A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
Alice Laura Iverson Gardner
[p.199]Alice Gardner’s autobiography focuses almost exclusively on her life as a student and her career as a teacher. Her husband, Willie (William M.) Gardner, also taught, so many of their days were filled with school and its activities. Just how developed Utah had become by the early 1900s, if one lived in an urban area, is evident from her reminiscences. An established community offered church, school, PTA, and a host of social outings; in contrast, when Alice visited Delta (originally Melville), Utah, in 1906, “riding over the greasewood and sagebrush,” she was greeted with “Hurrah! There’s a woman in town!” (13) She had the distinction of being the “first white woman” to eat in the new town.
Written in 1933, Alice’s autobiography is joined with an after word by her younger sister Bessie, who remembers events from a different point of view. (Alice belonged to the group called the “three big girls” of the twelve children of Andrew and Julia Olsen Iverson; Bessie was in the group known as the “three little girls.”) Bessie noted, “Alice was a natural teacher, not too much on the sober side, but earnest in her endeavors” (32). Although Alice’s life was not without difficulties—her first-born son died at four, she was often in ill health, and teaching salaries were minimal—her autobiography suggests a joie de vivre. Bessie eulogized her older sister this way: One of Alice’s favorite slogans was “You can do a lot of good in the world if you don’t care who gets the credit for it” (47).
I was born in Salem, Utah County, Utah, September 30, 1883. My parents were Andrew and Julia Olsen Iverson. My mother was ill several times before my arrival, and it happened that my Aunt, Antonette Marie Lybbert, and family were visiting at our home enroute to Ashley Valley from Lavan where they had lived for a number of years. Aunt Nettie called her son, Enoch, to go for the mid-wife while she ran for my Aunt Josephine, one block away. As soon as Aunt Phene arrived, she made hurried preparations for my arrival. I had been washed and dressed and cozily snuggled in the cradle when “Grandma Sheen” arrived. Albeit, she charged her full fee of three dollars for me, which included nursing mother for ten days, and washing and caring for me that length of time. However, I was the last three dollar baby in our family—she charged five dollars for my brothers.
I was sickly as a child. Never a year passed without a severe spell of quinsy. … Once I had the quinsy on the 24th of July [Pioneer Day]. I was about eight years old. Oh, how sorry I was to miss the celebration! Mother let me go with her down to Aunt Phene’s place where I slept, or tried to sleep and rest, in a sheep wagon in the orchard. When the parade passed by, I remember how depressed I felt, and when the float, “Utah’s Best Crop,” where I should have ridden, came into view, I almost died. Each celebration, the young men of the town would go to the tops of the mountains for snow. They would bring it home in a big wagonbox, and it was utilized at the celebration in the lemonade, and for children to eat from the tubful as they saw fit.
When I was eight years old, I started to school. Was promoted into the Third Reader by the end of the year. When I was ten, I had a seige of St. Vitus Dance,1 and was forced to stay out of school. At thirteen, I [p.201]again had St. Virus Dance, and could get no help from doctors or medicine, even though my parents secured expert advice. … Finally, I was taken to the Salt Lake Temple and baptized for my health. I was instantly healed.
I graduated from the eighth grade at the age of sixteen years, nine months. The following fall I started high school at Brigham Young University. I took a heavy course. I felt that I must make every moment count, and during the two years I attended school, I did not even attend a matinee dance, much less a ball. I had two reasons for not going. First, I had been forbidden by doctors to dance. … Then reason number two was that my clothes were very plain. I had to wear my school dress as a Sunday dress. By adding a little rosette of baby ribbon on the front of the blouse, and putting a corresponding bunch in my hair, with perhaps a different belt and collar, I was “Sundayfied” enough to go to church. I grew very tall the first year at school, and as long skirts were the style, I felt ashamed each day to find my black skirt seemed to be getting shorter. A dear old lady in Provo remarked to me one day, “Why, Alice, I should think you would be ashamed of such a short skirt, especially with your fat legs.” How insulted and outraged I felt. I went to my room and cried and cried. Three days later, I received a beautiful red flannel waist trimmed with black velvet, and a long black serge skirt. (I had written home to mother and told her what the woman had said.) Could anyone ever have been more proud!
The following Monday President Cluff chose me with eleven other students as sort of special guardians over the students of the school. Our duties were to visit the students in their homes and boarding places and counsel them to live up to the rules of the school, adjust any difficulties that we could, and bring our report back to the President and his associates every two weeks. … He impressed us that it was a signal honor to be the twelve chosen for this work. Personally, I’ve always given the red flannel blouse a big share of the credit. …
My father worked in the Grand Central Mine at Mammoth. He used to send me $3.00 every month for my house rent and incidental expenses. Of this three dollars, seventy-five cents went to pay my share of the room rent; also, seventy-five cents paid my share of the milk bill. The remaining dollar and a half I had to pay my train-fare home—35 cents each month—and buy pencils and books, pay fees, [p.202]etc. Little wonder that I couldn’t afford the ten cents that it would have cost me to go to the matinee dance. But I had the privilege of attending a weekly literary meeting, and there was usually a good lyceum lecture or concert that we were allowed to attend by buying student season tickets. My cousin and I bought one ticket together, and would take turns going. By the end of the second year, I was thrilled by having a minor part to render in the school play. How large the Provo Opera House stage seemed! How very important I felt!
At the end of my second year in high school, in spite of my great desire to go on with school, I felt that I must prepare to go on to summer school and thereby get to take the teachers examination, and teach. I secured a position as a librarian for the summer school. Thereby, I paid my tuition. I had to work both early and late to get my lessons, and I had to leave my classes five minutes before they were dismissed in order to get to the library to serve the students as they came from their classes.
I took the Utah County Teachers’ examination in June. Got good marks in every subject but drawing. I had taken art under Professor Eastmond during the summer school, but the 70% I received in the examination kept me from getting my certificate. I should have had 75%. How I cried! I was so sorry and so disappointed, and I felt so inefficient because 70% was the same as disgrace to me, and to my whole family.
I went to Salt Lake City at the close of summer school and remained there working as a family servant at household work … [until] I was called to Salem because of the death of my Aunt Josephine Nash. [Her Uncle Lybbert invited her to go to Ashley.]
The week after my arrival in Ashley, I went to the Vernal Central School and took the Uintah County Teachers examination. On my nineteenth birthday, I received a teacher’s certificate to teach in Uintah County—yes, even the subject of drawing had rewarded me with 82%. My average was 96-plus. Was I happy!
I had been employed as teacher of the South View School district, a little out-of-the-way district which contained a mixed school, the term “mixed” meaning all grades and all ages from eight to eighteen, inclusive. I had fifty-five pupils. A dandy group of boys and girls. The boys who came principally to bully and annoy soon found their useful places in the functioning of our little school, and I must confess I really [p.203]had an exceptionally successful school year. We put on Christmas programs, parent-teacher meetings, St. Valentine’s doings, Thanksgiving entertainments, and had a school excursion wherein the eighteen-year-old boys were truly scouts of the highest rank and provided wagons and teams, and aided in the choice and arrangement of picnic grounds with wisdom far greater than their years. They were exceptionally kind to the younger pupils, due partly to the “big brother” idea that we had worked out in our school.
During that school year I boarded at the home of my Aunt Nettie Lybbert. She charged me $5.00 for board and room and washing, per month. Then I paid her son, Jacob, $3.00 per month for transporting me to the school. He attended the Uintah Academy at Vernal, and drove out of his way each day to take me to my school. I was always in my school room before 8:30 a.m., and remained there until 4:30 p.m. when Jacob Lybbert would be at the little log school house for me.
I learned that the secret of success in the class room is to have all members take part. Get people interested, allow them to do something for you, or under your direction, and by being enthusiastic yourself you can accomplish wonders with such a backing.
J. W. Robinson … visited, and at the close of the class asked me if I would consider signing a contract to teach beginners and first grade in the Vernal Central District School. I accepted this position at $50.00 per month.
I attended a silver wedding anniversary party at the home of Kate Calder, a fellow-teacher, on the night of November 28, 1904, and before I awoke the next morning a telegram arrived telling me that my sister, Julia, whom we all lovingly called Dooley, was very ill. Mrs. Bartlett, the lady with whom I stayed, brought me the telegram. She woke me very gently; I reached for the message and read, “Dooley very ill. Come home immediately.” Within twenty-five minutes the only stage in twenty-four hours would be leaving the Valley.
The stage coach called at the door for me. I had an exciting trip to Price, and then on to Springville (by train) where my cousin, Bernard Nash, met me at the station. He kissed me tenderly, and when I asked, “How is Dooley,” he replied, “Oh, Dooley is all right.” The way he said it, I knew she had left us. I cannot describe my sorrow. It was a bitter cold night. …
[p.204]This arrival home was my first meeting with my father who had fulfilled a twenty-seven months mission to Norway. It was a sad meeting. This death of our darling Dooley was indeed sudden, as she had taught school up until Thanksgiving vacation, and helped cook the festive dinner, and the day after Thanksgiving had gone to Murray, Utah, to consult our Uncle Charles, who was our physician. He, with other doctors, diagnosed her case as diabetes. She sank into coma the follow day, and Uncle Charley telephoned her father and mother to come to Murray on the next train. Dooley was unconscious when they arrived, and died on November 29 without a struggle.
The day of the funeral the Goshen District School Trustees asked if I would accept my sister’s position as teacher of the fifth and sixth grades in Goshen School. As the winter weather was so severe, and the trip back to Vernal really hazardous, I accepted the Goshen school and reported for duty the following Monday morning, having resigned my Vernal position.
A silent hush seemed to prevail the school house as Mr. Wentz, the Principal, conducted the opening exercises of the school, and introduced me as the new teacher—”the sister of Miss Iverson whom we all loved so dearly.” There was scarcely a dry eye in that entire room of boys and girls of Goshen School.
To me, as I think of it now, it seems that on that morning, in her school room, with her pupils, and her writing and drawings on the blackboard, her tender-hearted sorrowing pupils looking at me to fulfill all that they had set their hearts on for her to make their hopes realized, I felt my weakness more than I ever had felt it before. Could I measure up to the standard set by her? In my anguish during the noon hour that day, I spent the entire time calling in mighty prayer to God for help and guidance.
I found the people of Goshen very sociable. It was a big-hearted community. We had many lovely house parties that winter. Willie Gardner of Salem had returned from his mission that spring. During the summer, we both attended summer school at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. That autumn found both of us teaching school in our home town, Salem. I had the first and second grades, … and Willie taught fifth and sixth grades. … We thoroughly enjoyed our schools, and really I don’t know how or why, but before spring we were en-[p.205]gaged to be married. At first, we set the date for June 5, but finally decided to wait until after summer school, which Willie attended. I went to Salt Lake City to spend the 24th with Willie. He had just received an offer of a school in Hinckley, Millard County. He accepted the position. … I could hardly consent to get married unless I could teach. Salem Trustees had offered me my school there again.
We were married August 22, 1906, and had two lovely wedding receptions. First, an elaborate dinner for relatives and a few friends at my parent’s home … and [later] a big wedding dance. Everybody in town, practically, had an invitation to attend. Delicious refreshments were served; yes, even Port wine was served by the groom. However, he and I had a sort of agreement between us that neither of us was to partake of intoxicating beverages. …
We spent a week in Salem after our marriage. … [In Hinckley] Willie had secured a lovely house all furnished for us. Our First Sunday in Hinckley Ward was one continual round of meeting new friends, and many of them wanted a private word or two with me, inasmuch as I was to teach some of their children.
Later that evening, the Hinckley faculty, … met at Mr. Hickman’s [the principal] home. The trustees met with us, and enjoined upon us that we must have good discipline in our schools, must open and close our sessions with prayer, and not allow any pupil to “run over us.” After the trustees left our meeting, we sang several jolly songs and went to school next morning with a song in our hearts• We had a very happy school year. …
Willie was always kind to me. He assisted with the home work, and always insisted that my work in school was as hard as his. My school closed at 3:00 p.m., but I used to teach two classes from his school during the last hour, so that by four o’clock we could both be ready to walk home together, a distance of one and a half miles. We were very happy reading some interesting books together that year.…
When school closed in April, I went home to my mother in Salem, where on June 9, 1907, our first child, William Everett, was born. I shall not speak of the illness that beset me after his birth. … By August, 1907, I was able to be out of bed, and could take short drives out in the little new buggy which Willie purchased. …
[p.206]August 22, our wedding anniversary, found us living very near the Hinckley school house in a furnished home … ; it had four nice rooms, and was comfortably fitted for our family. My sister, Bessie, just fourteen years of age, came to Hinckley with me and by September 10, school started. I taught my beginners, first, second and third grades again. Willie taught sixth and seventh grades in the old, adobe meeting house. …
Our great hope and desire was to go to school again the next year. Willie was offered a school at Hinckley, but refused. Later, the Deseret Trustees offered him the Principalship of the Deseret School for $90.00 a month. He felt that he was worth more money than they offered. We talked things over, and I told him to answer by flatly refusing their offer, and I told him that within a week he would be sought after and offered a bigger salary by these same trustees. I well remember that we took our very last postage stamp to send the reply, declining the offer. But surely enough, before a week had passed by, Dan Black, the President of the School Board, was holding an auction sale in Hinckley. We went to the sale—some community affair. After Mr. Black got through his auctioneering, he contacted Willie and said, “We just won’t take ‘no’ for an answer Gardner. We want you and we’re going to have you for our Principal. Now, name your price.”
That fall, in September , we moved to Deseret. … On October 25, our Stella was born there.… Indeed we were truly happy despite hardships. Water had to be carried one block, but Willie was young and strong and eager to do his share, even more than his share.
1. St. Vitus Dance, or Chorea, is a nervous disorder among children, characterized by spasms, probably caused by malnutrition. The name derives from Vitus, “a child martyr, who was invoked by those suffering from epilepsy and nervous disorders and from the custom of dancing before the image as a means of securing his intercession.”