Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

Scrapbook Memories

Mildred McConnell's Scrapbook Articles

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Miss Mattie Richmond

By: JUDY DORTON
HERALD Staff writer

     "When I walked through that doorway I thought I was the biggest person in Scott County." That might seem like an unlikely quote from Miss Mattie Richmond when you consider the physical structure of this frail eighty-eight year old lady. But the spirited four foot four inch lady wasnít talking about her size; she was expressing the pride she felt when she walked up the steps of a one-room school house to begin her first day as a teacher.

 

 

     The year was 1913 and the school was located at Nickelsville. It was there, at Jessie School, where Miss Mattie, as she is affectionaly known, began a teaching career that spanned forty-five years.

     The old wooden schoolhouse was typical of the one-room schools, which once dotted the county. It was a drafty, dark structure heated by a potbelly stove with wooden floors that creaked when they were walked upon. And it had none of the modern conveniences of todayís school.

     Miss Mattie says she wonders just how much more she would have taught the students in the one room school had she had all the teaching tools which are available today.

     She believes that children today have more to distract them from their studies than when she went to school or began teaching. "We didnít have TV or radios back then," she says but quickly adds both can be "educational in some ways."

     Ironically Miss Mattie didnít want to become a teacher.

     "I wanted to be a clerk in a store but in those days you didnít get that kind of a job," Miss Mattie says. "Teaching was the only thing for young people to do."

     It was through the encouragement of her uncle John McConnell that Miss Mattie finally decided to go to Radford to obtain a teaching certificate.

     She recalls making the historic trip to Roanoke by train from Mendota. Her uncle took her to Mendota in a wagon to catch the train she says.

     She was nineteen years old when she began teaching at Jessie School where she had once been a pupil herself. Miss Mattie spent a year teaching at Stony Creek before going back to Nickelsville. In 1918 she taught at Powers School. The next year, Miss Mattie transferred to Dungannon where she taught until her retirement May, 1959.

     A big surprise retirement party was given Miss Mattie by the faculty to honor this remarkable teacher.

     Among Miss Mattieís treasured possessions is a scrapbook presented to her at the occasion.

     "I didnít know anything about the party. I thought it was a PTA meeting," Miss Mattie fondly recalls.

     The scrapbook contains a letter from Gov. J. Lindsay Almond, Jr., along with those written by former students, all expressing great love and admiration.

     Gov. Almond stated that he could not "imagine any greater service that anyone can render than starting children along the road to education." The Gov. also commented that, as a teacher with forty-five years service, Miss Mattie had "played more than a meager part in encouraging many of these children to become better citizens."

     Gov. Almondís statement was verified numerous times in notes and letters filling the scrapbook.

     A telegram from Pauline Keith Wood from Fairbanks, Alaska stated that Miss Mattie had been an "inspiration for thousands." Another from Boyd Carter in Lincoln, Nebraska noted that "her great qualities as a person and teacher cannot be over estimated."

     From Nat Honeycutt in San Bernadino, California contained these words, "your intelligent teaching methods and Christian inspiration, became to many of us a solid foundation as we progressed through the grades and on into our chosen fields of life."

     "I know the world of ours is a better place to live in by the principles of love and understanding you have taught your pupils," wrote Evelyn Osborne Hawkins of Portsmouth, Va.

     Dorothy Dingus Laney of Pageland, S. C. wrote, "your life has been full of evidence of your tact, foresight and good judgment leaving a profound impression on all the many little first graders, including myself, who you started out in life. Just your backward glances must bring you deep and lasting satisfaction."

     As she reminisces about teaching Miss Mattie proclaims, "Iím so thankful I did."

     Miss Mattie modestly shuns any praise when confronted with statements from numerous people who vow she had a profound effect on their lives.

     "I guess I did. I certainly hope I have been a good influence," she says.

     As she sits in the living room of her home near the site of the Dungannon School, a former pupil, Kenneth Lucas come inside. Asked about the number of people residing in Dungannon who had been taught by Miss Mattie, Kenneth replied, "Thereís a many a one sheís started out. Sheís a fine lady but she gets on me to go to church," Kenneth laughs.

     "Thatís what I tell the all," Miss Mattie adds quickly.

     Both church and school have played major importance in Miss Mattieís life.

     Since her retirement she devotes most of her time to church activities. Sheís treasurer of the Free Will Baptist church of Dungannon and until 1964, before her health declined, Miss Mattie taught a Sunday School Class.

     As one former pupil, Helen Osborn Smith of Portsmouth recalled Miss Mattie taught the youngsters their ABCís about the Lord.

     Miss Mattie says she always began each school day with prayer and is very sad that prayer in school was abolished.

     "I think that is one of the worst things that has happened to the schools", Miss Mattie says. Miss Mattie adds that she would never begin a day without recognizing the Creator and those who donís are "missing a lot."

     Among the memories of former students was one from Ruth Osborne Watts, which reflected Miss Mattieís special teaching ability. Mrs. Watts recalled what a frightening experience the firs day of school can be for many youngsters, such as herself. She noted that Miss Mattie came outside her classroom to coax her from the stairway she was clung to; crying like her heart was broken. She said Miss Mattie had a quiet, sweet motherly way with all the pupils.

     "I guess I did pet my pupils," Miss Mattie admits. She adds that sometimes she had to exert a little force in some instances, particularly when a child cried and didnít want to attend school.

     "Itís the hardest thing to get a child from its mother to you," she says, adding that school is a big transition for a child.

     As she reflects on her life Miss Mattie says, "I tell people Iíve got a treasure and itís not money." Her treasure is her countless friends and all the kindness they bestow upon her.

     She certainly didnít make much money according to her first salary.

     "I received only $25 a month the first years I taught," Miss Mattie says. "I thought I was rich," she laughs. Those were the days when a dollar was a dollar, she recalls.

     Miss Mattie and a twin sister, Elizabeth Pardue, now a resident of Florida, were the children of Mary and Robert "Bob" Richmond. They were born near the vicinity of where the Twin Springs High School now stands. The Valley Creek Post Office was the major landmark in the area at the time Miss Mattie was born.

Today Miss Mattie resides in the house she moved into nearly 64 years ago when she began teaching at Dungannon. She paid Mr. And Mrs. Loge Osborne $12 a month for room and board.

     "I was probably making about $50 a month," Miss Mattie says.

     A special tribute was paid to Miss Mattie one Motherís Day by the Dungannon Baptist Church, which honored her as "Mother of the Church."

     It was noted that Miss Mattie found that teaching was such a big job that she "didnít ever have time to think about raising any children of her own." She was too busy seeing that some needy child had a pair of shoes, a new dress for a school program, or something to eat for lunch.

     Miss Mattie is certainly an extraordinary lady who has affected the lives of more people than could be numbered.

     Those who know, love and respect Miss Mattie would certainly attest to the fact that she is one of the biggest people in Scott County.

 

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