Sepia Saturday – A Gathering

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

A gathering of children and two adults in front of a wooden building. Sixty-nine children, if I counted correctly.

Tom Hoskins, 2nd row, 4th from left

My grandfather, Thomas Hoskins, is one of the school children pictured. He is the tallish looking boy, second row, fourth from the left.

Tom Hoskins

If you followed along in the series I wrote about the life and death of Wilbur Hoskins, an uncle who died at five years of age due to complications from measles, you might remember Tom as Wilbur’s father. I think little Wilbur favored his father.

Wilbur Hoskins

Tom Hoskins was born Mystic, Iowa in 1896. He looks to me to be around 8-10 years of age in this school photo, so I’m guessing the photo is from 1904-06. Unfortunately, the back of the photo doesn’t provide much in the way of helpful information except to identify my grandfather.

There are four handwriting samples here. I don’t know who wrote the original Thomas Hoskins on the back. Was it Tom himself, or one of his parents? I’ll have to try to figure that out. The sideways identification in pen was written by my grandmother – Tom’s wife. My mother wrote the instructions for finding Tom on the left side. And I guess I thought it needed some further clarification, as that is my sideways print on the right.

In another follow up to the series on Wilbur …

I was left wondering where my grandfather sought treatment after a “mental breakdown” following Wilbur’s death. This postcard had only “Wilbur” written on the back. There were no other clues.

Going back through my grandparents’ papers recently, I found a certificate and receipts showing that my grandfather had sought treatment in Excelsior Springs, MO in 1927 for an entirely unrelated condition.

Perhaps he had previously found healing in Excelsior Springs and returned there for healing once again. That’s my best guess.

Switching gears:

My last Sepia Saturday post was about my first grade teacher, Miss Willard. Mister Mike of temposenzatempo left this comment on the post: Miss Willard’s birthplace in Marion, KS caught my attention as I wrote a long story last year about a 1890s photographer from there. I included an image of the Marion public school and I bet my photographer knew the Willard family. Here is the link: Mrs. McMullin Took Their Picture

Mike’s comment sent me to his story that takes place in Marion, KS and then to my newspaper subscriptions before I finished reading his blog entry, then back to his blog. I learned that Miss Willard’s parents both had businesses in Marion. Her father was in business with another man as a carpenter and contractor. Her mother had a millinery shop and was also a dressmaker. Later, her father, Charles E. Willard decided to open a restaurant two doors down from his wife’s new location – his restaurant in the building that previously housed her store.

When I went back to MIke’s blog, right there in the right hand columns of the ads for Mrs. McMullin’s railroad photos, I found an ad for Mrs. Willard’s millinery shop …

and for Mr. Willard’s carpentry business – Pyle and Willard, Carpenters and Builders.

The Willard’s lost their home to fire in Nov. of 1896 and then disappear from the Kansas newspapers. Perhaps this loss led to their move to Ottumwa, Iowa.

Marion Headlight (Marion, KS) 19 Nov 1896

I’ll bet the Willard’s were acquainted with the town photographer that Mister Mike wrote about. Perhaps she took a photograph of my teacher as a little girl.

Please gather at Sepia Saturday to see what others have done with the prompt image.

Sepia Saturday – A Teacher of Atypical Students

May 5-11, 2019 was National Teacher Appreciation Week in the U.S. One of my friends posed this question on Facebook: Can you name your teachers K-5th or 6th grade? No. I can’t. I had three teachers at three different schools in 6th grade and I have no idea who they were. I think I slept my way through Kindergarten. I remember my teacher’s name, but not much more. I have some memories of 2nd grade, but not sure of the spelling of the teacher’s name. 4th grade is a bit of a blur. My 3rd and 5th grade teachers were memorable, but my 1st grade teacher is the one I remember most fondly.

Miss Willard, 1st grade teacher at Franklin Elementary School in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Georgia Willard

I was the youngest student in Miss Willard’s class; I didn’t have my 6th birthday until mid October, just two days before the cut-off date.

There were more than thirty students in our class and over the course of the year, six of us were named Kathy or Cathy. Miss Willard had to resort to numbering us to clarify who she was calling on. I don’t remember my number – they were only needed if two of us had the same last initial, which apparently happened for part of the year.

The school was already decades old when I attended. Our classroom was rectangular, Miss Willard’s large wooden desk at the front. Was it elevated on a platform a step higher, or does a childhood memory place my teacher on a higher plane?  Wood and iron desks on a wood floor. Windows along the side to the students’ right and windows at the back of the room were opened on warm days. Miss Willard had a few plants on window sills. Built-in cabinets on the lower half of the other side wall. Miss Willard occasionally brought in something she had gathered from nature to place in the room. The one I remember is the bouquet that included pussy willow that grew in the wild. It was the first time I had seen it or heard it’s name and I was intrigued by the look and feel of it.

My little brain hadn’t quite developed by the beginning of 1st grade to be able to do all that was expected – and this was 1959. I can’t imagine how “behind” I would have been with today’s expectations and testing of young students! We were grouped for some subjects and I was in the bottom group for everything that had a group. I wasn’t told I was in the bottom group; the groups were named by color or animal or something, but I caught on. My report cards were filled with U’s for Unsatisfactory.

I guess I couldn’t even sing on key when I started 1st grade. I remember Miss Willard pulling me aside one day and asking if we had a piano at home. We did, although no one played it. She told me to ask my mother to play the C scale for me and I was to sing along and match the tones. She gave me singing homework! But I was happy about it. I didn’t mind at all.

You may be wondering why I was so fond of Miss Willard since I was aware that she thought I was at the bottom of my class. I guess it is because I was never made to feel badly. Miss Willard was kind and encouraging. She liked me. I don’t think I could have put it into words, but I must have felt that Miss Willard wanted me to succeed. Also, my favorite people in the world were my grandmothers and Miss Willard was much like my grandmothers.

And there was that cabinet on the side wall …

If a school-wide assembly was about to occur, Miss Willard would tell us what to expect and what she expected of us. If we behaved ourselves, when we returned to our classroom, Miss Willard would compliment us, telling us we behaved better than the older students. Then she might go to that cabinet and pull out a big box of animal crackers and start passing them out. She didn’t bribe us ahead of time – it was a surprise to me, or a hope, once I caught on that she had treats in that cabinet.

And at the end of each grading period, she would hand out little rewards for improvement. Nothing big – just a couple of animal crackers or vanilla wafers or maybe a piece of candy. But your effort was recognized. And rewarded.

As the year progressed, I moved up from the bottom groups and in the spring, those U’s on my report card began to turn into S’s, for Satisfactory.

On the last day of school, Miss Willard recognized the improvements everyone made throughout the school year. I had made the most improvements of anyone. Accordingly, I received the most rewards! Again – just little things, but this time we may have gotten to choose which treat we wanted. I may have even received a certificate to document my accomplishments. If I did, it is long gone.

My first grade year was Miss Willard’s last year to teach. She retired. I felt sad that she would not be there when I returned in the fall. I helped Miss Willard pack up her belongings that decorated our classroom. I remember it as “me” helping her, but I’m pretty sure there were a couple of other students besides me. We must have stayed in during recess to spend this time with her. Miss Willard told us we could choose something to keep. I chose a pretty, but chipped, china saucer that she had placed under a plant to catch water. I kept it for a long time.

Me and Miss Willard

When I decided to write this, I only knew my teacher as Miss Willard, but a look around genealogy websites gave me her full name, Georgia Vivian Willard. I knew that Miss Willard had never married, but that was the only fact I knew about her. A look through some old newspapers shed some additional light on my beloved teacher.

One of the first things I found was her obituary, which provides her birth and death dates, as well as family members and how many years she dedicated to teaching – almost 50!

Ottumwa Courier, 16 Jan 1963

My mother and I also attended First Methodist Church. Why did I not know this? I don’t have any memory of seeing Miss Willard there, yet I know from some older newspaper articles that she had been an active member – at least during her younger years. I would imagine that she remained active. Well, sometimes kids miss a lot of what is going on around them. I know I did. Also, we moved away in the summer after 2nd grade, so my time and memory there was limited.

I even found the advertisement of the auction for her estate.

I read that Miss Willard played bridge, participated in a number of weddings and hosted showers for friends – mostly fellow teachers at Franklin School. She was a member of the PTA – in fact, she was the first president of the organization at Franklin School. She also served as Treasurer for several years.

Ottumwa Daily Courier, 18 Feb 1933

Interestingly, I even found out what kind of car she purchased in 1937 – a Nash Lafayette sedan. I guess it was news?

Ottumwa Daily Courier, 12 June 1937

As I continued to search, I learned that Miss Willard was respected as a teacher of the “atypical” student. In fact, she was considered a pioneer. When I read the article below, it made perfect sense that Miss Willard was just the teacher I needed in 1st grade.

The Daily Courier, Ottumwa, IA 25 May 1935

I’m not sure exactly when Miss Willard began to focus her teaching on students with learning differences and pioneered an ungraded classroom to serve students with special needs. The above article is from 1935. During the Iowa State Teacher Convention in 1932, she was elected president of the group “Teachers of Atypical Children.” At the convention in 1933, she presided over this part of the program.

A brief look around the internet for the history of special education didn’t yield much information. Much of what is written follows the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – both passed in the 1970s. The beginnings of a grassroots effort by parents and advocacy groups for the inclusion and accommodation of special needs children apparently began in the 1930s. Prior to that time, these children were either educated at home or sent to institutions or private schools. Miss Willard was right in there at the beginning of the movement and the use of the word “pioneer” seems appropriate – especially in a small town in Iowa.

As for my experience in Miss Willard’s 1st grade classroom, I think she approached us with the same principles described in the article above. Miss Willard focussed on the individual needs of each student. Her classroom had an atmosphere of contentment. She hoped to instill in us a desire for education. Her classroom was cheerful. There was singing and story telling and character training.

As a child who was not quite ready to perform what was asked, how differently might I have felt about school and myself if not for Miss Willard?

I do wish I still had that saucer, but feel very lucky that my mother took these photographs of Miss Willard to help keep her memory alive for me.

This is my contribution for Sepia Saturday this week. Miss Willard never looked like the folks in the prompt photo! Prepare for stern looks as you visit other participants here.

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

9/5/2022 I just learned about a blog party at The Family Heart blog and linked this post there.

Sepia Saturday – They Called him Deacon

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

Josephine Ball, Fred Webber, Harold Gilbert, S. E. Wallin

As I was researching material for last week’s post, I found too much to include. I intended today’s post to be about an event later in my great-uncle Fred M. Webber’s life, but this prompt also works for some of that high school material I found.

Last week I focussed on Fred’s participation in debate and winning the state championship during his senior year. (Fred Webber – Best Debater 1926) This week, we may get a more rounded look at Uncle Fred as a high school student. The Quill, yearbook of Fairfield High School, Fairfield, Iowa, had a few things to say about Fred Webber.

1926 was Fred’s senior year of high school and the yearbook is filled with little tidbits about the seniors. Each senior’s portrait is accompanied by a list of activities and organizations, a quote that the editors thought summed up the student, and a nickname.

Fred M. Webber


Debate: I wrote at length about Fred’s participation in debate last week, but there were more little details in the yearbook than those I included. One debate page was devoted to the Affirmative Big Nine team and had this to say about Fred, the “curly headed barbarian.” The Japanese question was: “Resolved, that the Japanese Exclusion Act should be repealed in favor of a gentleman’s agreement.”

On the page devoted to the Negative Big Nine team, Fred is even mentioned in the item written about his teammate Harold Gilbert.

The calendar pages in the yearbook are fun.

8 Jan 1926

16 Feb 1926

March was a busy month for debate. Students apparently wore headbands in support of the debate team. And I love the last entry about the debate coach.

March 1926

Extempore Speaking: Fred came in third place, speaking on the “World Court.”

The Muscatine Journal, 24 Apr 1926

Oratory: In addition to participating in Oratory during his senior year, here is Fred on the page titled “Noted and Notorious,” sandwiched between Class Bluffer, Class Clown, Class Poet, and Class Sleeper. The Quill staff designated Fred as Class Orator.

On the page devoted to “Declamatory,” Fred’s picture, along with two female students who did dramatic readings in other contests, is featured along with this description.

10 Nov 1925

26 Feb 1926

In March, Fred was one of the speakers at the Basketball Banquet. I thought that a little odd since Fred didn’t participate in sports, but on closer look, the “Basketball Banquet” was actually for the Basketball, Forensics and Judging Team. A little curious that they were lumped together. Maybe there was not usually a banquet for the debaters, but the State Champions deserved a banquet as much as the basketball team did. Fred spoke on the topic “Will Power.”

The Senior class chose Fred to be one of the speakers at graduation.

Glee Club is not listed among Fred’s school activities, yet here he is on the Glee Club page, back row, second from right.

I tried to find more about this Spanish operetta, but all I found were newspaper articles announcing various high schools around the country performing it. “El Bandido” must have been all the rage.

Uncle Fred isn’t mentioned in the local paper as part of the cast, so maybe he was in the chorus.

The calendar page of the yearbook:

Hi-Y: During his senior year, Fred was president of his high school Hi-Y, a Christian organization working to bring the school toward the goal of “Clean Living, Clean Speech, Clean Athletics, and Clean Scholarship.” He doesn’t seem to be in the photo below. The debate coach, S. E. Walllin was the faculty sponsor.

I found Fred Webber mentioned in this article from his Junior year about a Hi-Y conference. Fred was elected as one of the vice chairmen to lead conference groups during the conference.

The Courier (Waterloo, Ia), 29 Nov 1924

Deacon: There are several references to Fred Webber as “Deacon” scattered throughout the yearbook. One is on his senior photo page at the top of this post.

There are jokes and little stories among the advertisements at the back of the yearbook.

What would an old yearbook be without a class prophesy? Here is the part that pertains to great-uncle Fred:

What was it about Fred that earned him the nickname “Deacon?” Was it his participation in Hi-Y and all that “clean” living they were promoting? Did some of his speeches have a strong Christian bent? Was he a bit of a moralizer in his high school days? Was he always at church when he wasn’t debating or studying?

Fred grew up in a family of preachers. His father, M. D. Webber,  was a Baptist preacher. His maternal grandfather, John Sylvester Strange, was a preacher. His uncle Thomas Madison Strange and his wife, Sarah Bird Strange were both preachers. His uncle Francis Marion Strange was a preacher. Maybe there were more, but those are the ones who come to mind. I don’t know how much time he spent with these aunts and uncles – they lived in other states, but the influence of faith and affiliation and a call to ministry was surely a part of the family culture and story.

The nickname Deacon was more prophetic than the prophesy of Fred Webber running for a senatorship. Fred was ordained as a Baptist minister in April of 1932. He graduated with a degree of Master of Divinity from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, a seminary with Baptist affiliation.

Fred later changed denominations, leaving the Baptists for the Presbyterians. After serving a number of churches, The Rev. Fred M. Webber was installed as General Presbyter of Baltimore on September 28, 1960.

I can’t help but wonder about the influence of S. E. Wallin, Fred’s debate coach on Fred. S. E. Wallin was a Presbyterian minister and missionary before becoming a teacher at Fairfield High School. Fred spent many hours under the tutelage of Rev. Wallin, both in debate and in Hi-Y. It makes me wonder if their relationship influenced not only his choice of career, but his later change of church affiliation. He certainly prepared “Deacon” Webber to think on his feet, to be well-prepared, and to seek understanding of both sides of the question at hand.

If you are interested in reading more about Fred M. Webber, he has his own landing page of posts I have written about him here.

Please take a moment to visit other Sepia Saturday participants here.