A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor

Chapter 24
Reva Stevens Daniels Smoot
1902-59

[p.218]The hardships of pioneer days stayed with many Utahns, even in 1917. Reva Smoot’s autobiography, written in 1932, records how her mother sacrificed her own needs for her daughter’s education. The Stevens family lived in genteel poverty, and Reva’s “friends” sometimes snubbed her for her lack of fashionable clothes. Education was the way out of poverty, as her mother constantly reminded her: “Study hard and you will see the day they will look up to you.”

The family moved to Provo, Utah, so Reva could attend BYU, and she did her part by working as a janitor to pay for tuition. She taught school at Soldier Summit, which delayed graduation. About 1920 she married but divorced soon after. A succession of jobs followed, including work at the state mental hospital and at a care. She subsequently returned to BYU, graduated, then moved to Wallsburg, Utah, to teach in 1928-29. She married Owen Smoot in 1930.

Although this diary is late chronologically, it demonstrates that Utahns’ memories of pioneer days were fading. Reva Smoot sounds much like a modern-day student.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY, 1902-1932

I was born in a log cabin in the little town of Emery, Emery [p.219]county, Utah, on Thanksgiving day Nov. 27, 1902: daughter of Ezra A. Stevens and Maud Mc Donald Stevens.

When I was fourteen, I became a kindergarten teacher in Sunday school. I loved to work among the sweet little children. I made me a dress out of some old things at home to wear to Union meeting.1 I thought I was all dressed up. I must have looked funny. I enjoyed the meeting and came home very much inspired.

That summer I had an opportunity for which I had been longing for some time. It was to study vocal music. A teacher came down from Salt Lake. He gave out a notice for everyone that was interested in singing to come to the meeting house on a certain night. Everyone that sang, or thought they could sing, came.

He tested their voices, but never commented on their singing. I was rather shy and backward and was the last one to have my voice tested. I sang a part of “Home Sweet Home.” After I had finished he said, “There’s your voice.” Some of them turned up their noses and were jealous, and from then on I had jealousy to contend with. Sometimes I felt very badly because of it.

Several of my girl friends had been studying the piano for some time, but we didn’t have a piano. My mother tried to win one by working hard on advertisements. She did win it, but didn’t have the small amount of money it took to complete getting it.

I paid for my vocal lessons with money earned in the beets.2

My vocal teacher was giving a recital in the Opera house over in Salina. He had us come in the afternoon to sing and get used to the hall. The girl that sang before me performed beautifully and her song was quite a fancy one. Mine was simple, and when it came my turn to sing I was so frightened that I felt like I couldn’t and I lost all confidence. When I started to sing I began to cry and told him I couldn’t, so he said, “You will be all right tonight. I’ll arrange the program so that it won’t show you up too badly.”

Usually in a recital the teacher arranges the program so that the [p.220]poorest singers sing first and the performance increases in quality and interest. I was scheduled to sing on the program before the girl who had done so well in the afternoon practice.

I went home and told my mother how I felt. She said, “Well you just pray about it and everything will come out all right.”

She curled my hair in ringlets and I had a nice white dress to wear. My mother always sacrificed to give to me.

She and I both prayed about it, then we left for the recital where the Opera House was packed. When it came my turn to sing, it wasn’t I who walked out on that stage. I was just lifted up with a beautiful spirit. I didn’t know anything that was going on around me, I just sang. I knew our prayers were answered.

The audience certainly encored me, and when the concert was over, the teacher was very much pleased but said I had ruined his arrangement and had shown the other girl up, something I hadn’t intended to do and didn’t know I was doing. There was a man from Salt Lake in the audience. He came up to me afterwards and said I had an unusual voice and should go away and study music. My mother wanted me to but my parents were poor and couldn’t afford it.

I always liked to read. When we would go to Grandma’s I would gather up all the newspapers and magazines and hibernate in the parlor, lie on the soft plush rug and read sometimes for a whole day.

I sat up one night until 3 o’clock in the morning reading “Ben Hur.”

My father was going to buy some land from the principal of the district school. Before he bought it a good man came to him and told him that the land wasn’t any good, so he didn’t buy it.

Because of this, the Principal turned against us and made it very hard for me in school. He held me back in the fifth grade and my teacher the next year said it was a shame because it was unnecessary. I was too advanced for that class. She started teaching me the Spanish language and he wouldn’t allow that.

The next year was almost unbearable under him he mistreated me so. My mother decided she wouldn’t send me to the eighth grade under him. That fall I started to High School.

The night before school started we were all in church. The girls were all talking about where they were going to school. I didn’t say [p.221]anything. I was rather left out anyway. The most of them were fair weather friends. Every time I accomplished anything I had jealousy to contend with. I could always tell by the expression on their faces just how I sung. If I hadn’t done so well their expressions would be jovial. If I had made a good job of it the corners of their mouths were turned down and I was ignored for the next week.

I just couldn’t help being happy when my friends played the piano well. I rejoiced with them in their successes. My wonderful mother instilled these ideals in me.

The next morning they were surprised to see me coming up the High School steps. They wanted to know what I was doing there. I told them I was going to high school. Then their backs turned and, “Buzz, Buzz, Buzz.” I had a prayer in my heart when we lined up to go into the principal’s office. He asked for the report card of the girl in front of me and the one behind me and didn’t ask for mine.

When I came out I was registered and all ready to go to school. My prayers were answered once again. Incidents similar to this are too numberable to mention. I couldn’t live my life without prayer.

Within the next week most of the girls who were so unkind were sent to Ephraim to school they were so jealous over my going to High School. By Christmas time they came home to stay and that ended their schooling that year and for all time for some of them. I came home from High School downcast. Because of poor clothes I had been snubbed. I only had one dress. On Saturdays I cleaned it and pressed it, making it ready for the next week. My mother said, “Now Reva dear, if you will always be humble and prayerful you will climb on top. Study hard and you will see the day they will look up to you.” I have seen that day. These have been my mother’s guiding words.

While going to High School I worked for my board and room by milking cows and doing some housework for a family. I tied the cow’s tails to keep from being switched. I thought, “What’s the use of untying them all the time,” and left the string on. In a short time we had cows that were minus the end of their tails with just a “Pump handle” left. Then it was worse than ever to be switched, because the tails couldn’t be tied to stay.

I made good in school and when six weeks had passed two of the boys from my home town had courage enough to go to the principal [p.222]and tell him that I shouldn’t be going to High School. He told them that as long as I was doing my work as well as I had been I could stay right where I was.

This principal was D. R. Mitchell of Lehi, a very wonderful man. He doesn’t know just what a splendid principal he was or how much he helped me in High School. I saw him just recently [1932] at a Basket ball game and told him how much I appreciated him. At the time I learned that he was a relative of my husband [Owen Smoot].

I finished High School in three years. Two of the high school teachers became my companions. I enjoyed them because they seemed to dwell in the world I yearned to belong to. They had sympathy, understanding and appreciation.

During the time I was going to high school I had a very narrow escape. My grandmother and I were riding in a buggy. There were two bridges on a turn; one went North and South across a big deep wash, the other went East and West across a canal. The two narrow bridges were close together. We were on the bridge crossing the wash, when a car shot over the other bridge and out over the wash, hanging there on its two hind wheels. The Doctor who was hurrying to a case of sickness climbed out to safety, white as death. It is a mystery to me to this day how that car ever hung there without a stick, rock or anything to hold it except dirt; unless it was the power of the Lord. It was surely heroic of that Doctor, words could not express our appreciation.

My mother realized that responsibility was food for me and during the summer time I did most of the family sewing. During my first year I made my mother a black satin dress, beaded and embroidered it. One of the high school teachers gave a sewing class. One day they had it at our home. My mother had saved and prepared for that dinner for some time in advance. I had just finished my third year of high school and Mrs. Hart, our sewing teacher, spoke up and asked, “Where are you going to school next year?”

I didn’t answer directly so my mother said, “She is going to Provo to the B.Y.U.”

_______________

Notes:

1. Susa Young Gates established the Union Club for young adults, a social get-together.

2. The sugar beet industry was part of the church’s self-sufficiency plan. It led to the creation of the Utah Idaho Sugar Company, now U & I Sugar.