LINWOOD – Voters here will decide Nov. 8 if they will continue with the Type I school district in which board members are appointed by the mayor or if they will become a Type II school district in which members are elected by voters.
Should voters choose an elected school board, they would not be heading into uncharted waters. It would actually be a return to how board members were chosen for more than the first quarter of the 20th century.
Linwood historian Carolyn Patterson, who was consulted at the Linwood Historical Museum Tuesday morning, Oct. 18, went digging and pulled out information and files that had been gathered and displayed at the museum for the Belhaven Middle School centennial in 2008.
The district clerk of the borough of Linwood, James Farish, kept meticulous records of all meetings and elections as part of his duties during his tenure from 1889 until he retired in 1932. Farish served as the clerk for the school board as well, until he ran for a seat on the board.
While she was unable to pinpoint the year the school board changed from elected to appointed, Patterson said it is likely sometime around when Linwood was forced by state statute to change its status from the borough of Linwood to the city of Linwood in 1931. While not all of the details of its incorporation as a city were clear, there was frequent correspondence between Farish’s office and Trenton.
Linwood broke away from Egg Harbor Township in 1889 and established itself as a borough. In 1931 the state adopted a statute that would change the borough status to a city. Linwood had not completed the transition, and Farish sent letters to Trenton asking for clarification and requesting instructions for making the change.
The letter writing apparently dragged on for longer than the state would have liked. A letter from the New Jersey Office of the State Treasury dated June 1931 states, “When Chapter 265 was approved by the governor on April 27, 1931, the Borough of Linwood immediately became the City of Linwood. This enactment is mandatory and does not give your municipal officials the option of organizing into a city when they get good and ready.”
Patterson's search revealed that Farish was employed as the clerk when Linwood incorporated in 1889 and was still clerk during the changeover in 1931.
That is a lot of history passing through one man’s hands. He retired Jan. 1, 1932, and by then he was more than 80 years old.
Farish left a detailed legacy of the operation of his hometown. The tally sheet and actual ballots from the 1910 school board election show the number of votes needed to get a spot on Linwood’s five-member board: Joshua Garwood (35 votes), Edmond Somers and Wesley Smith (34 votes each), and write-in candidate William Lear (22 votes), who landed a seat by beating out incumbent Daniel Sutton by eight votes.
Voters that year also approved a Linwood school budget of $500 by 34 votes, along with resolutions about the disposition of district-owned property. The vote apparently caused a bit of a stir in the day, resulting in a story in the March 19, 1910 Pleasantville Press.
“The candidates for member of the Board of Education were Edmond Somers, Wesley A. Smith and Daniel Sutton, all past members. However, when it came time to vote, it developed that a dark horse was in the stalls and succeeded in winning the race from Daniel Sutton by eight votes. Mr. William Lear, a well known builder and contractor and former borough official will be the new member to take his seat," the news article states.
The story speared the school board, saying, “A board of education that can afford to use embossed stationary and has two old schoolhouses to sell is decidedly in a class by itself.”
Women gained the right to vote in 1920, and by 1924 the city had its first women run for office. Fannie Smith ran for a three-year term, and Esther A. Sanders ran for a two-year seat on the school board. A note on the bottom of the ballot reads that "women citizens over the age of 21 by virtue of the 19th Amendment to the United States are permitted to vote for everything put forth. Qualifications to be a school board member include being at least 21 years old and a resident of Linwood for at least three years and should be able to read and write."
Regular hours for the Linwood Historical Museum, 16 Poplar Ave., are 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday. Other hours are by appointment. Call 609-927-8293.