Thursday, April 18, 2013

Myth Busting

It’s not fun being the family myth buster. My family’s stories have filled me with wonder, and my curiosity nudges me to seek proof. Sometimes, I end up debunking the stories, instead. One story that I refuse to say has been debunked—yet—is that my grandmother Mary Ann Waggoner attended Emory and Henry College for her normal training. Actually, I’d heard two versions of this story. My dad said it was Martha Washington College that she’d attended.
“Normal training” in Grandma’s day was a brief period, maybe twelve weeks, of teacher training during or after high school. Then the student was awarded a provisional teaching certificate. We know Grandma achieved her certificate because we have it on file, but where did she receive her teacher training? That is the question.
Miss Mary Waggoner's provisional teaching certificate, dated 20 August 1907.

On a bright March day back in 2002 when I was visiting my mother in Saltville during my spring break, I drove to Emory & Henry College at Emory, Virginia, about fifteen miles distance, to see if I could locate my grandmother’s records.
Emory is a beautiful campus, the whole of which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Named for John Emory, a bishop in the Methodist Church, and for the statesman Patrick Henry, the college began admitting students in 1838, which makes it the oldest college in Southwest Virginia.[1] I drove around the campus admiring the stately brick buildings, some with white pillars in front, wondering where to start. Seeing the library, I thought I could at least get information there. When I explained my quest to a man at the desk, I told him that my grandmother may have attended there, about 1905 or ’06. To my dismay, he said that the campus was not opened to women until 1920.
He added however, that Martha Washington College for Women in Abingdon was a sister college to Emory, so that’s where she may have attended. He offered to let me see the records of that college, so I sat down in an oak chair at an oak table and waited for him to bring them to me.
As I waited, I couldn’t help but think about my 10th anniversary, which my husband and I had spent at the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon. The Inn is the very building that housed Martha Washington College for Women, the very building where my grandmother may have taken her normal training. Back in 1830, William Preston bought the property and started building his mansion, then  sold it to the college in 1858. It remained a college until 1931, when the depression forced it to close.[2] Today the Martha Washington Inn looks almost the same as it did when the college thrived. It’s red brick façade and long front porch with white pillars and rocking chairs invites visitors to rest and enjoy the ambiance of the 19th century.
Soon, the librarian returned carrying a huge, black book and laid it carefully on the table in front of me. It smelled of dust and age. As I turned the brittle pages, little yellow pieces crumbled from the edges. I tried to be gentle. I perused all lists of students  from 1900 through 1909, the year I knew my grandmother had left Virginia. No luck. I saw the names of a few of her cousins, both Havens and Wagner, but not hers. I left disappointed.
My search continues, however. I’m hoping that I can one day find some connection between E&H or MWC and Grandma Mary’s teacher training.

[1] “History, Mission, and Culture,” Emory & Henry College, (accessed April 18, 2013.
[2] “History,”, (accessed April 18, 2013).

(c) 2013 Z. T. Noble

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