All of this book except the last three chapters and the Appendix appeared serially in "The
Wisconsin Magazine of History," beginning in September 1930, and continued through
nine successive issues of that quarterly. The work was undertaken at the suggestion of Dr. Joseph
Schafer, Superintendent of the Wisconsin Historical Society and Editor of the
magazine, who, under date of April 3, 1928, wrote me as follows:
On account of your long experience in educational work in this state you are in a better situation
than any one else whose name now occurs to me to present a narrative which shall
be of special value to the future historian of Wisconsin Education during the last half century. Of
course, I am not suggesting that your narrative should confine itself to
educational matters. What I should like is the general story of your life, with emphasis upon any
points which remain in your memory as particularly interesting or vital: pioneer
conditions in Kenosha County, social life in county and town, the influence of local leaders, the
effect of legislation as it was felt in a local way, educational and otherwise.
"These suggest only a few of the ideas which will throng upon your mind when you begin to write.
Inasmuch, however, as your professional career had been educational and has
covered practically a complete round of public school education in this State, I would expect that
you would devote more time and space to that subject than to probably all others."
Some serious deliberation on my part ensued. What were my resources that warranted success in such
an undertaking? Ideas "thronged upon my mind" before I began to write:
was this the purpose for which I had saved all that material now filling a large trunk and a
capacious box kept for years in storage? Was that miscellaneous collection, that
"impedimenta" troublesome to myself and others, and surely "weighty" at moving times--to be put to
use? What am I keeping this for? I had on such occasions asked myself. "What do you expect to do
with all that stuff?" others had asked.
I couldn't tell, but I knew that my feelings concerning it had kept me from destroying it, or
disposing of it, as I had done with most of my books. Now the alchemy of a new
purpose suddenly transformed that "stuff" into "source material." I saw my way clear to do what Dr.
Schafer had proposed, and wrote him to that effect.
In that collection there were pamphlets and reports of my own compiling, and notebooks of lecture
outlines dating back to Normal School teaching days; there was a bundle of
diaries which, while it didn't contain all that I had written of that sort of thing, might
contribute something to the new project; there were albums and some of the photographs in
them were labeled with names and dates, thanks be! There were letter files of carefully selected
correspondence about public services of one sort or another; and scrap books,
together with other collections of clipping, somewhat related to, and covering, successive periods
of my work. The fact that these clippings began, after awhile, to be dated and thus
given some historical value, causes me to think that my husband had taught me the importance of
such dating, without which, from the historical point of view, most clippings are
but waste paper. Such was the yield, by the old trunk, to my "stock in trade" for the new venture.
There was another item that might be usable in part. I had begun to write a family history,
designed only for the descendents of Andrew and Caroline Davison, the first chapter of
which was completed; and there was a note book containing incidents and stories to be used in that
history. Much of this came from my eldest sister, Ida, whose memory retained
reminiscences of events related by our parents, as well as clear pictures of those of her own
childhood and youth; but much in it was unsuited to my new purposes.
It was a year and a half before I settled down to serious work on these "Memoirs"; but I had been
thinking about it. Ida, then past eighty years of age, was living with a niece in
Evanston, Ill. Her health had begun to decline, but her mind was clear and vigorous. When I visited
her, I took occasion to have her review some of the more important incidents
and reminiscences that seemed appropriately usable. Sometimes it was a hazy remembrance of one of
my own childhood experiences that needed clearing up by a new recital by
her, as that of the accident to our father; and, by way of further illustration, I will mention
another one, which seems to have been my earliest recollection connected with the Civil
War. It led me to ask her this question--"Did it actually happen that a troop of soldiers came
riding into our farm yard at night fall, and asked to be fed and housed?" "Yes, it was
so, but some of them were 'barned' instead of 'housed' for there wasn't room elsewhere for them."
And then would follow an account of the circumstances that caused these men on
their way from Camp Randall at Madison to Camp Douglas, Chicago, to lose their way and visit our
home. She remembered some of their names and the conversation that took
place between the soldiers and my brothers, and knew the fate of their leader. Her memory was
replete with incidents of that period, one of which of a peculiarly personal and
original character is related near the close of Chapter III.
When drawing upon the source material described, it has been quite a problem to decide just what to
use. Adherance to the original suggestion of having these "Memoirs"
contributory to the educational history of Wisconsin, through the limited range of my own
associations and observations, has kept me from including many personal incidents
of other than an educational bearing, which to the general reader might have been more interesting;
while it has caused me to include matter of a statistical character that would not
have been included in another sort of an autobiography.
If it should be thought that I have extended to too great a length the account of my last eleven
years of public service, this explanation is offered of that prolonged account, which
extends three chapters (16, 17, and 18) beyond the limit fixed by the Magazine: After closing my
work in the office of Superintendent of Schools in 1921, some of my women
friends, variously located in administrative positions, urged me to write an account of my
experiences in an office which so few women have been privileged to occupy. These
friends professed to be interested in knowing just how the woman's point of view would influence
procedures and processes in such an important field of educational service.
Before hearing from Dr. Schafer, I had given considerable thought to doing as these friends had
suggested. These chapters contain accounts of what seemed to be the most
important of those undertakings and experiences.
Without the installment plan of carrying out this project, it is doubtful if I could have completed
it even by this time, two and a half years after it was started, for other interests and
other duties of either a public or a private nature have claimed some attention. The doling out of
my contributions to the Magazine every three months has enabled me to meet my
schedule, although it has not conduced to balance in the whole. Towards the end, as will be seen, a
sufficient momentum was gained to carry me beyond the narrative relating to my
public school work into an account of the years since that work closed--the "Appendix."
Thanks are due from me to Dr. Schafer for his confidence in my ability to do what he wanted done,
as expressed in the letter quoted--the initial step in this undertaking; and
to him, therefore, is due a share of the credit, or the blame--according to the judgment of
readers--for this result, which is my first attempt at authorship on so large a scale. I feel
very sure that he, like myself, had no idea when the start was made that the associational
mechanism, once set in operation would weave so long a fabric.
I wish also to express my thanks to a few readers of the Magazine who from time to time have sent
me encouraging words of appreciation. These kind messages always caused me
to wonder if there were many others who agreed with the writers of them.
Since every day spent in teaching children and youth, or in helping others to do so, is seen now to
have been an enlarging experience, I am grateful to every community--small and
large, near or far in time or place--and chiefly in Wisconsin--that offered me the opportunity to
serve in the former or the latter capacity. First among these is my home city,
Kenosha, and next is Stevens Point.
Mary Davison Bradford
Kenosha, Oct. 10, 1932.