Once in a while we’d go on Saturday to the A&P Store, and if we behaved ourselves, we were fortunate enough to get a ‘Mr. Goodbar.’ The A&P Store was at Smith Mills, Ms Taylor was in charge for quite a few years.
We were in rather poor circumstances and I don’t ever remember having a so-called ‘boughton’ dress until I was in the 7th grade and I won a spelling match. I think my father had high hopes that I would end up in Washington, D.C. as the national champion. I didn’t go any place except New Bedford where I was stuck on the work ‘mucilage.’ No, my mother made all my clothes and I had hand-me-downs and that sort of thing.
I had two brothers, one, Kenneth, who passed away at the age of 35, and a now younger brother, Harvey, who works in Somerset for the Alpert Wholesale Company. Since I had no sisters, the ‘hand-me-downs’ came from friends and relatives in the city who were a little better off than we were. These were not depression times. I was born in 1914 and the depression came when I was in college and started to teach.
When Julius T. Smith came, he was a market garden farmer and he enlarged that and that saw the end of the dairy farming. And, so it was lettuce, celery, carrots, tomatoes and all that sort of thing. My father’s name was John Stephen Tripp (Julius T. Smith, in his taped interview, tells of the high regard he held him in). My mother was Frances Kirby Tripp, her mother was a Tripp, actually. My father was a good Christian gentleman and my mother was really a saint. She was as perfect as a human being could be, I think.
This may in some way explain your character.
I felt that they (parents) had sacrificed a lot to educate us. They valued education. She was forced to leave school and go to work. She became a cook for a wealthy family, the Traffords, who were mill people in that big house up there. She had a marvelous command of Latin in spite of the fact that she left school. She’d be at the stove cooking a pudding and have in the other hand a book reading. And, so I remained with them until they died.
When we left the Smith farm, I decided that my father had worked hard all his life and we moved to the Atwood home, a little house at the corner of Reed and Forge Roads, now owned by the Legenda family. Mr. Atwood was a first mate on the Martha’s Vineyard boat. At that time I was through college and was teaching at the Factory School, and that’s where I left my mark, I fell through the ceiling one day, it’s (the mark) still there.
I was there five years and then I became principal of the school. I taught both the 7th and 8th grades and almost all subjects including physical education. When my father heard of the physical education, he said, ‘What’s that?’ When I explained, he said, ‘Good heavens! Are we paying taxes for that?’ I wonder what he’d think today.
The town had great pride that some of the high school graduates went on to college, this was a rarity in those day. Even though it was during the depression, we received notices of our appointments in April. I think it was because the school committee was so pleased that products of their schools had graduated from Normal Schools. Each of us got a contract for $800.00. I’m sure they didn’t know what they were going to do with us. Lillian Cahoon was one, and Harold Wood (product of University of Massachusetts), we all received contracts and it was the talk of the campus.
When the War (World War II) broke out, Milton Earle was Superintendent of Schools at that time and he asked me if I would help him in the elementary schools. We had seven small schools at that time, and I was given the title ‘Elementary Supervisor,’ but I really was doing a little bit of everything, unloading surplus supplies, collecting milk money, but, actually I was responsible for the seven small schools. That went on until 1953 when the present High School was ready for occupancy. Then some of the smaller schools were closed and pupils transferred to the Milton Earle School and I was made Principal of the Milton Earle School, where I remained until I retired four years ago.
When I was growing up, we took things in nature for granted. It was Julius Smith who got me aware of nature and got me interested and I tried to interest the children. This summer we had a reunion at the farm. Barbara Erickson had all the family and our family who were able to come to see all the changes that have come about.
In hiring teachers, I could only make recommendations. I was not always impressed by the academic record of the person. I think I was more concerned by the impression that I would get from the interview concerning her love for children, her concern for children, interest in the community, whether or not she would participate and, of course, what experience that person had had in teaching. But, I’ve found that very often a person, who had an excellent academic record, did not necessarily make an excellent teacher. A person who’s had to struggle in some areas, would have more patience perhaps, and that was my experience, so I suppose I would he impressed by the interview and the way the person presented himself or herself. Certainly there were no political motivations. Whether a person was or was not a native of Westport was not significant, just the best person. I think now if you have two people of equal ability, the preference would be for the native. Now I sometimes think it goes to a native who perhaps does not have the qualifications. To be very honest, where a person came from had no bearing on my recommendations whatsoever.
I was always interested in reading and participated in community affairs when I was teaching as well. Of course, at that time, we were a small group of teachers and a closely-knit group and we had many activities, which we carried on for the town. To make money for students, we gave plays, very amateurish, but we had a lot of fun. In our Teachers Association we brought speakers to the town; we had a series of lectures and courses trying to help teachers understand children. Then, of course, I was active in the 4-H Clubs and the Junior Red Cross when it was active in this town. I’ve always been interested in politics. I remember when Roosevelt was elected the first time, I was for Alf Landon. He was soundly defeated and the next morning I found a little bouquet of red roses, from a fellow teacher, with a little card that read, ’Roosevelt Roses.’ Even up ‘til last year I managed to campaign locally for one of the candidates. I’m through with that now. I think I’ve seen my day in politics, but I did run for the office of Selectman a few years ago because no one had taken out papers, and I felt, it bothered me that no one had shown any interest. It probably would have been frowned upon in view of the fact that I was working for the School Department, but I did it to generate some interest and it did. Shortly afterwards, several other people took out papers and Charles Costa, the present Selectman defeated me. I did come in second, which I thought was quite an accomplishment before the days of Women’s Lib. Charles Costa was a former student of mine and I admire him greatly. It was a very happy campaign.
As the present time I’m on the Council on Aging for the Town of Westport and Trustee of the Free Public Library for the last two years and also when I was teaching. Some years ago things got very busy in the department and I did not run for re-election. Actually, there is rarely any opposition for that position, there is no money involved in it, you know. I am also the Westport representative to the Homemaker Health Aid Service of the Greater Fall River area, the selectmen appointed me to that position, and I belong to the Noquachoke Seniors and Bristol County Retired Teachers and the national and state teachers organizations.
I have some folks, cousins, who are in the city, who are not able to drive, and I try to help them out once in a while and take them to their favorite eating places. I wish that I had done more. I was in the hospital this summer and I think that if anybody is the beneficiary of goodwill that I have been. I spent 50 days there, and people whom I would never expect sent me cards and greetings.
I do like to help people, everyone does. I’m not a church goes, but in my prayers my motivation for each day is to try to do something for someone. I’m not sure that I always succeed.
I’ve been controversial in many areas in the school system. I’m not sure that I’ve always been right, both for the good of the system and my own good. But there are times when controversies arise and I was trained under Milton Earle, who was my mentor. I’ve always admired him. I feel that he was the best educator the Town has ever had and he always said, ‘Audrey, you can help me because you won’t yes, yes me. You’re not afraid to tell me your ideas if they’re different from mine, and you are a value to me. I can get anybody to yes, yes me.’ I must say that 99 percent of the time Mr. Earle was right. He was not appreciated really.
Changes? If I had the power, I would like to retain Westport, as a beautiful countryside and I would like to see us stop building developments. I feel there are too many housing developments in the town, which are detracting from our natural beauty. One person who has traveled all over the world has said, ‘Of all the places that I’ve ever seen in the world, there’s none more beautiful than Westport.’