By Terry Rogers
Citizens of Milford are familiar with the name Lulu M. Ross, mostly because of the Lulu M. Ross Elementary School located on Lovers Lane. However, many residents, and even some of the students, may be unaware of the contribution the real Lulu M. Ross made to the education of children in Milford.
Lulu M. Ross was the daughter of Andrew J. and Mary Argo Ross. She grew up in Milford and attended the North Milford School. She was one of only six girls in the first graduating class of 1891. After graduating from the North Milford School, Miss Ross began teaching at Bennett’s Gate in Milford Neck in 1894 and after two years there began teaching at Postles School for one year. She also taught at the Williamsville School for one year before transferring to Milford North School where she taught first grade for 48 years.
Former Governor Ruth Ann Minner, who had Miss Ross in first grade, says that her biggest memories of Miss Ross actually came from her father, Samuel Golan Coverdale. Mr. Coverdale, who was known as “Golie” by many people in Milford, had Miss Ross when she taught at what was known as the Sour Apple Tree School in Milford Neck.
“My father told us stories about Mrs. Ross even before we started school,” Governor Minner said. “He said ‘Before I learned to behave, she was the meanest teacher I ever knew.’ He also told us that she tied his left hand behind him, forcing him to write with his right hand as my father was left-handed. The first day of first grade, I sat down in class and who did I have as a teacher? Miss Ross. I cried all day until I got home and told my dad that he had to do something because I didn’t want Miss Ross. He explained to me that it was his behavior that was the problem, not Miss Ross.”
Governor Minner said that Miss Ross taught the students how to read by using pictures and then reading a story to them. As she did, the students started to recognize the words until they could read fluently. Governor Minner said that Miss Ross, along with her third grade teacher, Thelma Mayhew, made her the avid reader she is today.
“My father lived to be 79 years old,” Governor Minner said. “Until the day he died, he talked about what a huge influence Miss Ross was on his life. She did more than just teach reading, writing and arithmetic. She also influenced the character of the students she taught. Whenever his children had a problem with school work, he would say ‘Well, that’s not how Miss Ross did it. Try it this way instead.’ Most of the time, her way worked better.”
Marvin Schelhouse, Milford Board of Education President, who is also left-handed, remembers that Miss Ross encouraged him to write with his right hand, although he did not mention her tying his hand behind his back. He said her encouragement did not change his handedness, however.
“If you go into Ross Elementary School and look up to the wall on the left, you will see an enlarged photograph of Miss Ross. That picture is exactly how I remember her,” Mr. Schelhouse said. “She was a serious-minded, devoted teacher. She expected your attention and good behavior.” Mr. Schelhouse said that she reached out to parents through the student’s report card and encouraged them to review homework assignments to be sure they were completed correctly. Other students remember her making visits to parents, often accompanied by her sister, in order to discuss ways parents could help their children learn.
“We started the day with a student reading a verse from the Bible and the Pledge of Allegience to the American flag,” Mr. Schelhouse said. “She had an old pump organ that we gathered around that probably dated back to the late 1800s or early 1900s. I would watch her feet as she pumped the organ to make it play while we sang songs. I brought my lunch, either peanut butter and jelly or an egg sandwich along with a thermos full of milk. Once a week, I bought ice cream for ten cents.” Mr. Schelhouse said he remembers enjoying recess, which he believed was once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Miss Ross, who never married, lived in Milford her entire life. When the Milford Board of Education voted to name a new elementary school after her in 1956, she graciously accepted the honor. “I feel richly rewarded to know that future generations will remember that I was a teacher,” Miss Ross said at the time. Lulu M. Ross died in 1960 at the age of 87 years old.