A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
Mary Hulet Coburn
[p.195] Written in 1958, Mary Hulet Coburn’s reminiscences follow the life of an energetic, studious, and fun-loving woman who taught school for twenty-five years. Born in a log cabin in Snowflake, Arizona, she moved soon after with her family to Summit, Utah, in Iron County, where her first school was taught by her mother.
In 1896 the Hulet family headed to Teton Valley as Mary’s father had taken a second wife—in spite of the Woodruff Manifesto six years earlier.1 She continued to attend school, graduating from an academy in Rexburg at seventeen. After passing the teachers’ examination, she taught school first at Arbon, Idaho, and then at Glendale. Over her career, she also taught in Alta, Wyoming, as well as Driggs, Lincoln, Weston, Stockton, and Preston in Idaho.
Her marriage was a disaster. Fred Coburn, although a Mormon, drank to excess, and Mary deserted him in 1940. He died two years later. Except for a brief foray into the sheep business, Mary Coburn relied on the schoolroom for most of her life to support herself and her five children.
Father went on a mission when I was 5 to England for 2 1/2 years, and Mother taught school while he was gone. The salary was very low, but it helped while Father was on a mission. All the grades were in one room. I went through Elementary school in a little one room schoolhouse. I could read so well I was put in a class with children four or five years older than myself. I loved school and always found joy in studying and learning. If I could get hold of a book I hadn’t read, I would drive my mother mad by doing such things as propping the book in front of me while I was washing dishes so I could get a line or two between dishes. If I went to play with one of my friends and found a book or magazine I hadn’t read, it was good-by play. Aunt Betsey, Mother’s deaf and dumb sister, lived with us and took care of the children. We had kind of a hard time getting along financially. Mother served at nights making over clothes for us. There was a log room down in the field, and Mother tried to start a little summer school for paying students to help out, but it wasn’t very successful.
I always tried to have good lessons, but one day I didn’t have my spelling lessons and when my class was called, I was sleeping so soundly I couldn’t be wakened. My teacher, Maggie Warnack, was very sweet to me, and since I was only six she let me sleep on—at least until the spelling lesson was over. The teacher petted me because I was so much younger and smaller than the others in my class. She taught me at Circleville, where we were visiting my Uncle Laban Morrill and his wife Aunt Emma, Mother’s older sister. They had a little store, and it was a delightful privilege to go into the store and help ourselves to lumps of brown sugar and have Uncle Laban give us a handful of jelly beans at a time. Never before had we enjoyed such luxury. One time, Katie, who was about three, went to sleep on the brown sugar sack after stuffing her little tummy to repletion.
Another teacher I remember was Emma Bayless. She used to go to sleep at recess so one day we all went for a hike and when she woke up she had no pupils.
Gwen Mitchell was my teacher when I graduated from the 8th [p.197] grade. Our schoolhouse and church (same building) was a very large log room. One winter I taught the smaller group for almost nothing. My Aunt Annie, a wonderful, well-educated woman, was president of the Summit Ward Primary when I was 12 and 13, and she chose me to be secretary. During this period, Sister Zina D. H. Young and Emmeline B. Wells visited our little Primal, and I had the privilege of hearing Sister Young speak in tongues and Sister Wells give the interpretation. I remember hearing her repeat this little poem:
It is a sin to steal a pin
Much more to steal a larger thing.
After I graduated from the 8th we moved to Teton Valley. Father had married Aunt Sarah, Mother’s half-sister. Their first child, Sarah Pearl, was born before Father went on his mission. One reason for our moving to Teton Valley was that there was no sentiment against polygamy [there].
I didn’t go to school again until I was 15 when my cousin Amy Dalley and I went to high school at Rexburg at what is now Ricks College [church-owned] but was then called Fremont Stake Academy. Doughs Todd was principal. We enjoyed our winter and made a number of new friends. Our special friend was Percy Winter. We became engaged and went together for three years. Then he went on a mission and through misunderstanding and temper, we broke up but I have never forgotten him. I never saw him after he came home, but even now I sometimes think of him and feel the old thrill of our love affair.
I attended school in Rexburg for three years. I went to St. Anthony and took an examination for a Third Grade certificate. I taught my first school in Driggs in a two-room school. I got $35 a month. Most of it went to help feed Father’s cows. At the end of almost every month, Mother would come down after the check to buy feed for the stock. I was glad to let her have it. It made me very proud to be able to help the family out.
I think I was a good teacher but not too strong on discipline. In the next summer, I went to Malad and took another exam and got a second grade certificate. I taught in Glendale and boarded with the Larsen family.
I taught at Lincoln the next three years. I boarded with Coburns and met the man whom I afterward married. He had been called on a [p.198] mission to the Central States. We were married 19th of December, and he went on 26th of January. I taught school all the time he was gone and paid his expenses. When he returned, we bought a small farm near Weston. After I was married, I taught in the grade schools for several years. My oldest child was born 16 September 1909 in Weston. We were very happy for a few years, but my husband went back to his old habits. My second child was born dead one and a half years later. I didn’t teach again until my youngest child was three. I taught three years at Weston.
We were in the sheep business, and the depression hit us pretty hard. We lost the sheep and our home, so we rented a smaller house in Driggs. My husband got to drinking too freely and I had to teach again and to support the family. I couldn’t live with him and work, so I left him. He died two years later.
I was called back to teach during the war years. Taught one more year at Glendale; [then] the doctor advised me not to teach any more. So that ended my teaching career.