A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
May Pierson McCranney Joyce
[p.185]May Pierson liked to dance. Her autobiography, recollected in 1930, reveals a woman who enjoyed society, and, as a schoolteacher, she did not miss many opportunities to socialize since most dances and pie suppers were in the schoolhouse. Her lively personality—as the new schoolmarm in town—may have been the reason Naf, Idaho, went from being known as a town where they “poisoned any strangers” to a place where outsiders went to dance.1
May readily admits that she did not have much book learning. Schools were open only for brief periods, and “the itch” and rheumatism affected her attendance. That did not stop her from digesting books such as Peck’s Bad Boy at home. And certainly her job at the local post office was to her liking as everyone passed by for mail and a chat.
She might have stayed at the post counter, but when given an opportunity to take teacher training courses in Logan at Brigham Young College, she jumped at it. Her courseload was overwhelming, given her lack of preparation. The next spring she successfully completed the teacher’s examination, and by that fall was at the front of the classroom for the first time.
A spunky teacher, May preferred the less settled territory of Idaho to Utah. Her teaching career spanned almost a decade until 1910, when at [p.186]age thirty she married George M. McCraney and—holding true to her pioneer spirit—homesteaded in Idaho. The next decade was a hard one. Childless, the couple tried adoption. George died in 1919 during the influenza epidemic. Taking child in tow, May moved back to Salt Lake City, where she kept house for Wade H. Joyce—a former classmate. They were married in 1920 and adopted more children. Although she experienced some hard times, at fifty she still possessed the infectious spirit of her youth that sashayed her from dance floor to schoolroom.
I was born of splendid parents my mother [Mary Walker Henshaw] having forsaken her home in England, parents, friends and all that was dear to her and arrived in Utah 1857, pulling a hand cart2 across the Plains from Iowa City and enduring all these hardships for the Gospel.
My father [Harmon Dudley Pierson] was one of the “Battalion boys”3 from Connecticut, arriving here in the latter part of July or first part of August 1847, a few days after Brigham Young and his Company.
As I have a history of my family and many of my ancestors, I shall speak only of my own experiences.
I first saw the light of day on the 1st May 1880. My mother often told me what a beautiful morning it was and that I came just at the [p.187]”peep” of day. It was in the little town of Plymouth, Utah often called “Square Town.”
There was no schools during my early childhood. When I was 9, there were 3 months, but as I had what they call “The Itch,” [St. Vitus Dance] I was unable to attend very much. After that I attended all the short terms held but, took with the rheumatism when I was 12 and for 7 years each year I had the same affliction though after I was 15 it got less and less till it stopped entirely.
So my chances for education up to this point were very meager. However I was always a great reader and read everything I could get hold of, even “Peck’s Bad Boy.”4 I was very desirous of an education and studied any kind of a book I could lay my hands on.
[She worked in a post office until she was twenty-two.]
The “dance” in the school houses and church meetings were our only sources of sociality in those days and those 6 years went speedily by till my Brother Arthur was called on a mission. Mother said she would give him her pension5 to take the course in Logan to the B.Y.C. [Brigham Young College]6 as that was required before going. Right there and [then], [probably 1901] I began to figure, too. This is the way I figured. I had always wanted a better education. We could both keep house as cheap as he could board. Besides the Bishop’s daughter was going, and we could go in “Cohoots” as we expressed it at that time. Things worked out admirably well. I had bought a heifer which was [p.188]sold for 20 dollars, which paid my tuition and bought my books. The room rent was 8 dollars for 2 rooms. We took another neighbor in, and tremblingly I asked Pres. Linford if I could register. He doubted my ability to keep up with the class as I hadn’t gone through the grades, but he wrote down “Conditional” and let me try it. I not only took the [missionary] course but petitioned for several other subjects taking almost a course and a half as I had to pass in some 12 or 13 subjects in teacher’s examination the following spring if I reached the goal I set out for. My art teacher said at the close of the year, “Miss Pierson has advanced more rapidly than any pupil I have as she couldn’t draw at all when she came in here.”
Tho’ at first I did not wish to register for Theology, I did it because I had to, and it was there that I first learned what the Gospel was like and what the Book of Mormon contained. How I did enjoy those lessons. A Spiritual feast 4 times a week. Never shall I forget the testimony that book gave to me. It truly did have a “familiar Spirit,” and today I love that Book more than all others.
Time went by quickly. My brother looked forward to a mission in the spring. I thought he was foolish for he had no money to go on. He always said, “The Lord will provide.” And He truly did for in May he was on his way to the Society Islands [Tahiti] with plenty of money and as I expected to get a school the next September, his prospects were bright. We could figure 15 dollars a month at that time was plenty, especially on the Islands.
My teacher Prof. Masiah Hall thought I could successfully pass the teachers examination, if I would take summer school registering for Pedagogy and Psychology, but doubted my ability to do so without [these courses].
I took the Teachers examination, then registered for Summer School. Weeks went by—no certificate came nor any thing to tell me I had failed.
I kneeled down in my room and asked the Lord to show me what was the matter, as I felt certain I had been successful. I then took down my Bible and opened it up. These are the words which caught my eye, “Fear not for I will never fail thee.” I then knew I hadn’t. The next day brought the certificate, postponed on account of sickness and death of the County Superintendent’s son.
[p.189]Very proudly did I show it to Prof. Hall who was rather surprised though he did not know I had been studying pedagogy all winter.
The next winter [1902-1903] I taught at Naf, Idaho. It was very lonesome, not a young man or woman and only about 15 families. People said they poisoned any stranger who went in their midst.
However outside of being homesick I spent a very pleasant winter, and before the winter was over, people from other districts were attending the dances at that place, and the outside world had a very different opinion.
The next winter I taught at Yost, Utah, 20 miles west of Naf. I had gotten acquainted with quite a number of young people while attending the dances, and I feel that it was one of the best winters of my life. Besides I boarded with Bishop Henry Blackburn and there was a splendid spirit in his home.
Each summer I spent with my mother at Plymouth and the next 2 teaching years [beginning in 1904] I taught school in my own home town. The parents of these children knew me as a child and were very kind to me, not a bit of trouble arising. Between these 2 years [1905-1907], however, I attended the L.D.S. school7 at Salt Lake City where I first met Wade H. Joyce in the 18th ward, but it was 13 years later that I married him.
After 2 years teaching at Plymouth, in 1908 (and I was now 28 years old), it seemed like something was calling me to Idaho, or at least I decided to get out and see some New Country. I sent an application to Sugar City, Idaho, and one to Mr. Pleasant, Utah. The Sugar Trustees offered me the school by return mail, the Mt. Pleasant officials never answered.
So to Sugar I went the next September after a week of convention in Pocatello. I had a “dandy” little school that winter and the next, having the same children both years, Mr. James Worlton being Principal the first year. Sugar City was a very nice little town with lots of fine [p.190]people and I enjoyed my church work here as I did the other places where I had lived.
During the winter, I met George M. McCraney of North Dakota. He was not a L.D.S., but the following summer he joined and after the second year [of] school, we were married in the Salt Lake Temple on the 22nd June 1910. He bought a homestead right from Walter Johns, built a 2 room house on it and as I had saved $800 teaching, we furnished it up and our neighbors said it looked like a “palace” inside.
It was very discouraging at times on the dry farm.8 Frost, hail, drought with many pests and animals destroying the best of the grain, and during my 8 1/2 years of married life we lost 40 head of horses and 2 cows. Still we had some good times as people out in the country districts are very sociable as well as hospitable.
3. The Mormon Battalion was Brigham Young’s inspiration; he convinced the federal government to take 500 Mormon enlistees in a march to California to set up forts along pioneer trails in 1846—a year prior to the first Mormon company moving west. Billed as the “longest march of infantry to that date in American history,” the battalion earned around $70,000, cash that would make the settlement of the Salt Lake Valley easier. Enlistees were mustered out in California and returned to Utah in 1847 to meet the families they had left to make the trip across the plains (Arrington and Bitton, 98-99).
4. Peck’s Bad Boy, like Tom Sawyer, was in the tradition of bad boy literature popular in the late nineteenth century. The lead character was an adolescent boy, a rapscallion but lovable. George M. Cohen began a successful stage career by playing Peck’s Bad Boy.
6. Cache Valley High School opened in 1872 in Logan; its “successor” was the Mormon Brigham Young College, opened in 1878. The Agricultural College of Utah—a land grant institution now called Utah State University—opened in 1888, deliberately non-Mormon to serve a “gentile” and apostate population (Simmonds 25, 73). The buildings of BYC in Logan now form part of the high school campus. Ida Cook, one of three trustees for BYC, served as its principal from 1878 to 1884. The “colleges” operated on the primary and secondary levels (Derr, “Zion,” 79).
7. The Latter-day Saints College in Salt Lake City was primarily a teacher-training institution by this time. Later the only church-supported colleges in Utah were Brigham Young University (Provo) and the Latter-day Saint Business College (Salt Lake City).
8. Mormons constructed an elaborate system of canals to irrigate the desert. On those lands where irrigation was not feasible, they practiced dry-farming. John Widtsoe, a Norwegian convert and the first Mormon faculty member of the Agricultural College of Utah, received international recognition for his 1910 text, Dry Farming: A System of Agriculture for Countries under a Low Rainfall.