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Discovering Janies journal
1202 echoes
Sarah Jane Reisser Berry

My paternal grandmother’s sister was Sarah Jane Reisser was a school teacher who married Hallman Berry. She was born and reared by her parents Virgil Herbert and Ella V. Gnann Reisser on Highway 119 toward Clyo near Springfield. The home place is now known as the Reisser-Zoller Farm.

Aunt Janie, as she was known, was one of five children. Sisters Berta R. Zoller and Annie Mae R. Exley also taught school prior to their marriages. Sister Elice Reisser and Brother Herbert Reisser never married and lived on the home place.

A few years ago, Janie’s daughter Amelia B. Herrington shared my great “Aunt Janie’s Journal” with me and the Historic Effingham Society. It is a plain lined bound tablet that Aunt Janie penciled in cursive writing which is very plain and easy to read. It is a fascinating document.

In it she shares her adventures in teaching and of boarding near the schools where she taught. Most teachers were barely older than their students, having only to complete high school and a teaching seminar to become qualified. She boarded with some of her students’ families and relished the weekends when she went home. She shared her fears and homesickness with so much spunk and clarity in her sentences.

For a school year she lived in a home where the father was in the last stages of Huntington ’s disease and his actions, easily heard through the walls, at night frightened her.

Her journal shares glimpses of teaching young men who were huge side of her and some who would be classified special needs students today with severe developmental delays. There is paper work she saved from them folded between pages in the journal. She had no training as to how to educate these children who could not keep up with their classmates.

Janie’s details of the life of a young lady are a window back in time. She describes her adventures at the peanut boiling, taffy pulling, syrup cooking or whatever event served as entertainment for her, her siblings and an occasional beau. While teaching at Stillwell School, a certain gentleman came by and drove her in the buggy to evening church services. In order to get to Stillwell to teach, she boarded a train at Berryville and got off at Stillwell. Someone would drive her there or pick her up with the mule and wagon. Sometimes she walked part of the way home from her post on Friday or caught a ride.

Only single women were allowed to be teachers and according to the rules, had to become homemakers after marriage in those days.

One of the most interesting sections describes the Berryville young people who met in the school building for debates and such as entertainment after hours. She vividly describes a trip by mule and wagon with several couples going to Sylvania. This was the furthest place she had ever gone away from home. They had a “runaway” with the mule that pulled their wagon and she writes, “It practically scared us to death.” She was very demonstrative in telling tales verbally and in writing.

Janie reared her family with husband Hallman Berry. Son the late Horace Berry and daughter Amelia were brought up near the old Reisser home place where Janie was born. She kept a store selling items kind of like a convenience store out of the side of her home. Kerosene, candy, tobacco, bread and limited food items were available. Aunt Janie was a character and her daughter Amelia, now over 90 years of age is much like her.

I remember Aunt Janie as a small woman of stooping stature who had a rare painful illness called trigeminal neuralgia. She died after surgery for the intractable pain of her illness in Augusta at the Medical College. I was a bit afraid of this great aunt as a child. I wish now she were here so I could do an “oral history” to get more details about the writings of this woman in her journal. I was unable to know her better due to her shortened life. Aunt Janie’s Journal is a treasure her family chose to share. A copy is in the Effingham Museum.

You can find this and many more treasures at Effingham Museum, 1002 N. Pine St. in Springfield, Mondays from 9 a.m. until noon and Tuesdays-Fridays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and by appointment at other times.

This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact her at 754-6681 or email her at: