We shall prosper in proportion as we learn to
dignify and glorify labor and put brains and skill
into the common occupations of life.
Washington's Childhood (Early Intermediate)
Washington was born on April 5, 1856,
near Hale's Ford, Virginia. His mother was a slave, so he was born a slave.
When Washington was born, it was illegal for anyone to teach slaves how to
read or write. So Washington did not go to school like free children. Instead,
Sometimes the work was very hard. Once a week he had to take corn to the
mill. He hated this job. Someone would throw a large bag of corn over a horse's
back. Washington then had to lead the horse to the mill. Many times the bag
of corn would fall off the horse's back. The bag was too heavy for Washington
to lift. He could not put it back on the horse's back. He would have to wait
until someone came down the road who could lift it for him. Some days
he would have to wait many hours. But he also had to go on to the mill, even
if it was night. And when he got home late from the trip, he would be beaten
for taking so long.
One day while he was working, he saw inside a school. He saw books and maps.
He saw children learning to read and write. He saw students studying math.
More than anything else, Washington wanted to go to school. But he could
not. So he went back to his work. But he did not forget his dream of getting
When Washington was nine years old, the Civil War ended. All the slaves were
set free. Washington, his mother, his step-father, and his brothers moved
to Malden, West Virginia. Washington's step-father got a job there as a
salt-packer. Because the family was poor, the boys also had to work in the
Salt mines may not seem like a classroom. But Washington learned to recognize
numbers while working in the mines. His mother saw his interest in learning.
She got a book for him. And from the book, he learned the letters of the
Then, a school for blacks opened in Malden. Washington still had to work.
But he also went to school. One day, he heard two men talking about a school
in Virginia for blacks, the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. Washington
determined to attend the Hampton Institute. Yet he needed more education
before he could be admitted to Hampton.
He heard of a job openings in the home of General Lewis Ruffner. Ruffner
owned the salt furnace where Washington's father worked. He also owned mines
in which Washington worked.
Mrs. Ruffner ran the household. She was known for being hard to please. In
fact, many people did not want to work for her. They believed her expectations
were too high.
But the job paid well. And Washington knew that household work would be easier
than work in the mines. So he took the job.
Mrs. Ruffner made him work hard. She wanted the house very clean. She also
wanted him to learn. So she gave him books. And she taught him good English,
history, and some math. At last his academic skills were strong enough for
him to gain admission to the Hampton Institute.
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Where was Washington born?
Why was he a slave?
Did Washington go to elementary school?
Read a sentence from the text that supports your answer.
What event led to the freeing of slaves,
including Washington and his family?
How did Washington's life change after
his family became free?
What kinds of things did Washington
learn while he worked in the salt mines?
What was Washington's next
How did this job help him get a better
Do you think he objected to hard work?
Why or why not?
For Discussion . . .
Imagine that you, like Washington,
were born a slave. How do you think your life would be different? What kind
of feelings might you have?
How do you think the slaves felt when
they were freed? Do you think the change from slavery to freedom might have
been somewhat frightening? Why or why not? What kinds of changes would freedom
bring in their lives?
Washington learned to read from one
book that his mother found somewhere. When he was growing up, books were
very expensive. Most children could not buy books, and few families owned
more than a few books. Many families owned no books. Imagine that you could
have only one book. What book would you choose? Why?
For Further Study . . .
A Not-So-Simple Journey
Obtain a map of the United States (preferably the East coast only). On the
map, locate Hale's Ford, Virginia, Washington's birth place. Next find Malden,
West Virginia, Washington's later home. Find a distance scale on the map.
Approximately how far apart are the two cities?
Remember that cars and airplanes did not exist during Washington's childhood.
The family would have to make the move either on foot or by horse and carriage.
How long do you think it would take to travel this far without a vehicle?
Has your family ever moved? What kinds of things to you have to do when you
move? How do you think the absence of a car or truck would have affected
your move? Obviously, space was limited, whether the family traveled on horse
or by foot. What kinds of things would they have to take? What kinds of things
would they probably not pack?
Imagine that your family is moving. You may take only the items you can fit
in one small suitcase. Make a list of what you would pack. Be prepared to
explain why you selected each item.
Have an idea you want to
E-mail it to
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