Remembrances of Miss Elizabeth Bledsoe

 

 

Do the words “Spanish Armada, 1588” bring back any memories? That year was a long time ago, but a Denison High School teacher impressed that date upon the minds of all her students, along with the very strong suggestion to “Vote”.

Miss Bledsoe knew her history and had a way of making it come alive for thousands of students during the 31 years she taught at Denison High School . She died in 2001 at the age of 94. She told her students that she wanted them to remember the above two things if they didn’t remember any thing else from her classes.

A number of years ago, Miss Bledsoe wrote her remembrances of growing up in Denison for an “I remember when” column in The Denison Herald. I kept a copy of the article, not only because Miss Bledsoe was one of my favorite teachers, but because it contained so much of Denison ’s earlier years first hand from one who lived it.

Miss Bledsoe said that 1914 was an important year in her life. She was six years old and started to school in January. She said youngsters normally started to school when they were seven, but if the school wasn’t crowded six year olds could go if their parents paid tuition.

Her first grade teacher was Miss Jennie Jackson, who also was principal of Washington School (which formerly was known as the Denison Education Institute) located on the west end of the 700 block Main Street. That, of course, is on the same block as the old McDaniel Junior High School or even longer ago than that, the old Denison High School .

Miss Bledsoe said that Miss Jennie, as she was affectionately known, was as colorful as the many stories circulated about her through the years. (Miss Jennie was the young woman who rocked President Eisenhower on her knee in 1890 when he was just a baby in Denison.)

The site also happened to be the location where in September 1914 the new Denison High School was opened. Because there was extra room in the new building, grades one through three were on the south end of the third floor. This was before the north wing that includes the auditorium and the south wing that includes the gymnasium were built.

Miss Bledsoe’s second grade teacher was Miss Neva Munson, a daughter of the famed horticulturist, T.V. Munson. On the last day of school Miss Munson gave each child in the room a magnolia blossom which she said started her love and appreciation for magnolias. No doubt the magnolia blossoms came from a tree near the Munson home at 530 West Hanna.

That was the same year that her family owned its first car, a 1914 Studebaker four-door touring car. She said they mainly used it on Sunday and the rest of the week it was jacked up in the garage to protect the rubber tires. When the car was new she said she stood in the back and held onto the lap robe rail – then nine years later she was driving it.

Miss Bledsoe grew up in a family-operated store at 310 West Main , Bledsoe’s Racket Store. She said today it would be called a variety store. As a baby her family put her down in a big tub in the back of the store to play. Being there six days a week, she said she learned to be interested in people and the activities on Main Street . As she grew older she learned to love and appreciate the beautiful china in the store. That is until World War I when the Haviland factories in France and other European locations were destroyed and her dad could no longer purchase the fine china.

When the circus came to town, people from miles around came to Denison to see the Main Street parade. It was the only time most could see live elephants, lions, etc. Schools closed during the parade, she remembered.

The Bledsoes didn’t have a radio and television was yet to come along so the only “instant news” was when The Denison Herald put out an extra edition. She said she could remember waking in the middle of the night to hear boys going up the street yelling “Extra! Extra! Read All About It!” Porch lights in the neighborhood would go on and her father would go out and buy a paper to see what had happened.

Miss Bledsoe remembered buying hamburgers for a nickel in the 200 block west Main . Admission to the movie was another nickel – and that was with no sound and no air conditioning. She said the family would sit on the front porch of her home at 631 West Chestnut until 11 p.m. or so, waiting for the house to “cool off” to sleep. They had electric fans, but didn’t know about air conditioning.

In 1917 Central Ward School opened and Miss Bledsoe was a fifth grade student. World War I was in progress and she remembered the War Stamp sales, the programs and the Red Cross knitting that they did. She said she often wondered how they could use the knitting done by their grimy little hands, but the idea was to get the children and their families interested in the war, which they did.

She remembered the U.S. troops on their way to France being marched up Main Street for exercise. As a child, she said it was frightening for her to see and made the war seem so much nearer.

On Nov. 11, 1918, she was crossing Main Street on the way to Central Ward School when the MKT Railroad shop whistles began blowing furiously. She turned around and ran back home. Her mother told her that the war was over and that she didn’t have to go to school that day, but could go with her to the store. Later that day there was “the most spontaneous parade down Main Street I have ever seen anywhere,” she said.

The highlight of summer for her was when the Chautauqua came in June. The big tent with no air conditioning, the varied program of musical numbers, plays and lectures were “pure ecstasy.”

She recalled the bitter railroad strike in the 1920s when Denison was under martial law and the National Guard camped in Forest Park . She said her family wasn’t connected to the railroad, but she had friends on both sides of the dispute. As long as anyone stayed away from the Katy Shops, she said, life went on as usual.

Miss Bledsoe graduated in 1924 from Denison High School in the first class to have 100 classmates complete requirements. In the late 1990s she rode in the Homecoming Parade representing the Class of 1924. As her car went down Main Street shouts of “Spanish Armada, 1588” could be heard all along the way. I’m sure that made her proud.

To end her remembrance, Miss Bledsoe said she believed that her favorite memory of Denison was the striking of the clock atop McDaniel and the many times she had looked up at the clock or hurried home when it struck a certain hour. - Donna Hunt
 

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