A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
Matilda Woodbury Ruesch
[p. 210]Although “Mattie” Ruesch could not be termed an “early” schoolteacher, her autobiography is included for two reasons: she describes her own school days in detail and she was a founding member of the Alice Louise Reynolds Club in St. George. In addition, she had literary pretensions, deliberately using rather elaborate prose in this personal narrative, knowing that it would have an audience. The original manuscript was given to the Dixie College Library in 1966, “with fond memories, and gratitude for the guidance you have helped to give me through the years.”
Born in St. George in 1890, Mattie was the fourth child of nine of schoolteacher John Taylor Woodbury and his wife Mary Elizabeth Evans Thompson. Mattie graduated from school at age sixteen and worked as deputy county clerk and recorder. Beginning her teaching career two years later, Mattie took the teacher’s examination on a lark, never expecting to pass. Her first years in the classroom without benefit of teacher training courses were dismal; she then attended BYU, graduating with a certificate for teaching high school in 1916, the same year she married William Ruesch, just home from a church mission. Back in St. George, Will “took his first year of college” while Mattie taught “first year English, physical education and cookery” (31). No doubt Mattie had gained a reputation as an athlete from her baseball and basketball playing.1 She continued to [p.211]teach while they tried dry farming—first, at Hurricane, 1921-23, then at Fredonia, Arizona, 1923-26. After her husband’s death from a heart attack in 1938, Mattie attended the University of Utah and became a child welfare worker. A founding member of the Alice Louise Reynolds Club, her membership lapsed until her retirement when she rejoined and made spirited attempts at literary tributes to Reynolds.
A way down in the southern part of Utah, many wagon miles from the railroad, in a quiet little valley bordered by lava-covered, gray and vermillion hills, lies the settlement of St. George.
In this peaceful valley, one hot summer’s day, when the bees and wasps were humming their usual chorus, as they drew the juice from the ripened grapes; when all nature was teeming with warmth and drowsiness; I found my way into the drowsy world.
So it was, that on the eighth day of the eighth month of the year 1890, on Friday at 5:00 a.m., I was permitted to enter into earthly existence with an eight pound physical body. This occurred in a small house on the corner of First West and Second South in St. George, “where the summer sun spends the winter” and the summer, too. My parents were John Taylor Woodbury, St., and Mary Elizabeth Evans Thompson Woodbury. To them were born nine children, four boys and five girls.
On September 9 of 1891, my father left for Northern Utah. He had been selected and nominated as principal of the Davis Stake Academy, at Farmington, Davis County, Utah, which opened on September 21. Miss Mary Woodruff was to teach with him. The group of 38 students increased to 60 and later to 84.
In the fall of 1892, he was employed as a teacher in the Latter-day Saints’ College at Salt Lake City. He taught a number of different subjects at different times, including the Common Branches, Domestic Science, Physiology, Spanish, General History, and Civil Government. He [p.212]was employed there until the summer of 1896. While still employed there, the panic of 1893 occurred, followed by the hard times of 1894, with the Cox’s Army of Unemployed marching on Washington. During this time the Church finances were much reduced, and the Latter-day Saints College had to carry on during the year 1893-94 without aid from the Church, the source of revenue being the tuition fees paid by the students. During the summer, Father sought and obtained employment on the gravity sewer, then being constructed in Salt Lake City.
I had started school at the age of six, soon after our [return] from Salt Lake City. I attended then what was known as the Second Ward School House in St. George. …
My first teacher was Molly Lund Judd, second wife of Thomas Judd and mother of one child, Robert. In my eyes, she was a wonderful teacher. She promoted me twice that first year, from Beginners to First Grade, then from First to Second Grade at the end of the year.
It was customary each Friday afternoon for the teacher to permit us to volunteer to take part on a program. One day it occurred to me to try, “Betty and the Bear,” one I had heard my father give a number of times. After attempting it there, my friends frequently asked me to repeat it at parties.
My teacher in the second grade, my second year (1897) of school attendance, was my cousin, Ella Jarvis.
My next school attendance was two years at what was then known as the Third Ward Schoolhouse. The first year Zaidee Walker was my teacher, the next year, Lena Nelson. I remember exceeding in spelling matches, playing marbles, and practicing a little innocent sacrilege while attending there. During recess, we often stood in a small group with a doll suspended in our outstretched arms, rhythmically chanting, “We bless this little baby; we give it the name of Ruth (or Edith, etc.).”
After two years at the Third Ward Schoolhouse, my next school year was in the upper story of the Courthouse. Annie Cottam Miller was my teacher.
The next year, 1901, witnessed the completion of the red rock Woodward School, just one block west of Tabernacle corner. I began there in the sixth grade, with Joseph Walker as my teacher, and he continued to advance with the grade. I had him for three years in suc-[p.213]cession. He used to put me on every program that came along throughout the three years.
Joseph Walker felt I should do less studying and more growing. So in the seventh grade, he had me skip the arithmetic class and go back the next year from his eighth grade to pick up the seventh grade class missed. So I went each day to Menzies Macfarlane’s seventh grade class and took his arithmetic. The next year, Father and Joe Walker thought for my own good I should rest a year. I had been graduated from the eighth grade a year younger than the others. While at home helping Mother, Father insisted that I do the eighth grade arithmetic I had missed. I had no difficulty in following the explanations and doing the problems of the text by myself.
Now, ready to begin the ninth grade, after a year’s rest, some high school teacher told Father I should not take algebra because I was not shown on the records to have had eighth grade arithmetic. Father told him he felt sure I could handle it. I “loved” the algebra work and used to help others with it!
After being graduated from the tenth grade in May 1907, I had to look around for something to do. There was no higher schooling to be had here in St. George, and I had no money to finance my advanced schooling up north. I was 16 at this time.
Father assumed active charge of the office of County Clerk and Recorder. I gradually worked in to where I could earn some money. I worked as a Deputy much of the time until July or August, 1908. Sometime in July, Sarah Miles, a close friend of mine, called at my home on her way to take the teacher’s examination. She was a year older than I and had taken the exam a year before, passed it, and taught school at LaVerkin. She said to me, “Come on, Mattie, go over and take the teachers’ exam with me.”
I had not given it a single thought or any preparatory study as people usually did. I was still just 17. You had to be 18 to teach school. I would be 18 the eighth of August following. So I was very hesitant, but finally consented. Much to my amazement, I passed it!
The Springdale, Washington County, Utah, Trustees employed me to come and teach their primary grades for the coming school year. The previous year’s salary had been $30.00 per month, for five months. A new law passed by the Utah Legislative Assembly made the minimum [p.214]salary for primary grades $42.85 per month with seven months of teaching. So I was lucky to get in on the ground floor.
When I first began the work, I felt so badly discouraged, I felt like giving up and going home, but had no honorable excuse to do such a thing; so humbly and with prayer I kept on trying and by the time the Christmas holidays arrived, the Trustees had asked me to come back the following year. I did so.
The first year in Springdale, we teachers boarded with “Aunt Sarah Gifford” north of the school house. How I loved the good old corn dodger which was served hot for the evening meal with natural, home-made butter to go with it. We ate onions, too; and I really thrived on the combination. My weight ascended to ninety-seven pounds, not bad for my five-foot height.
Sometimes at the close of school, we teachers played baseball with the town young people, one of whom was William Ruesch, Jr. On a particular day, he served as catcher behind the batter. I was at the bat. When he missed catching the ball, he resorted to a light form of swearing, not very bad to the hearing of many, but to my ears it seemed extreme.
A day or so later, he came to my boarding place to apologize for the language he had used. Gradually, he began taking me places and our friendship grew. We took horseback rides together, even riding horses to dances at Rockville and Grafton. We loved to ride at high speed through the long straight street of Rockville, when the dance was over and no one was walking the street.
After three years of my teaching in Springdale, the St. George Stake Academy [later Dixie College] was in process of building, and prepared to open its door to third years in the fall of 1911.
I attended as one of the third year students in 1911-12. Then the fourth year high school was added in 1912-13. I attended that also and was one of the first fifteen graduates that year.
ALICE LOUISE REYNOLDS CLUB
Early in my experience as a child welfare worker in Washington County, Utah, … Sarah Miles Wallace … and I evolved the idea of establishing another Alice Louise Reynolds Club in this area. It was number Chapter 16.
[p.215]I personally knew (1913-1916) Alice Louise Reynolds who was a much-loved teacher at the B.Y.U. during the years 1894 to 1938, or 44 years in all.
The purpose of the ALR Clubs is to show honor to Miss Reynolds, to further ideals for which she stood, to participate in and develop cultural arts and activities, and to maintain and develop friendships through study.
I composed and rendered in programs appropriate poems for ALR Clubs. Because I have originated a number of talks, or verses, which explain the purpose of the club and the character of Miss Reynolds, I shall include some of them here. This was given … at the Birthday Party for ALR.
Oh, the Reynolds Club!
‘at’s the one ‘at Ma
Tells all ’bout when she’s talkin’ to Pa;
When Pa listens and don’t get mad,
Cuz he wants to hear about that purty bad.
Specially the night of the birthday fun,
An’ he ‘gins to wonder why he can’t come
When he sees Ma an’ her friends go on the run;
To honor this Alice Louise;
Sweet Alice, sweet Alice Louise!
Oh, the Reynolds Club!
That’s the one ‘at Ma
Tells all about when she’s lecturin’ Pa.
She says it’s high things Miss Reynolds stands for;
She just can’t be bothered with things like war.
She’s always reachin’ for somethin’ afar,
Like a silvery moon or a bright shinin’ star.
An’ now, she lights candles where angels are!
Sweet Alice, sweet Alice Louise!
Oh, the Reynolds Club!
That’s the one where art
And music, and good books has a part.
[p.216]Why, when they hear ’em, they want more an’ more;
An’ even go into the meetin’ house door;
An’ folks come there to hear!
Why, Pa’s almost willin’ to go without dinner
(When Ma comes from the club, she’s got hers in her.)
Cuz Pa knows this: They don’t play cards
An’ spend the time gossipin’ ’bout folks in the wards.
So Pa’s right thankful for all of these,
And sings his praises for Alice Louise,
For Alice, sweet Alice Louise!
[The last stanza focuses on individual members of the club.]
It has been customary with chapters throughout the state to meet with other local chapters yearly in April to celebrate Miss Reynolds’ birthday … Here is a tribute I wrote and gave for ALR.
Alice Louise Reynolds Blooms Under Dixie Sun
We’ve had blossoms again in Dixie this year.
Thanks to our early spring sun!
Now Alice Louise Reynolds
Brings more of them on the run!
This famous lighter of lamps
Causes our hearts to bloom
With gaiety, culture, and love,
For every girl in the room!
And also for those afar,
On missions, or otherwise bent.
We know, deep down in our hearts,
This woman was Heaven-sent!
Though never formally wed,
With children of her own,
She has been a Mother to thousands,
Who now to adults have grown!
[The next ten stanzas focus on Alice’s parents.]
[p.217]All through her childhood and youth
Alice attended the best of schools.
From teachers of highest rank
She absorbed the use of right tools!
Art, music, and literature
All caused her heart to burn!
They sparkled within her eyes,
Where students could see them and yearn!
Each year brought something anew.
She attended the Master schools!
In our own grand country and Europe
She acquired the use of new tools!
The A.L.R. collection of books
On B.Y.U. library shelves2
Reflect her colorful life and love
Where many a student delves!
* * *
Fair-haired, round-faced Alice
Loved nature and gathered her flowers.
She loved to listen to music;
And admired even April showers!
Now you have a sort of background
For her colorful life and name,
For the many things responsible
For her present and lasting fame!
Together we’ll return for a while
To enjoy more of the lovely arts
For which she stood throughout her life.
She has helped to train our hearts.
1. Physical education was in the ascendancy: “In 1914 physical education was recognized as a definite part of the curriculum and a [p.211]gymnasium was provided in the basement” of Logan Academy, a Presbyterian school for girls (Brite, “Logan Academy,” 3).