Margaret Tuger

Beloved School Principal and Teacher
Herkimer, NY

Contributed by Robb and Deni Frederick

Margaret Tuger

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.

Robb Frederick
Herkimer, NY

Margaret Tuger and Students

Margaret Tuger and twins Victor and Mario Caliguire, date unknown.
Photograph ©1992 Herkimer County Historical Society.

OCTOBER 10, 1939,

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 when younger.

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 teacher.

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 knowledge.

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 Baldwinsville.

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 predecessor bodily.

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 career.

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 principal.

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 do.

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 their children.

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 of need.

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 with women.

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.

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Created 3/28/04
Copyright © 2003-2004 Herkimer Evening Times
Copyright © 2004 Robb and Deni Frederick
Photographs Copyright © 1992 - 2004 Herkimer County Historical Society
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