Sadie Silverman

This portrait of Miss Sadie Silverman hangs in the Hibbing High School library. A dignified woman, Miss Silverman oversaw the school's huge Study Hall 120 from 1930 until her retirement in 1951. The Class of 1935 commissioned their classmate Aberlae Krelof Rovell to paint this picture which was presented to the school in 1988.

In our lives, if we are lucky, we have memorable family members, employers, neighbors or friends. These people, no matter how old we get, or how far away we go, we never forget. For many students at Hibbing High School, Miss Sadie Silverman was just such a person. Sadie’s father was born in Germany and her mother in Russia. They were probably making their way to America when Sadie was born in Sweden in 1895. She never married or had children, but she left a lasting memory with hundreds and hundreds of teen-agers.

Although Miss Silverman had retired by the time I attended Hibbing High School, I remember hearing about her from people older than me. Some of those people were well into their adult lives, but the legendary Sadie Silverman was still spoken about in tones that ranged from reverential to delighted.

For most of 2020, there have been no tours allowed in the Hibbing High School building due to the coronavirus. But in the past, when Joe and I led visitors through the historic school on a tour and we’d get to the library, usually someone in the group would point to a framed painting on the wall and ask, “Who is the woman in that picture?” That elegant woman is Sadie Silverman.

Since the 1990s, the high school library has consisted of two large rooms. But for most of the school’s existence, the first room off of the hallway was not a part of the library but was an enormous Study Hall, Room 120. That space was the domain of Miss Silverman. She presided over her charges from a desk set up on a raised platform on the north side of the big room. The student desks were arranged in long rows that faced the east wall. Thus, she could scan the room and see the students from the side. No hiding behind a book doing something forbidden in that study hall!

By the time I got to seventh grade in the high school building, there had been a few successors to Miss Silverman in charge of the big study hall. Some of those were former Hibbing students who had gone on to get their college degrees, come back to Hibbing to teach and, when not in their classroom, work as prefects in Study Hall 120. The laws laid down by Miss Silverman still ruled the room: There would be NO talking! NO sleeping! NO passing notes! NO chewing gum! You either were studying or reading.

The discipline found in Study Hall 120 might seem “quaint” today, but alumni have told me that when they went on to college, the military, and employment, they realized that learning self-discipline in this way did them no harm. Many recalled those days in study hall in later years when adult life presented them with a situation requiring focus and attention.

So many former students remembered Sadie Silverman that, many years after their graduations, a plan was formed to have a portrait painted of her that would be permanently present in the Study Hall 120.

When the library was expanded in the 1990s into the big room that had housed the study hall, Sadie’s portrait took up residence in the original library area, now often referred to as the library’s “inner room.”

The following article was printed in the Hibbing Daily Tribune on January 12, 1988. Written by Al Zdon, then Editor of the Hibbing Daily Tribune, the importance of Miss Silverman is evident.

When tours of Hibbing High School are again allowed, please come on a tour and appreciate Sadie’s portrait for yourself.

A couple of generations of Hibbing students wilted under the steely glance of Miss Sadie Silverman.

And now, 37 years after she retired, another generation of Hibbing pupils will face her countenance in Room 120, Hibbing High School’s main study hall.

Silverman, who died in 1976 at the age of 81, is returning to her customary place via a portrait commissioned by the Class of 1935 and donated by Jeno Paulucci, a member of that class.

Nearly 100 alumni and present-day students crowded into the high school board room Monday morning to see the unveiling of the portrait, painted by another member of the Class of 1935, Aberlae Krelof Rovell.

Edith Coschignano, secretary of the class reunion committee, welcomed the group. William Lah, former principal at the high school, also spoke.

“At reunions, at every occasion I’ve been to where I’ve been with alumni,” Lah said, “the topic of discussion eventually got around to Sadie Silverman and Room 120.”

The throng gave a standing ovation to Paulucci, who traveled to Hibbing from his home in Florida for the event. “This is only the second time I’ve been back to Hibbing High School since I graduated,” Paulucci said with a smile. “Maybe Eldon Kirsch of the steelworkers was on your invitation committee.”

In recent weeks Paulucci and Kirsch have argued in the public press about the efficacy of labor unions.

Paulucci noted that there have been many curriculum changes since 1935 and he noted “what a tougher job it is for our students these days in a more complicated world.” Paulucci praised one part of the 1935 curriculum, however. “I call it the unheralded linchpin, or the hub of education – which is discipline.”

There were great teachers at Hibbing High School in the ‘30s, he said, but “Sadie Silverman stands out very much. She was the person who spoke the discipline. What good is education without educating ourselves to the need for self-discipline?” he asked.

“She was motherly in many ways,” he recalled. “But she was also as tough as nails.”

Paulucci noted that in her study hall there was only work, and no fooling around. “What pervaded throughout was an element of discipline, and for that we revere her.”

In an interview later, Paulucci said that only once did he run up against the famed Miss Silverman, and that was when he organized a student protest against the necessity to study poetry.

“Sadie was a little upset. She didn’t think I should be rebelling against the rules. Later on, though, we got along fine. She was a marvelous woman.”

Miss Silverman began her career at the Lincoln School in North Hibbing in 1924 and transferred over to the Hibbing High School in the early 1930s. Miss Silverman ruled over the study hall at the high school until 1951.

(The Lincoln School in North Hibbing had been the town’s high school until a new high school was built in the early 1920s as part of the town’s move to “South Hibbing,” earlier known as Alice. The Lincoln in North Hibbing was then used as a junior high until the new Lincoln Junior High was completed in 1957 near the new high school. The original Lincoln was torn down. The new Lincoln is now an elementary building housing grades 3 through 6.)

John Coschignano, a former teacher and another member of the Class of 1935, arranged Monday’s event. He invited representatives of every class from 1924 to 1951 and he said about three-fourths of them made it. John Slattery, the chairman of the class reunion, lives in Arizona in the wintertime and was unable to attend.

Coschignano said Rovell’s portrait was “an excellent job” and others at the unveiling were also complimentary to artist Rovell, who lives in Skokie, Illinois.

“Miss Silverman was just an outstanding disciplinarian,” Coschignano said. “You never brought a magazine to read in her study hall. Only a book.”

Donald Brown, a member of the audience, recalled that one time he arrived in study hall with a match hanging out of his mouth.” “Yeah, I was a tough guy. But that didn’t last long. She said, ‘Donald Brown, you know what you are? You’re a fire hazard.’ “

Ken Pederson, principal at Hibbing High School from 1943 to 1971 and a teacher at the school beginning in 1930, said that Sadie Silverman had originally come from the Eveleth schools.

“What prompted the administration to bring her from the Lincoln in North Hibbing to the new Hibbing High School was that there were 224 seats in Study Hall 120 and they had been trying to make due with a different teacher in there every hour. Sadie was there all day. She provided uniformity.” Thus, Sadie ran the large study hall for five hours a day and there were no students assigned in there the other hours.

“She was a tall, erect woman and very neat in appearance,” Peterson said. “She was pretty much all business, but she liked to have fun now and then too.”

Pederson recalled an instance where Silverman was taking roll on the first day of class and one of the students told her his name was Alfred Johnson. A few rows later, another student said his name was also Alfred Johnson. A few rows after that and another student claimed he, too, was Alfred Johnson.

That was too much for Miss Silverman, and she hauled all three boys down to Pederson’s office. “We’ve got three troublemakers here,” she told the principal. “YOU find out what their real names are and then bring them back to me.”

After questioning the boys, Pederson found out the truth: “Not only were there three Alfred Johnsons, two of them were also Alfred J. Johnson.”

“She had a knack for spotting a troublemaker,” Pederson said. “And when she did, she would give them a job, like taking attendance. She also could leave the study hall for a few minutes and then come back and have that sixth sense of knowing if a student had turned around.

“Visitors to the school couldn’t believe one person could keep 224 students quiet and studying.

“I’ve been to many reunions, but no one was invited to more reunions than Sadie Silverman. As students, they feared Sadie, but as adults they grew to love her.”

•••

The new study hall and library were also ready for use in January (1924). A great many students were reluctant to leave the cafeteria where so many {study} hours were spent. The new study hall has come be much beloved too and the seniors do not like to bid the room good-bye. The large library and adjoining study hall is second only to the auditorium in size and beauty. Its air of quiet dignity and restfulness appeals to one immediately and makes it a room never to be forgotten.

Excerpt from 1924 Hibbing High School Hematite Yearbook

•••

The library is a place where some of us go to escape the tyranny of the study hall, or because we have to, but most of us go for the pleasure we get out of it. In spite of the iron hands that we poor students must endure, we appreciate the place which is filled with treasure, brought there by people who know what good literature is.

Excerpt from1925 Hibbing High School Hematite Yearbook

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