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Memoirs of Mary D. Bradford

Autobiographical and Historical Reminiscences of Education In Wisconsin, Through Progressive Service From Rural School Teaching to City Superintendent

Published by The Antes Press Evansville, Wisconsin

Feb-7 1993

To the Memory of My Father and Mother and Sister Ida


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.


I. A Pioneer Family in Paris, Kenosha County, Wis. 1
II. A District School of the Eighteen-fifties 26
III. The Impressive Decade of the Sixties 47
IV. School and Home Training 75
V. I Become a "Scholar" in the Kenosha Public Schools 96
VI. My First Teaching Experiences in the Country 127
VII. In the Kenosha Public Schools 163
VIII. A Year as Student in the Oshkosh Normal School 175
IX. My First Attempt at High School Teaching 197
X. Married Life 206
XI. Ten Years of High School Teaching 214
XII. Early Days of the Central State Teachers College at Stevens Points, Wis. 235
XIII. There Years in the Stout Training School at Menomonie, Wis. 288
XIV. A Year in the Whitewater Normal School 331
XV. A Superintendent of Schools--My First Three Years in That Office 337
XVI. A Period of Doubtful Tenure 375
XVII. A Most Eventful Triennium 408
XVIII. Closing Years of Paid Public Service 448
XIX. Appendix--A Decade of Leisure 467
Index 527


Southport in 1844 5
Home of the Davison Family from 1848 to 1854. The "Willow Crest Farm" today 16
Home of the Davison Family from 1854 to 1868. Birthplace of Author of these Memoirs 20
School House of District No. 5 Paris, built in 1851 27
The Hale Family, Pioneer Neighbors of the Davisons 30
Two Young Davison Girls in Their Sunday Best 62
Ida A. Davison, the Mainstay of the Family 67
"He Knew the Scriptures from His Youth"--the treasured picture from the old farm home 91
The Light of Other Days 93
The First High School Building in Wisconsin 97
The Assembly Room of First High School 115
Rev. Henry M. Simmons 144
Liberty Corners Country School House--My Second "Mile-stone" 147
George Summer Albee, first president of the Oshkosh Normal School 176
The First Oshkosh Normal School Building 180
Miss Rose C. Swart, of Oshkosh Normal School and Teachers College 186
The Western Girl with the "Quee-uh" Speech 208
Dr. Wm. M. W. Davison, Chicago Physician 218
Myself, when a High School Teacher 222
Col. Michael Frank, "Father of the Free Public School System of Wisconsin" 227
My Father and Mother, as they looked in 1888 231
Jennie Rebecca Faddis, first Primary Critic Teacher, Stevens Point Normal School 252
An Exhibit of Art in Stevens Point Normal, five years after its opening 262
Stevens Point Normal School Building in 1900 272
Theron B. Pray, first President of the Stevens Point Normal, 1894-1906 288
Stout Institute 290
Mabel Tainter Memorial, Menomonie, Wis. 292
Lorenzo D. Harvey, one of Wisconsin's Educational Leaders and President of Stout Institute 293
Alma L. Binzel, Director of Kindergarten Training School, Stout Institute 295
Albert Salisbury, President of Whitewater, Wis. Normal School 331
Walter T. Marllat, Editor of Kenosha Evening News 348
Children's Play Festival in Library Park, Kenosha 371
Board of Education, Kenosha, 1914-1915 383
Myself, when Superintendent of Kenosha Schools 420
Scene at a School Social Centre, and Picture of School Gardens 425
Health Measures 428
Washington School, Kenosha, opened in 1920 440
Awatif, Daughter of a Moslem Teacher and Reformer of Cairo, Egypt 480
A Photograph with Antiquity for a Background 488
"The Five Sisters Window" in York Minster, England 494
Dryburgh Abbey, Scott's Burial Place 504
New Central High School, Kenosha 512
Portrait in Library of New Central H. S. 513
Henry M. Simmons Memorial Church--now the Kenosha Boys' and Girls' Library 517

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