Incident in Schools at Middleboro
Parents of Pupils Will Have the Matter Investigated
Miss Wentworth Says It was Only for Discipline
The request of Miss Ethel A. Wentworth, a teacher in the sixth grade School-st school, that the pupils there remove their green ribbons yesterday has incensed the parents of the children who are of Irish descent, and they declare that they will have the matter investigated, as they believe that their children have a right to wear green ribbons on St. Patrick's day. The incident has created much discussion among the residents.
School started at 9 as usual, and as soon as the pupils were seated, it was observed that several wore green ribbons. Some wore modest bows, while some of the boys wore larger ones, which showed up conspicuously.
Miss Wentworth requested that the children remove the green ribbons and some did so. Others demurred, among them being Walter O'Hara, Ralph McQuade and Miss Mary Baker. O'Hara, however, put his ribbon under his coat lapel. McQuade refused at first to remove his long ribbon, but finally took the bow from his coat. Miss Baker declined to remove her ribbon, on first call, stating that her mother had attached it to her dress and that she intended to wear it. After discussion it was removed, but in the afternoon Miss Baker returned to school wearing the ribbon, and told Miss Wentworth that it was put on by her mother and that she was going to keep it on. She wore it during the rest of the school session.
Miss Wentworth was seen at her boarding place at 23 North st today, and admitted that she had requested all the pupils who were wearing green ribbons to take them off.
When asked why this request was made, she said it was because the green ribbons attracted the attention of the other pupils, and diverted their minds from their lessons. To preserve school discipline she thought that the ribbons should not be worn, and accordingly ordered them removed. She further stated that where she had gone to school, the wearing of the green ribbons on St. Patrick's day was not allowed, presumably because they would detract attention from studies, so she was going to run her school along those lines.
When asked if there was any other reason, or if nationality figured in her request that the green ribbons be removed, she declared that it did not enter into it at all, the reason being given above.
The parents of the children who had to remove their green ribbon, purpose that the matter be taken further. Already the attention of Supt. of Schools C. H. Bates has been called to it. He admits that there would be no objection for the children of Irish descent to show their patriotism in that manner, if they saw fit, and, in the past, he stated that such an objection had not before arisen in his school experience.
Parents say that there was no chance to see whether the school work was disturbed by the green decorations, as Miss Wentworth asked for their removal just as soon as the pupils were seated according to the stories related by the school children. They are inclined to doubt, though, if the wearing of the ribbon in honor of the memory of St. Patrick would disturb the school any more than some girl wearing a hair ribbon or a boy with a pair of new boots. They generally criticise the action taken by Miss Wentworth as entirely unwarranted and very indiscreet, especially in a place where there are so many children of Irish descent.
Among the pupils who wore the green ribbons were Everett Boucher, Ralph McQuade, Walter O'Hara, Helen Pasztor, Viola Babb, Stella Plunkett and May Baker.
A few years ago a teacher here wore a flaring yellow tie on St. Patrick's day, while children of Irish descent wore their green ribbons, but up to now no teacher in recent years has been known to request the removal of green ribbons. In many of the other schools here yesterday the pupils wore green, and no comment was offered by the instructor.
Miss Wentworth formerly lived in Cambridge. She is a graduate of Bridgewater normal school. She taught at Rochester, N. H. where her parents now live, prior to being elected a teacher in the public schools here, commencing her duites last September.
In her defense and as she herself insisted, it is unlikely that Miss Wentworth was motivated by thoughts of the children's ethnicity. Previously, children in the Middleborough schools had been permitted to wear small tokens such as colored ribbons, and little thought was given to them as national expressions. The overt anti-Irish sentiment which had been present in the community in the previous half century had largely dissipated (though more recently arrived immigrant groups, particularly the Italians, were subjected at the time to the worst ethnic stereotyping and prejudice). Miss Wentworth's principal failing, however, appears to have been her utter lack of understanding, both for the feelings of the Irish-American children or how deeply rooted was the connection between the local Irish and the green ribbons they wore.
The ban resonated deeply within the local Irish community for whom the "wearin' o' the green" was a symbolic connection with their home country. The practice of wearing green clothing, green ribbons and green shamrocks was one which had once been banned under the English administration in Ireland following the Rising of 1798, and for local Irish-Americans to hear once more that they (or at least their children) were forbidden to wear green, struck a chord within their collective historical consciousness.
O Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news that's going 'round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground!
No more Saint Patrick's Day we'll keep, his color can't be seen
For there's a cruel law against the Wearin' o' the Green.
I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand,
And he said, "How's poor old Ireland, and how does she stand?"
"She's the most distressful country that ever yet was seen,
For they're hanging men and women there for Wearin' o' the Green.
So if the color we must wear be England's cruel red
Let it remind us of the blood that Irishmen have shed;
And pull the shamrock from your hat, and throw it on the sod
But never fear, it will take root there, though underfoot 'tis trod.
When laws can stop the blades of grass from growing as they grow
And when the leaves of summer time their color dare not show,
Then I will change the color too I wear in my caubeen;
But till that day, please God, I'll stick to the Wearin' o' the Green.
"The Wearing of the Green", postcard, early 20th century
"Wearing of the Green", postcard, early 20th century
Brockton Times, "Green Ribbons Ordered Off", March 18, 1908.
Click on the above to hear the incomparable John McCormack's rendition of the "Wearin' o' the Green". McCormack (1884-1945) who recorded the song in 1904 and again in 1912 has long been regarded as Ireland's finest tenor.