By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — Happy belated Father’s Day to James Fullerton Trott who is the historical “Father of our Schools” and to all our present day fathers who have this annual opportunity to celebrate this honorable and important status in their life; a status that should not be taken lightly as it bears a tremendous significance for the future.
More research into past Gazette articles led me to lots of discoveries about Trott. Before 1919, vocational training was not offered in any day school program in Niagara Falls. In September of that year, 32 pupils were enrolled in a machine shop class in the basement of 24th Street School. The following year an electrical shop course was offered at Niagara Street School. Things started happening in this regard as a vocational advisory committee was formed made up of members of labor, industry and the board of education. In 1923 an apprentice training program was established with the assistance of the Employer’s Association of Niagara Falls and various trade unions.
The student enrollment kept increasing and finally the Board of Education decided to build a new vocational school in 1927. A contract was awarded to Laur and Mack Building Company. The Gazette described it on opening day as “a hub of sorts — centrally located so that it could be easily reached from any part of the city.” School officials called it the city’s “monument to industrial evolution” and “a great and useful civic servant”.
The school was patterned after real life industrial conditions as its design combined a typical school and factory design. Forty-eight rooms included shops, classrooms and other amenities such as a cafeteria, gym, library and pool. Trott also housed the Central Junior High School as city enrollment was growing at a fast pace and its facilities were needed. The first graduating class consisted of 17 boys in June of 1931. By 1939 enrollment was 779 students and Trott was selected to form the WPA program locally.
Wikipedia describes this program as “Work Projects Administration and noted it “was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads.” “The WPA was a national program that operated its own projects in cooperation with state and local governments, which provided 10 percent to 30 percent of the costs. Liquidated on June 30, 1943, as a result of low unemployment due to the worker shortage of World War II, the WPA provided millions of Americans with jobs for 8 years. Most people who needed a job were eligible for at least some of its positions.” If you have been a faithful reader of my stories, you will recall many of our local boys took advantage of this program.
During WWII, Trott began training workers for war production and classes were free for both men and women employed in war industries such as those at Bell Aircraft. Following the war, as I wrote last week, there were classes for returning veterans providing training under the G.I. Bill. Wikipedia to the rescue again; “The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, known informally as the G.I. Bill, was a law that provided a range of benefits for returning World War II veterans (commonly referred to as G.I.s). Benefits included low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business or farm, cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend college, high school or vocational education, as well as one year of unemployment compensation. It was available to every veteran who had been on active duty during the war years for at least ninety days and had not been dishonorably discharged; combat was not required. By the end of the program in 1956, roughly 2.2 million veterans had used the G.I. Bill education benefits in order to attend colleges or universities, and an additional 6.6 million used these benefits for some kind of training program.
For any younger readers, “The letters “G.I.” were used to denote equipment made from galvanized iron, such as metal trash cans, in U.S. Army inventories and supply records. During World War I, U.S. soldiers sardonically referred to incoming German artillery shells as “G.I. cans”. In that same war, “G.I.” started being interpreted as “Government Issue”, and it was used as an adjective for anything having to do with the Army. During World War II, “G.I. Joe” became a nickname for American soldiers. Dwight D. Eisenhower stated in 1945, for example, that “the truly heroic figure of this war [is] G.I. Joe and his counterpart in the air, the navy, and the merchant marine of every one of the United Nations.” Wikipedia again. Some references also include the term “General Infantry”.
In September of 1955, a practical nursing course was begun at Trott, with a total of 24 students jointly sponsored by Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and the board of education. Students were guaranteed employment with beginning wages ranging from $2,900 to $3,100 per year. I ran into my sister-in-law, Louise Maggard, at an Estate Sale recently and she reminded me she graduated from Trott in 1957 where she studied chemistry for three hours a day for three years along with the regular curriculum. There were only three girls in her chemistry class. Right after graduation she went to work at Olin Mathieson at 17 years old as a chemical technician. She went on to become a safety, health and environmental supervisor for Carborundum later in her career.
I’m on a roll now learning about Trott, so stay tuned.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.