A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
Florence Morgan McDonald
[p.191]Florence Morgan McDonald’s autobiography has a staccato style as she straight forwardly lists her life’s activities, bounding over entire decades, in a thirteen-page typescript. Not the most articulate of diarists, her accomplishments as a woman teacher are nevertheless significant. She emigrated with her parents—Mormon converts—from Wales while still young enough to receive most of her education in Utah, even to attending normal school at the University of Utah.
Florence taught at Heber City, a thriving little city in the Wasatch Mountains. By the time the railroad came through in 1899, there were already three creameries, a dry goods store, general store, and a livery stable—with a twice-weekly stage to Park City. The township was organized with an elected mayor, graded schools, and a two-story school building with another planned. There was an opera house and a dance hall and, of course, the LDS church was thriving with three wards already established.
Marrying Henry Carlos McDonald in 1900, Florence gave up public schooling for church-sponsored education. Later, during her years in Montana on an isolated ranch, she undertook the education of her own children. She returned to the classroom in 1914 when she moved to Victor, Idaho. After her husband’s death in 1928, she attended BYU and graduated. Upon her return to Victor, she was elected superintendent of Teton County schools in 1934; in that role she started a nursery school and school lunch program as well as a county library at Driggs. She retired in 1947, a woman whose actions spoke louder than words.[p.192]
I remember the place where I was born. It is in a faraway country called Wales. Our house was situated at the end of a long row of houses in a small village, Combrain. It was named after the low Combrain Mountains which extend from north to south through Central Wales. It is a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a rectangular peninsula to the west of England on the St. George channel, on the south by the Bristol channel.
My father was an engineer-blacksmith by profession. He was a member of the Baptist church. My mother belonged to the Episcopal church. Of course, we children went with mother.
A machinist where my father worked first told him about the Gospel. He would bring his Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants and read to father while they ate their lunch. Father accepted the Gospel and what he heard. This man sent missionaries (Brother Mantle and Brother Lewis) to our home to preach the Gospel to us.
Both of my parents accepted the Gospel and were baptized. Later, they had the children who were old enough baptized in a small spring lake about two miles from our home. How well I remember when I was immersed into the water! I fainted dead away. My father carried me in his arms to a farm house a mile away and there I regained consciousness.
I had poor eyesight, so the fall of 1887 I was able to get the glasses and enter a one-room school. From there I attended Rowland Hall, a girl’s school. It was there that we dramatized the story of the “Sleeping Beauty.” I was on the stage as the Sleeping Beauty when the curtains and stage caught fire. I lay perfectly still until the fire was extinguished, unhurt.
In the fall of 1895, I entered the University of Utah [originally University of Deseret when it opened in 1869]. It stood where West High now stands (241 North 200 West) Salt Lake City, Utah. The spring of 1899, I graduated from the Normal school. That class was the largest up to that time that had ever graduated from the university.
Through school now it is time to get a teaching job. I had many [p.193]offers but decided to go to Heber City, Utah. When I arrived there, I was told that I would teach the first grade. Was I ever astonished to find I had sixty beginners. When they stood up I wondered where they all came from!
I received forty dollars a month salary. It isn’t always money that counts. Look at the many friends I have made. Besides, I found my future husband. I used to repeat the following lines to myself:
“Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love.”
The superintendent of Wasatch County schools visited and observed my work in the classroom. When he left he said, “If you keep up the good work you are now doing you will make a name for yourself.” I was offered a five dollar raise in salary for the coming year if I would come back to teach. I had other plans made.
I was married to Henry Carlos McDonald. Our marriage was solemnized in the Salt Lake Temple June, 1900.
We lived in Heber City in the summer, where I helped in the Primary and Mutual [church] work. In the winter we lived in Park City, Utah, and there my first child was born. When she grew older, I helped in the Primary and Sunday school.
My son was born in 1906. When he was two years old, we moved to a big ranch in Montana. My husband was foreman of the ranch, which was at Judith, on the Missouri River. I, with some help, cooked for the farm hands. There was no school for my daughter to attend, so I put her through the first three grades. The ranch changed hands so we left and returned to Heber City, Utah.
We traveled by team from Heber City, Utah to Victor, Idaho, arriving here about June, 1914. We bought the Joseph Johnson ranch about a mile and a half northeast of town. I began teaching here in Victor in the fall of 1914.
November 11, 1917, Primary conference was held, Florence McDonald presiding. Exercises consisted of stories, recitations and songs by the children and class exercises on the lessons.
On April 6, 1917 the United States declared war and joined the allies against Germany’s barbaric war. During 1917 and 1918 the Pri-[p.194]mary was asked to make things like handkerchiefs, towels, sacks and bandages for the soldiers. All the materials we had were flour sacks, but we did the best we could.
In 1915 the Religion Class was organized. After school I taught the class to the lower grades for quite a while. It was thrilling to see how interested the children were in the work.
After taking over the presidency of the Primary, I taught the Trail Builders class. Many times during warm weather we would go to the hills early in the morning for breakfast, tell stories, play games and sing songs. Some mothers thought I spent too much time with the boys, but I think it paid off for all of them turned out to be good members of the church.