Week 35: #52 Ancestors – Back to School
By Eilene Lyon
The ancestor that I most closely associate with schools is Clara Pearl Ransom. Education was the driving force in her life – her own and that of others. Her early life was marked by tragedy, but when she moved to Moscow, Idaho, it was altered for the better.
She was one of the first to attend Moscow High School, which she was graduated from in the class of 1894, one of only three students, all girls. Before she had even graduated, though, she took on her first teaching job.
Speaking of herself in third-person, she said, “There was no age limit for the teacher. All that was required was the ability to pass the teacher’s examinations and secure third, second or first grade certificates. A school ma’am of sixteen years, who had not yet finished high school secured her certificate and a school in 1893 in Texas Ridge in Latah County.”1
The certificate grades didn’t refer to grades in class, but to the teacher’s level of ability, with first grade certificates being the highest. Clara’s work on Texas Ridge introduced her to the man who would later become her husband, Sterling Price Davis.
Clara attended the University of Idaho and was graduated in the class of 1898, the third graduating class from that now-venerable institution. While there, she was part of the rifle drill team. She also continued teaching school, in addition to her studies.
In 1896 and 1898, Clara procured teaching certificates from Washington State to teach at the school in Whitman. Later, she taught school in Moscow at the Russell School .
In 1902 Clara obtained letters of reference from her employers in the school district, perhaps in anticipation of her next big ambition.
E. H. Murray, the city superintendent of schools wrote, “I can scarcely pay Miss Ransom a tribute strong enough to do her justice. Her work has been excellent in every respect. She is thoroughly conscientious, systematic and self sacrificing, devoting all her energies toward accomplishing the best results. Holding the esteem of her pupils, she stimulates them to their best efforts.”2
In 1903, Clara ran for county superintendent of schools. She won.
Again speaking of herself in third-person, she wrote, “The county superintendent of schools drove over the county with horse and buggy, and one woman superintendent rode from school to school, horseback, using the customary side saddle of the 90’s. The county superintendents salary was seventy five dollars a month.”3
Though, sadly, marriage ended her career in education, Clara tutored university students and eventually went back to obtain her master’s degree in botany in 1922.4 She was also an officer of the university alumni association and was elected to the county school board.
Feature image: One of Clara’s watercolors of landmark buildings in Moscow, Idaho. This one depicts the Russell School. (Latah County Historical Society)
- Unsourced news clipping dated September 9, 1954. Collection of the Latah County Historical Society. ↩
- Murray, E. H. 1902. Letter of recommendation for Miss Clara Ransom. Collection of the Latah County Historical Society. ↩
- See note 1. ↩
- Personal communication with University of Idaho registrar’s office. ↩