C.A. BERGEN SCHOOL
419 Mount Vernon Street
In 1891 the Camden Board of Education determined that the "new school on Mount Vernon Street below 5th be known as the Christopher A. Bergen School," as proposed by the property committee. C. A. Bergen, Esq. was the brother, and business partner of Martin V. Bergen, Esq., Superintendent of Schools. C. A. Bergen sent a letter to the school board expressing his honor, and donated a flag to fly at the schoolhouse.
Christopher Augustus Bergen was born on August 2, 1841, in Bridge Point, Somerset County, New Jersey. He attended private schools, graduated from Princeton University in 1863, and went on to study law. The Supreme Court of New Jersey licensed him in 1866, and he immediately began practicing law with his brother, Martin. C. A. Bergen served in the U. S. Congress from 1889 to 1893. He ran for a third term, but lost. In 1903, he moved to Haverford, PA, where he died on February 18, 1905. He is buried in the family plot in Evergreen Cemetery.
The board officially accepted the Bergen School on October 5, 1891, and admitted students in early November. The school opened as a girl's secondary school and the Kaighn School changed to a boys' secondary school. The first "Section A" principal of the school was E. G. Heaney and the first "Section B" principal was Lissie A Cassady. Unfortunately, the board built the school over several springs, and this gave the board and the school trouble with constant flooding.
With the appointment of four assistant medical inspectors, in addition to Chief Medical Inspector Davis, in September 1911, the Board of Education's medical department made significant strides in preserving the health and well-being of the students. In the first full month of employment, the five medical inspectors examined over 2,700 students. The department was also able to keep statistics on the various childhood diseases prevalent in the schools, and provide vaccinations in greater numbers. One year later, the board appointed Dr. Roscoe L. Moore, graduate of Camden High School, class of 1903, as an assistant medical inspector for the colored schools, with a salary of $240 per year.
By the time school opened in September 1911, the district had immigrants from Germany, Italy, England, Prussia, Poland, Romania, and Holland in the classrooms. The medical department, in one month alone, found 81 children with malnutrition among them, and found 16 native-born Americans having defective vision, and 84 with periodontal problems. The teachers' club informed the board of the wonderful work of the medical department, and the teachers agreed that the examinations alone reduced student absences and alerted teachers to medical problems. The medical department had a great deal of success meeting with parents who were more or less opposed to vaccinations, but in cases in which parents refused to have their children vaccinated, the board rejected their admittance. The department also had the board pass a rule that teachers found to have a communicable disease during the school year, did not lose any part of their salary for time lost, up to 30 days.
In February 1913, scarlet fever was in epidemic proportions in the school district, and in March, it was measles. Davis felt that epidemics resulted from the fact that there were too many families where diseases exist, but who have no physicians to report the diseases. If parents gave immediate attention to every case of a simple sore throat, they could prevent many sever and fatal cases of diphtheria and scarlet fever. He warned parents that they should be circumspect about the popular movie houses, which might be largely responsible for the spread of the contagious and infectious diseases.
Dr. Davis stated that providing classrooms with screens that allowed fresh air to circulate throughout the room was a health benefit to the students. To prove his point, the board allowed him to open an all-girls open-air class in the Bergen School in September 1913. The teacher held the open-air class outside, regardless of temperature, weather permitting. Parents had to sign a consent form and they used Rochester, or portable desks, for the students. The board bought suitable clothing for the students, provided milk twice a day, and lunch, with a changing menu, on a daily basis. The meal consisted of foods like cereals, cocoa, baked potatoes, and Hornlick's malted milk (that the company kindly donated free.) Attendance in the open-air class showed much better turnout than other classes in the school. He concluded from this small experiment, that the district should create more open-air classrooms, and added that other school districts around the country were establishing open-air classrooms. Nevertheless, because of the very small enrollment in the open-air class at the Bergen School, the committee on teachers discontinued the class as of February 1, 1925.
By 1921, it was apparent that at least two-thirds of the schools were old and in need of some type of repair. Most schools had too few windows, and on dark days, it was almost impossible to see in some of the rooms. Bleakly began wiring the schools for electricity, and by 1924, all of the schools were wired and had electric lighting installed. The school construction frenzy from the last decade was still unable to keep up with the substantial, but slowing, influx of immigrants and steady-stream of migrant southern Negroes into Camden. This inundation, coupled with the reduced need for young labor, swelled the classrooms. To alleviate the overcrowding, the board initiated the construction of new schools, additions to existing schools, and the placement of portable classrooms on existing school property. (The passage of federal immigration laws in 1921 and 1924 restricted the number of European immigrants entering the United States, which led to increased demand for African-American labor in the industrial North. The south experienced a serious decline in cotton production that started about 1923, and led to a large-scale movement of southern Negroes into northern industrial centers, such as Camden.).
By the end of 1927, it became apparent that the enrollment of colored students far out paced the district's ability to construct new schools for them. The board authorized the superintendent to study the possible use of the Bergen School as a colored school, and while the study was proceeding, they obtained additional land for the Whittier School. The study proved positive, and the Bergen School became a Negro school in September 1928, for pupils through the fourth grade, who lived west of Broadway and attended the Whittier School; reassigning white children, who attended the Bergen School the previous year, elsewhere. The enrollment of the Negro students increased even faster after the move, because the Bergen School was much more convenient for the Negro children living west of Broadway. George L. Eggleston became the Principal of the Bergen School, effective September 1, 1928 with a salary of $2,200.
In order to economize, the board closed the Linden and Blaine Schools, on June 30, 1932. The school board told the Board of School Estimate that it needed $2,224,000 for construction and furnishing of new schools, and a high school gymnasium. The Board of School Estimate encouraged them to obtain the money from the U. S. Government, through the PWA, for grants and loans. Dr. Neulen prepared a report in collaboration with Mr. Austermuhl, which the board used as a basis for new-school construction. The report included "changes which will be caused by slum elimination, trend of moving population, walking distances to school, etc. These schools are to be combined: Stevens and Central; Starr and Liberty; Blaine and Beideman; Bergen and Powell."
School board plans for 1936 included modernizing the Mount Vernon School, and moving outhouses to the interior of the schools (May 1936). Board President Fulton reiterated that the board must give Whittier School's condition serious consideration, and emphasized that there were a sufficient number of students for a mentally deficient class there, even though no space was available for one. He believed Sumner School required a class for the problem child, such as the one that existed at the Mount Vernon School, and brought up the need for the board to remodel the Mount Vernon School so that it could accommodate the overcrowding in the Bergen School.
In late June 1937, the board changed an application for alterations and additions from the Mount Vernon School to the C. A. Bergen School. They also applied for a $925,000 loan for a new school in the fourth ward, and for modernizing the Cooper and Grant Schools. The loan never materialized, and this led to the formation of new civic committees and coalitions. Mr. Ventorino Francesconi, representing the Camden Citizens Taxpayers League, and the Fourth Ward Democratic Club of Camden, demanded a new school to replace the aging schools near the center of the city. Francesconi was incensed that district administration told him that the board made application for a new school through the federal government, but when he wrote to Washington, he learned that no application was on file. He declared, "You know that that section is known, perhaps, as the slums of the City of Camden, but unless something IS done in the way of a new school, I believe that children in our section will perhaps go on a school strike." He insisted that not only was the school a firetrap, but
“I am going to show you some pictures we took down there, showing the facilities. The first picture is of the [Steven's] School itself. Eighteen years ago, I went to that school and they were patching it .... This second picture shows the facilities being used by the girls-the roof is coming down, water on the floor, no seats. The third picture shows the facilities being used by the boys. I would not want my child to use these facilities, and I am sure that none of the members of the Board would want your children to use them .... The last picture is ... of the inside. This shows the plaster coming off the walls. It has been patched up several times before. A WPA Project is working there now.
Shaw informed Francesconi that board did submit an application in 1938, and showed him a letter from the PWA. In April 1939, the WPA notified the board that they approved the board's application for improvements to Central, Central Annex, Mickle, Yorkship, Stevens, and H. B. Wilson Schools.
The Correction School
Trustees of the estate of the late J. C. Danenhower complained that boys were damaging their property at 410-12-14 Walnut Street. Mary Carroll, 418 Mount Vernon Street, complained that boys in the Bergen schoolyard at night were too loud. Until September 1932, the only schools that participated in correction classes were the colored schools, Whittier, Powell, Catto, Bergen, and Sumner. However, after that date the board established a special adjustment, or correction class, in Cramer Junior High School. Neulen assigned boys with behavior problems between the fifth and eighth grades to the correction class. The purposes of the class were to segregate the troublemakers who took a disproportionate share of the instructor's time and energy from the rest of the school, scientifically study the individual case in order to solve the problem, and reinstate the child in his regular school as a worthy and acceptable school citizen.
Before assigning a boy to this class, Neulen made certain that all other methods failed. The school gave the boy warnings, and if this did not work, they called in the parents and informed them of the consequences of his continued misbehavior or truancy. When assigned to the correction class, it was for at least 10 weeks, and during that time, a thorough study was made of his schoolwork and home environment. If his attendance, conduct, and general attitude did not measure up to standards, he received demerits instead of merits, and could remain in the class indefinitely. Once deemed worthy, the principal of the correction school sent the boy to his regular school on probation; however, he returned to the correction school after earning 100 demerit points during the 10-week probationary period. Every Friday, the child reported to the Mount Vernon School with the card signed by his principal, which provided evidence of the child's behavior during the week. An unsigned card meant that there was a hearing, and as a result, reassignment to the correction class was a possibility. During the 1935-1936 school year, there were four correction classes in the Mount Vernon School; three for boys and one for girls, aged 14 and 15, and the superintendent proclaimed how remarkable it was that out of 90 of the most troublesome boys in one school system, only three failed to adjust through these classes.
The third, fourth, fifth, and eighth wards continued to have the highest record for juvenile arrests. The County Park Commission just completed a recreation center in the eighth ward, and the superintendent was hopeful that this might help decrease the arrest of colored boys and girls of the ward. The Polish people in the seventh and thirteenth wards showed considerable spirit by developing programs for their children, with the result that the arrests of Polish youngsters dropped from 245 to 163, by 1935, but there were few changes in the third, fourth, and fifth wards to alter conditions under which the children were growing up.
Chief Attendance Officer, C. Paul Ney wrote in the district's Ninth Annual Report on Juvenile Delinquency, that the number of arrests in the city was declining, but the majority of the arrests were still coming from the same old wards.
Repeated visits to these wards which have been made both day-time and night, lead us to make the following observations ... We find more boys' gangs, both younger and older boys, more corner hangouts, more cheap candy stores, poolrooms, saloons, etc. ... It is also out impression that in these same wards there are fewer agencies working for the benefit of the children. Playgrounds are lacking, the Boy Scouts are not there, and churches don't seem to have much success .... Many of our children are becoming moral imbeciles at a tender age through their street and corner training and a corresponding lack of supervision and moral training at home.
In 1947 Superintendent of schools Leon N. Neulen created a committee to study consolidating students and closing schools in order to reduce maintenance and operating costs. They brought back a proposal for closing the Mulford School, sending its students to Fetters and Kaighn Schools and closing the Central School Annex by transferring its students to the Stevens School. They suggested not building an addition to the Sumner School which was operating at capacity, by send 109 the students to the Mickle School, and transferring Cooper School's eighth grade to Burrough Junior High, Steven School's seventh and eighth grades to Hatch Junior High, along with the eighth graders from Fetters School. The Mount Vernon School officially closed on July 27, 1948, and the superintendent reassigned its 496 students to Sumner School. He reassigned Principal Josiah C. Conwell as Principal of the Bergen School, and transferred the opportunity school (the new name for the correction school), located in the Mount Vernon School, to the Starr School.
Mayor Brunner appointed Benjamin Maiatico, Samuel T. French, Jr., and Morris Rabkin in January 1948, to the board for three years. Hanson and Weldy did not return. Board members unanimously reelected Lang and elected Wisniewski president and vice-president, respectively. Dr. French returned after a six-year leave of absence, and Mr. Maiatico told him, "The Board has gone through quite a change also; that we now have a civic minded people these days who attend our meetings and are quite critical." Mrs. Conlin, City Zone PTA Chairman, congratulated the board of education on its fine job. Mr. Flournoy returned the thanks saying, "This was the first time they had ever heard any words of praise." Emory H. Brooks also congratulated the board and told them that he did not approve of going back to the old committee system as demanded by others.
Later in 1948, former Board Member Robert Burk Johnson came before the board and spoke on behalf of the Legal Committee of the NAACP, three and a half years later. He insisted that, "All segregation in the public schools of Camden be abolished." Dr. Lang acknowledged that he received a letter from the Central Labor Committee as well, and that all concerns will be answered m the Superintendents Report, which said that,
“Our new State Constitution Article I, 'Rights and Privileges'; section 5 reads as follows: 'No person shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil or military right, nor be discriminated against in the exercise of any civil or military right, nor be segregated in the militia or in the public schools, because of religion, principles, race, color, ancestry, or national origin.' In order to implement this mandate and make it effective, it is recommended that the President of the Board of Education appoint a committee of three members of the Board to work with the Superintendent of Schools and Directors of Instruction, together with six teachers and six principals, in preparing for the approval and adoption such plans and procedures during the balance of this school year, as will aid in the sincere effort to eliminate any segregation in the Camden Schools after September 1, 1948.”
The board initially acceded to the policy that forbid student transfers based on race, color, creed, national origin, or ancestry, or where any of the above was a motivating factor. Any transfer was dependent on the availability of school space and any decision made by the coordinator of special services was subject to review by the superintendent at the request of the parent. The board then reversed its decision, and on motion of Board Member Maiatico rescinded its policy on transfers by a vote of five to zero. They immediately adopted a new resolution, which reported that students already enrolled in a particular school could not apply to stay in that school because of their address, if the board placed them in a new school boundary. Because of the approval of the second resolution, there were so few children remaining in the Bergen School that the superintendent had the board close it. Afterward, its Negro principal, Mr. Josiah C. Conwell, became Principal of Stevens School, Rooks became Principal of Liberty School, Mendel Tubis became the Principal of Central and Kaighn School, and Scotti became Principal of Fetters School.
The C.A. Bergen School sat closed during the 1948-1949 school year, but was reopened for the 1949-1950 school year when it was determined that the heating system of the Kaighn School required complete replacement. The C.A. Bergen School closed after the end of the 1965-1966 school year. It was replaced by a new school, which was named while under construction for Dr. Ulysses S. Wiggins, who passed in April of 1966.
Thanks to Fred Reiss, Ed.D. , for writing the defining book on public education in Camden prior to 1948, PUBLIC EDUCATION IN CAMDEN, N.J.- From Inception to Integration, from which much of the above history of the Kaighn School is derived.
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