Making the Grade

Plucky Schoolmarms of Kittitas Country

By Barb Owen
(Washington State University Press, Paperback, 9780874222999, 190pp.)

Publication Date: February 2009

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Description
In the early 1900s, a student with two years of high school could attend Ellensburg Normal School for one academic year, pass an examination, and receive a teaching certificate. Elsie Hodgson did just that. In response to her application, the clerk of the Tarpiscan School wrote, "You can teach our school... Sharpen up your six shooter, we got some ornery kids in these parts." Ready for adventure, she accepted the offer and found kind, hospitable people, who treated her with respect and affection. In Making the Grade, thirteen former Kittitas country schoolmarms reflect fondly on their days of teaching in remote locales between 1914 and 1939. Usually, their classes were small with multiple grade levels in a single room, and the new educators also served as janitors, fire builders, cooks, and water haulers. They reported few difficulties with discipline. The schools often functioned as hubs for their communities, and popular social activities included holiday programs, plays, spelling bees, box socials, picnics, and dances. The young women confronted numerous challenges. For most, it was their first job. They were away from friends and family. They lacked supplies. For several, the experience also was an introduction to country life. Elsie Hodgson learned to ride a horse. Helen Donald Hadley's students showed her how to harvest wild onions that grew among rocks behind her schoolhouse. Emma Darter Utz rejected the idea of a field trip--coyotes and cougars prowled too near her school. Others contended with mischievous pet monkeys and swarms of bees. Facing these ordeals with creativity, dedication, and pluck, they enhanced the lives of many children, and earned the adoration of their ruralpopulations.
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