Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Leno Prestini Files # 4: Several Lost Years Between The 7th & 8th Grade

The Leno Prestini Files #4:
Several Lost Years Between The 7th & 8th Grade


Wally Lee Parker

            Perhaps the best source regarding Leno Prestini’s education is a set of recollections penned some years after Leno’s death by his older brother, Battista.  Because these handwritten notes do not set out a firm timeline, there have been some ongoing questions as to how much public schooling Leno actually received.  Several documents recently donated to the Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society appear to shed some light on this.
            It’s believed the Prestini family settled in the small but still growing town of Clayton in the latter part of 1911 or beginning of 1912.  Since Leno’s February 4, 1906, birthdate indicates he would have turned 6 before the beginning of the 1912/13 school year, it’s probable that Leno would have entered his first year of school at Clayton.  Battista, with a birthdate of September 24, 1904, would have turned 8 just after the start of the 1912/13 school year, so could have been enrolled in the second grade which would be consistent with him finishing the 8th grade a few months after his father’s death in 1919.  The 1915, 1916, and 1919 school census forms for Clayton the only ones currently available do place both boys at the school, but don’t indicate which grades they were in.
            In 1915 Clayton dedicated its imposing new red brick schoolhouse.  This new building served students from the first grade through high school though the upper school was eliminated in the late 1930s.
            As for the period after Luigi Prestini’s death in the early spring of 1919, Battista writes, “Continued to attend school, but mother very depressed and unhappy.  My school work became more and more difficult.  Failed English in 8th grade test.  But was allowed to go into high school.”
            Apparently speaking of the time immediately after his father’s death, Battista writes, “Condition got more and more hectic, so went to plant (Washington Brick & Lime’s Clayton factory) and got job as water boy first summer.”
            If Battista were speaking of the first summer after his father’s death, he would have been 15 years old.
            We’ve been assuming the brick plant would have been prohibited either by state law or its own policies from hiring workers under the age of 16 for industrial work, though this may not have applied to the non-industrial position of water boy (assuming that was a recognized company job).  However, since I’ve yet to obtain any firm documentation regarding the facts of either state law or company policy during this time period, any assumptions regarding such must remain speculation.
            Battista then goes on to state, “That fall knew I couldn’t pass exams, so got a job in brickyard for $1.50 per day.”  Since Clayton offered classes through grade 12, it’s likely Battista is saying he tried high school but found the classes too difficult.
            Of the two documents recently obtained by the C/DPHS, the first is a “Certificate of Promotion” awarded to Leno Prestini on the 26th of May, 1919.  The certificate states that Leno had completed the “study prescribed” for the seventh grade, and is “now eligible for promotion” to the eighth grade.  So though we “believe” Battista was in the eighth grade when Luigi Prestini died on March 19, 1919, we know as fact that Leno was in the seventh.

Image from the Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society collection.

            Battista wrote, “I tried to keep Leno going to school but he too finally dropped out,” which implies that Leno quit school after the beginning of the 1919/1920 school year, either before or after Battista had dropped out to start working in the brickyard.
            The second donated document is titled “Common Schools of the State of Washington, Certificate of Graduation.”  This states, “This certifies that Leno Prestini of District No. 159 (Clayton), County of Stevens, has passed a creditable examination in the subjects of the first eight years of the Common School Course, has maintained a high standing in deportment, and is therefore granted this Certificate of Graduation.”  It’s dated the 16th of June, 1922.

Image from the Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society collection.

            “Common School” is simply a 19th century term for what we would call a public school today.
            As for whether Leno went back to school to complete the eighth grade or took an equivalence test for that year instead, that could likely be determined by comparing this “Common Schools” certificate to those awarded to other Clayton primary graduates that year.  Whichever, since Leno turned 16 in 1922, it’s assumed he went to work at Clayton’s terra cotta soon after his eighth grade graduation and/or the awarding of the above noted certificate.
             Dates of employment become important in light of a further missive by Battista that relates the details of Leno’s first attempt at suicide.  Battista wrote, “I was working in the terra cotta pressing tile by piecework and I asked him to come and work with me.  He had a bad nervous spell a short time before and attempted suicide …”   If Leno first went to work at the terra cotta in 1922, it would suggest the above noted suicide attempt occurred after his midyear graduation from the eighth grade and while he was still just 16 years old.
            What we need now is some firm documentation placing Leno as an employ at Clayton’s terra cotta in 1922.  The best source for that is temporarily unavailable, so confirmation will have to wait.

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