Backtracking: The Early Years: Back to school locally brought bullying, overcrowding in 1949

Mark SimonsonThe former Otego Elementary School is shown in 2017. In 1949 this was Otego Central School and was among the first in the region to experience post-World War II school crowding.



Anti-bullying campaigns have become a norm in the 21st century for schools. Bullying is nothing new, as many generations have experienced.

There was apparently a troublesome time of bullying in 1949 as Oneonta students were returning to school.

Also, one area school had its first experience with post World War II overcrowding.


“Strong warnings against hazing of high school freshmen were given yesterday by both police and school authorities,” The Oneonta Star reported on Sept. 2, “following the brutal gang attack Wednesday night on two boys in the business district.

“Two youths, 13 and 14, were on their way home from a Boy Scout meeting when they were surrounded on Main Street by eight large boys of the 16 and 17 year old group. The smaller boys were taken around the Elm Street corner and into an areaway between buildings where they were viciously paddled.

“Each of the eight large boys took his turn at beating the youngsters while the little fellows were being held. The victims were threatened with further assault if they complained to their parents or others, and were told they would be put on a permanent blacklist so that they would never again be safe on the streets if they ‘talked.’

“The victims, wanting to be ‘good sports,’ urged their parents to take no action. The boys were also fearful, they said, of further punishment. However, one mother notified the police but declined to prosecute. Police conducted an inquiry and learned the names of all the boys who committed the assaults.”

Police Chief Robert J. Simmons issued a statement, “I want to appeal to parents of boys who are sophomores, juniors and seniors, to discourage their sons from this practice. This so-called hazing does not exist elsewhere in high schools, and to the best of my knowledge is something peculiar to Oneonta. I should point out that even in college the old habit of hazing is dying out.

“Unless it is stopped we will be forced to prosecute the hazers on assault charges. Boys under 16 years of age will be arrested and tried in Children’s Court, while those over 16 will be tried in regular court.

“Parents face not only a moral obligation to help us and the school authorities but they also face liability for civil damages. If their sons beat up some boy and injure him they can be sued for damages.”

The warning appeared to do enough to stop the bullying, as a look through editions of The Star through September and October found no published arrests or further incidents.


In one of the first signs of the “baby boom” in schools on our region, The Star of Sept. 9 reported, “Overcrowding of first grade classrooms at Otego Central School has forced school officials to split the group and hold a class in the auditorium.

“About 25 first graders occupy the stage with Mrs. Ford Hawver as the temporary teacher.

“Prin. Joseph S. Horton said yesterday that the class being held on the stage is purely a temporary measure and that the crowded situation would be remedied within a few days.

“Mr. Horton said that the first day of school, all 50 first graders were put in one room under one teacher, adding that although it was possible for them to stay there it was not advisable.

“School officials are trying to locate suitable quarters for the extra class outside the main building and at the present time have two prospects in mind.

“The board of education is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the problem and to act on a solution.”

And so the problem of overcrowding began here and in most area schools, one that would finally start to subside in the late 1970s.

On Tuesday: A new school and a new educational approach in Sidney in 1969.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at

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Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at

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