In my last post, I reported that on Friday, March 7, 1907, the Norwalk High School boys basketball team lost to Elyria in a close match–then I drifted off subject to wonder about young people of the day who did not attend high school at all.
The report of the game was in the Saturday issue of The Norwalk Daily Reflector one-hundred and ten years ago today. In that same edition that reported on the advantages of sport and scholarship for those fortunate enough to receive a high school education, was an account that may shed light about life on the other side of the tracks in 1907.
J.W. Johnson did not go to high school, of that I am confident. He did, however, spend four years attending the Boys’ Industrial School in Lancaster, Ohio, where he was sent at the age of twelve for burglary and larceny.
The Boys’ Industrial School was not successful in instilling in J.W. the values and morals undoubtedly impressed upon the minds of students in the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. Within four years of his “graduation” young Johnson was convicted of larceny and sentenced to a year in prison, an institution he was in and out of the next few years.
His most recent incarceration came on February 12, 1907: eighteen months for stabbing and wounding a man in Huron County. Sheriff Snyder, who transported J.W. to the penitentiary, later learned of the young man’s criminal record. The sheriff did not ponder whether a life of crime begun at such a young age might be the result of a disadvantaged upbringing. He did, however, lament that, if the facts had been known, J.W. would have received a longer sentence.
How many students in the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 do you think were shown this article by their parents? When I was their age, I was warned of the horrors of “reform school,” so I’d say it’s a good bet they were.
What were the conditions at the Boys’ Industrial School where J.W. Johnson was an inmate from his twelfth to his sixteenth year. How did his experiences there contribute to his later life of crime. We’ll find out in my next post.
“Young in Years, Old in Crime,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 9, 1907, page 2, column 4.
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