The Schoolma’am

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.

Graduation card for the Moscow High School Class of 1894. (Latah County Historical Society)
Clara Ransom high school graduation portrait. (University of Idaho Special Collections)

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’s 1896 third grade teaching certificate. (Latah County Historical Society)
Clara’s 1898 second grade teaching certificate. (Latah County Historical Society)

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.

Eighteen-year-old Clara (left) with her students at the Whitman School (Washington) in 1895. (University of Idaho Special Collections)
Clara in front of the University of Idaho administration building (later destroyed by fire) with her friend, Miles Reed. Reed went on to become president of Idaho State at Pocatello. (University of Idaho Special Collections)
Clara, front row right, with the 1898 graduating class, University of Idaho. (University of Idaho Special Collections)

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 .

This badly damage photo shows Clara with other teachers in 1896. She is in the center with the raised pencil. (University of Idaho Special Collections)
Clip from a photo of Latah County teachers. Clara is standing on the right. (Latah County Historical Society)
Clara with her students at the Russell School in Moscow, Idaho, 1899. (University of Idaho Special Collections)


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.

CRD 003
One of Clara’s botanical illustrations. (Courtesy of D. Wickward)

Feature image: One of Clara’s watercolors of landmark buildings in Moscow, Idaho. This one depicts the Russell School. (Latah County Historical Society)

  1. Unsourced news clipping dated September 9, 1954. Collection of the Latah County Historical Society. 
  2. Murray, E. H. 1902. Letter of recommendation for Miss Clara Ransom. Collection of the Latah County Historical Society. 
  3. See note 1. 
  4. Personal communication with University of Idaho registrar’s office. 

38 thoughts on “The Schoolma’am

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  1. I would like to see that policy again. Pass a reachers exam, be a teacher! So many capable, bright and enthusiastic people have skipped the college route and would make excellent teachers. Very interesting post.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Fantastic tribute to Clara Ransom, Eilene. I really enjoyed reading about her life in teaching and her pursuits (rifle drill team!). You did a great job of describing how education was in Idaho and elsewhere during that time. Imagine teaching and being in classes so small. And the photographs are a spectacular accompaniment. Thanks for this inspiring look at this dedicated woman.

    Liked by 1 person

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