Beloved School Principal and Teacher
Contributed by Robb and Deni Frederick
Margaret Tuger, taken on Tuger Street, Herkimer, NY, date unknown.
Photograph Courtesy of the Herkimer County Historical Society.
In May of 2003 the Evening Telegram ran a reprint of the epic-obit of a
beloved school principal from the early 20th century - Margaret Tuger. She
was especially beloved to the Italian-American community of Herkimer
village. I believe it to be vital for the history-telling and genealogical
purposes of local Italian-American families, and so I transcribed the obit from the reprint.
Margaret Tuger and twins Victor and Mario Caliguire, date unknown.
Photograph ©1992 Herkimer County Historical Society.
FROM HERKIMER EVENING TELEGRAM
OCTOBER 10, 1939,
AND REPRINTED SATURDAY, MAY 17, 2003
Margaret E. Tuger, Beloved School
Principal Here for 48 Years, Dies
Career of 58 Years Devoted to Teaching and Public Service
Closes at Hospital; Patriotism, Civic Pride and Rugged
Character Provided Example for Thousands She Taught,
Among Them Many Present Leaders in Herkimer; Daughter
of Immigrant Father, Killed in Civil War, She Pioneered
in Americanization Work Among Foreign Born.
Margaret E. Tuger, beloved principal of Tuger school for nearly a half century,
died Thursday in Herkimer Memorial hospital, closing a career of 58 years devoted
to teaching and public service. She was 74 years old.
More than two generations of children were guided in the development of their
lives by the influence of her strong character, rugged individuality, civic pride
and patriotism. By her example, she inspired high standards of citizenship and
greater love of country, not only in them but in the community.
Although associates knew age and a weakened heart were draining her remarkable
vitality, Miss Tuger's death came as a distinct shock, possibly because she faced
life and its demands with the same mental and physical force in recent years as
Only her nurses were present when she died at 7:15 am. The last rites of the
Roman Catholic church were administered by Rev. Gustave Purificato of St.
Anthony's church, where she was many years a devoted member and Sunday school
She was in ill health during the summer at her home in Baldwinsville and since
school reopened, had frequently been absent. Three weeks ago she went to the
hospital. A blood transfusion was given by a young man she had taught. In
contrast to her vigorous life, the end came quietly.
With her noble heart stilled, former students of all ages sorrowed while sadness
crept into hundreds of homes where her generosity and understanding had eased
trouble. Throughout Herkimer there was mourning for one whose militant courage,
championship of right, and firm sense of justice were only matched by her
devotion to her profession and to her country.
Came to Herkimer in 1891
Principal for 48 years of the school which now bears her name, Miss Tuger had
taught the "three R's" to more than half the business leaders of Herkimer. When
she came here in August, 1891, the families south of the New York Central
railroad were English speaking. As population shifted and children of foreign
extraction entered her school, she continued with renewed purpose to mould their
characters and train them in American ideals, while giving them the rudiments of
Her classes opened every morning with "The Lord's Prayer" and singing of America
for more than 58 years. She demanded allegiance to "God and Country" and a salute
to the flag. She led her children in every patriotic parade. She went into their
homes to promote hygiene and the knowledge of right and wrong. Her methods of
discipline were summary but effective. Perhaps that is why few cities have better
foreign born citizens and less juvenile delinquency than Herkimer for its
percentage of alien residents.
Able and willing to wield "Old Faithful" when needed, Miss Tuger nevertheless
mixed understanding of child psychology so well with punishment that she held the
respect of parent and pupil alike. She brooked no infraction of rules but her
purse was always open to buy shoes or clothing for the less fortunate among her
charges. No sovereign ever watched over his subjects with greater care, no
teacher commanded more respect. Although they reached a man's estate, those who
once attended Miss Tuger's school continued to be "her boys" and she took
personal glory in their careers.
One of her "boys" was Lou Ambers, now lightweight boxing title holder. Although
she followed his rise closely and predicted he would get to the top, it was not
until 1936 that she could be induced to see a fight.
Lou was preparing for his marriage as her death came. Father Purificato did not
tell him until after the ceremony. Lou and his bride, Margaret Celio, had
planned to visit Miss Tuger after their wedding breakfast.
Another "boy" was Donald Witherstine, nationally known artist. Miss Tuger made
her home with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Witherstine, when she came here.
Only when they removed to Peoria, Ill., in 1910, did she take up her residence at
the Waverly hotel where she had lived for 29 years. In recent years she had
visited them at Provincetown, Mass., where the elder Witherstine died last fall
and the son has his studio. Mr. Witherstine exhibited his etchings in Tuger
school a few years ago.
Still another lad whose artistic talent she fostered was Danny Oszycheski, now
studying art under a scholarship in Syracuse University with possibility he also
may flower into an artist of national renown.
Father Killed in Civil War
"Whatever comes from the brain carries the hue of the place it came from; and
whatever comes from the heart carries the heat and color of its birthplace,"
Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote. Miss Tuger's life amply illustrated this.
Coming from old German stock, her father, a naturalized American who died for his
adopted country in the Civil War when she was two months old, Miss Tuger
inherited a spirit of patriotism and an instinct for good citizenry.
Raised by a widowed mother whose fortitude early developed tenacity in her own
life, Miss Tuger determined to become a teacher while still a child.
Because she learned at 16 on her first job in a rural school that respect
depended upon strict but just discipline, she became the benevolent despot who
ruled South School firmly but compassionately.
From those parents who dared to sever their homeland ties for a new freedom in
America, she acquired both the will to venture and the desire to root in richer
soil. As a young teacher she changed positions frequently for ten years before
finding the opportunity she sought in Herkimer.
A few years ago she said her object in life had always been to develop character
and citizenship. "I have learned that it pays to stay somewhere," she said
simply. "Perhaps I could have made more money in New York or some other place,
but I love my work in Herkimer and there is more satisfaction in doing the work I
am doing with my children than money could bring."
Work among her children extended far beyond the classroom and into the community.
No agency which tried to make of Herkimer a better place to live lacked her
support. Her pride in its history and its progress was foremost. Many years ago
when the old Herkimer Business Men's association sought a slogan, she coined the
phrase, "Herkimer Led, Herkimer Leads."
Miss Tuger's parents came from Hambach on Bergstrasse, near Frankfurt, in
Germany. Her father, Adam Tuger, descended from a long line of German millers.
Her mother came to America in 1853 and settled in Honesdale, Pa. They were
married there the following year when he came from Germany. After he worked a
few years for a miller in Syracuse, the Tugers moved in 1856 to Baldwinsville.
Adam Tuger prospered there and became a citizen in 1862. He and his wife returned
to Germany that year to live again in the Rhineland village they had left but the
call of America was still strong in his breast and 1863 found them back in
Returned Home Each Summer
It was there on Nov. 10, 1864, that Margaret E. Tuger was born in the same little
cottage where in the later years of her life she returned for summer vacations,
"like a kid out of school" as she once said, to do her own cooking and housework.
It is there, too, that the picture of a dreamy-eyed man still hangs on the
wall - the father she never saw. For Adam Tuger was to make the supreme sacrifice
for the country he had chosen for his children. Declared unfit for military
service and drafted into the home guards, he was insulted. He refused to serve in
the local militia and enlisted in Company A, 185th N.Y. Infantry. He went into
training and Margaret Tuger was born two months later.
Adam Tuger fell mortally wounded at Hatcher's Run, Virginia, shot through the
head by a Confederate marksman on Feb. 6, 1865. From the time the young girl
could sense life's meaning, the death of her father and the patient struggle of
her mother left an indelible impression.
Once asked when she first aspired to become a teacher, she replied, "From the
time I could first remember."
She entered South school at Baldwinsville in 1869 when four years old. She was
graduated from Baldwinsville academy in 1880 at the age of 15, too young to
teach. To earn money for her support in the interval, she went to Laporte, Ind.,
working in a mill sewing buttons and keeping books in a bakery, meanwhile
tutoring the proprietor.
The opportunity to teach came and on May 2, 1881, at the age of 16, the minimum
allowed, she took her first position in Lysander near her home town. Next she
found herself in a small rural school nearby. Then she applied for a place in the
Baldwinsville school and got it.
Ruled Pupils From First Day
Her first test in discipline came here. The trustee who escorted her to school on
that Monday morning in 1882 was apologetic. He said unruly boys had ejected her
The schoolroom was a shambles as they opened the door. Ashes and apple cores
covered the floor, the stove had been tipped over. While the trustee righted the
stove, she used the broom, meanwhile making a decision which probably stamped her
Soon the room was tidy again. Without a word she spread a beautiful red and black
tablecloth her mother had brought from Germany over the desk. Upon it she placed
her books and a small call bell. Then she opened class with "The Lord's Prayer"
and singing of America.
The young rowdies were awed by those innovations and the first days went
splendidly. Miss Tuger suspected it was the calm preceding a storm, she admitted
later. Soon the boys prepared to "try out" the new teacher.
A young lad at whose home she was boarding, became saucy and impudent. Miss Tuger
gave him two more chances. Then the 16-year-old teacher crossed the Rubicon.
Clutching the boy by the coat collar, she applied a rattan cane where it would do
the most good. The boy roared, the teacher louder as the stick rose and fell.
When it was over, the youth returned to his seat sadder and wiser.
Meanwhile, an older cousin danced around the room shaking his fists and vowing
family vengeance for the flogging. Finished with one rebel, Miss Tuger grabbed
the other and applied the same medicine. Except for a later insurrection, when
she chastised the trustee's son, no one questioned who was in control thereafter.
The following year, Miss Tuger took a position in Syrander [sic: Lysander], walking the railroad
tracks to school each day for five years to teach 40 pupils.
Then she went to Amboy for a year, studying at the same time for a state
certificate so she could teach in any common school in the state. She qualified
in 1889 and until 1891 taught in North School at Baldwinsville. Her first job
brought her $4.50 a week but she advanced with each new position.
Miss Tuger came to Herkimer in August, 1891, as principal of the new South Side
School, considered one of the finest in this part of the state. It had four
teachers and, of the 700 children enrolled in Herkimer schools, 200 were there.
A. G. Miller, then superintendent, had cast about for the best candidate for
principal and was attracted by the record and personality of this forceful young
woman of 28. He little realized the service he was performing for the community
when he engaged her.
Miss Tuger lived to see her school grow to cover an entire block with an
attendance at one time of nearly a thousand pupils. She lived to see the same
school named in her honor in 1932.
Before the new addition to the school was built in 1923, she daily visited seven
homes nearby where overflow classes were held.
In 1916 she gave up actual teaching and devoted herself entirely to her duties as
She served under seven school superintendents in Herkimer. They were the late A.
G. Miller, Alden J. Merrill, now retired in Rochester, the late E. E. Massey,
Schuler Herron. C. L. Mosher, now in the state education department at Albany, G.
M. Elmendorf, now superintendent at Plattsburgh, and L. W. Bills.
As pupils of foreign born parentage increased in the school, Miss Tuger
introduced citizenship training and Americanization work. She started night
schools to prepare their parents for naturalization. She realized that for some
children, the only preparation for life would be there. She tried to start them
on the road with a fundamental concept of the meaning of home, religion and
country, and taught them the principles of truth, honor and duty.
She was proud of her school and her boys and girls shared that pride. They had a
school cheer and a school song. Visitors soon saw the bond between Miss Tuger and
her followers. She was the general, her teachers the aides, and every small boy
and girl an eager private, ready to show what they had learned, what they could
She often marched them in public, bearing flags in orderly lines. She frequently
exhibited their work in school. She presented them in pageants and plays. No
national holiday passed without appropriate patriotic exercises. She rewarded
them with all the recognition she could muster. Perfect attendance, scholastic
honors, any school event was sent to the newspaper.
Ready to Help in Trouble
Whenever trouble arose in the home, Miss Tuger was there. If it was a
recalcitrant child, need of better parental control, care of eyes or teeth,
cleaner attire, or something else beyond her province, she discussed It frankly
with the heads of the family. If there was misfortune, unemployment, need of food
or clothes, she gave comfort and assistance or obtained it.
No wonder Miss Tuger was revered by many fathers and mothers as well as loved by
When the war started in 1917, she bade farewell to "her boys" as they marched
away in khaki. Those who came back received a welcome cherished most, next to the
embrace of their families.
The Red Cross long received her energetic support. She was first secretary of the
local chapter and served for many years. During the war she sold Liberty bonds
and participated in every civic activity that would aid her country in its time
Like most strong characters, teeming with virility of mind and body, she had firm
convictions. She never cloaked them. With inherent honesty she dared to be
different and wore the mantle with dignity.
She loved a parade, either from the sidewalk or as a marcher, preferably the
latter. She organized a drum corps of her school pupils, led it in every
patriotic demonstration for years, carrying a flag over her shoulder. It was an
exhuberant outlet for the patriotic song in her heart.
Neither did any false sense of propriety deter her when forthright action was
demanded. Armed with knowledge of need in her parish, aid required for a worthy
cause, or with a duty to perform, she acted promptly whether it meant approaching
a business man for help or making a public plea. Her honesty of purpose and an
understanding of human nature made her as much at home with a group of men as
This was illustrated in 1918 when she was called to her office window by the
bedlam in the street. Told the glad tidings, she dismissed the classes and led
her children in the parade. She passed Mayor Albert F. Ertman and shouted to him
to declare a holiday which he did. As the community staged a gigantic
celebration, Miss Tuger was in the thick of it and gloriously happy.
She Set Her Own Styles
Likewise, she made no concessions to others in her attire. She always wore
tailored suits and her crisp white blouses, gallant red hats and ties were
familiar to everyone.
Once she was asked to name her favorite color.
"Any color, as long as it's red," she replied.
Perhaps that is why the flowers which came to her in the hospital, to her room in
the hotel each holiday and Mother's Day, were generally of that hue.
She never carried a purse or handbag. Someone remarked about it one day. "I have
a purpose in life," she retorted brusquely and honestly. "Why should I carry a
satchel? I have pockets."
In those pockets she kept her keys, her change, a handkerchief and her rosary.
Deeply religious, each morning on her way to school she stopped at St. Anthony's
church to start her day with prayer. She was quietly active in the church and its
organizations but never discussed creed. Her motto, as she expressed it, was "Do
your best at all times and mind your own business." She said she tried to live
the Sermon on the Mount.
While she bore her own trials with patience and in solitude, she was alert to the
misfortunes of others and the sympathy of none was more responsive. Freely she
gave, freely she received. That is why, although the last survivor of her family
except for a nephew in Los Angeles, she was never in any sense alone.
Remembered by "Her Boys"
Birthdays and Mother's day showered her with remembrances. More than once friends
found her eyes moist as she unwrapped a large box of hothouse roses, possibly
from some of her grownup "boys" or from the Sons of Italy of which she was a
proud member, always addressed to "dear teacher."
Each afternoon as she walked up Main St. from the school to her hotel, hats were
tipped along the way when she passed while boys and men respectfully asked, "How
do you do, Miss Tuger?" And she always responded by name, "Hello, Joe," "How are
you Tony?" whether the salute came from those of five or 50.
In the hotel lobby it was the same. While she waited for her key and her mail,
she would chat pleasantly with those nearby, most of them "her boys."
It may be truthfully said for the entire community, that no queen, laying aside
her regal robes in death, ever left a greater void in the hearts of her subjects.
But bowed in humility with her passing, they are grateful for a beneficent reign
which spread only more happiness in the world.
"She is not dead, Such souls forever live
In boundless measure of the love they give."
-"Mystery" by Jerome B. Bell
Thank Yous and Credits:
Many thanks to Susan Perkins and the Herkimer County Historical Society for permission to republish
the photograph of Margaret Tuger and the Caliguire Twins from the book Herkimer County at 200 (p.
251), published in 1992 by the Society, and for providing the original photograph of Miss Tuger.
And our continuing appreciation to the Herkimer Evening Telegram for permission to reprint on line this and
other historical articles of interest to Herkimer County researchers, historians, and local residents.