When Harford County teachers went on strike the afternoon of May 12, 1976, they took to the street corners outside their respective schools with placards calling for "Taxation, not Education," promising "We will not be sold out" and announcing that "We tried every other way."
From afar, they were being watched. Photographs taken from a car chronicled strikes at Riverside Elementary, Joppatowne Junior and Senior High School, Deerfield Elementary and other schools, with small sheets of paper clipped to them documenting the time they were taken.
"The attorney for the schools system needed someone to take photographs of the strikers, particularly the placards they were carrying," said John T. Case, 67, the former administrative assistant for public information tasked with taking the photos. "Having been a teacher myself, I was taking pictures of people I knew and in some cases was friends with. I was given this job to do, but I felt very torn."
The photos were a sampling of the hundreds of items turned up by the school system as it prepared to move from its 50-year home on Gordon Street to a new $11.4 million building near the volunteer fire company on South Hickory Street. The finds were turned over to the Harford Historical Society.
Included is a photo of a horse-drawn carriage dubbed the "Kid Wagon," which was the first form of transportation for Harford pupils in 1912; financial records of the Board of Education and shut-down notices to schools for blacks from Superintendent C. Milton Wright; and a collage from the 1987 Instructional Fair featuring a shot of a young teacher named Jacqueline C. Haas, now the school superintendent, wearing a bright purple shirt and skirt.
On a recent weekday, volunteers at the historical society - a few of them former teachers - reviewed and flagged the items, mostly candid photographs and dusty scrapbooks, to add to the society's collection of school artifacts.
"It's a pretty comprehensive range of the county," said administrator Maryanna Skowronski. "These items have been a good overview of the school system."
The strike photos hit a chord with volunteer Dorothy Meyer, a former teacher at Magnolia Elementary who participated in the days-long protest. She said teachers never got a pay raise and the members of the executive board of the teachers union were arrested for instigating a strike that violated state law. She said she wasn't proud of taking part.
"It caused an awful lot of hard feelings for an awful long time between those who struck and those who didn't," said Case, who had been asked to find links between the strike and the Maryland State Teachers Association, which would have made the strike illegal.
Old documents and newspaper clippings preserved in scrapbooks showed how such conflicts can take a toll on school leaders as well. After incurring a debt of $10,000 that helped stave off the closure of the county's schools in 1914, school board members wrote to the public that then-superintendent Wright had "for some weeks been suffering from serious nervous trouble resulting from overwork."
"When Nature has thrown out a danger signal as to his health, we should all unite in our efforts to restore his customary vigor and usefulness," the letter read.
The problems the system grappled with included rising teacher salaries, declining state funding, the need for new buildings, and rising fuel and repair costs.
"Nothing's changed much, huh?" board member Lee Merrell said with a laugh.
Also documented is Harford's struggle with integration after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Materials include a May 27, 1954, article in The Sun describing reaction to the decision as "not causing too much concern in the county yet," lawsuits launched by the NAACP pushing for faster integration and the board's plan to fully integrate by 1963.
Another collection of pictures from 1973 - still in the envelope from the developer - shows a new computer being loaded into a school building by four moving men. The refrigerator-sized IBM 1601 and its parts eventually took up most of the room they occupied.
While these items will be stored and used for research by the historical society, the fate of the old school headquarters building is less clear. Haas has said she would like to see the building razed to provide additional acreage for Bel Air Elementary, while Bel Air Mayor Terrence O. Hanley said loft apartments in the existing building were a consideration.
The building was an elementary school from 1884 until 1951, when the school board moved in, and preservationists would like to see the building remain intact. The nearby Proctor House, which had been used as extra school office space, could be turned into a bed-and-breakfast.
The board tabled a decision until March.
"Once those historic buildings are gone, they're gone," said Hanley, a member of the National Historical Society. "We've had too much of that in this county."