Bertha Mcghee - Missionary From Kansas
Bertha McGhee - A Dedicated Woman
Bertha McGhee devoted her life to good works for the church. Tyro, Kansas was her hometown. She was my mother's aunt (my great-aunt).
Her life spanned the years 1903 to 1999. She was 96 when she died on Tuesday, November 30, 1999, at the Baldwin Care Center, Baldwin City, KS.
Early in her life, Bertha felt a calling to serve the church and dedicated her life to working in Indian schools and orphanages. She started new churches in isolated areas of Alaska. After retirement, she returned to Kansas. She never married.
I plan to start on a self-published book about Bertha McGhee's life (after finishing the one on my Civil War ancestor, who was Bertha's grandfather). If you have any memories of her, please contact me.
Photo from my mother's collection (Gail Lee Martin)
Bertha and Lealon McGhee in a Tyro KS School Photo
Born in 1903, she grew up in a small Kansas town. She went to college and traveled to remote places to live a life of faith. A remarkable woman, in an era when a woman's place was in the home.
The Story of the Photo Below
"Samuel Newton McGhee (11/28/1875) holding Elmer Lee McGhee (2/6/1910) in front of house he built for the family in Tyro, KS, spring 1910. We moved into the house in Jan., just after I was 7 years old. Elmer was born Feb. 6th. Later, that summer, papa added two rooms on the back with roof same height as front porch." by Bertha McGhee
Besides Sam and Viola Matilda McGhee and their children, the house also was home to Sam's mother and Viola Matilda's father. Bertha grew up with 2 grandparents in the home.
1918 Flu Epidemic
in the words of Bertha McGhee of Tyro, Kansas
"I had started my sophomore year of high school in Independence because Tyro could not get teachers for H.S. because of the War. I was living with a motherless family working for my room and board. The flu epidemic closed all schools in early November. I went home and soon came down with flu-pneumonia. The school reopened in Jan. but I did not go back as I did not feel strong enough to work for room and board and I couldn't afford to pay for it.
Three years later, Tyro High was opened again and I went back as a sophomore and graduated in 1924 at age 21.
The summer before Tyro H.S. reopened, the church gave Roy and me a week at Epworth League Institute at Baldwin. That was the turning point for me. I felt called to go back to school and prepare for full time service through the church to be a home missionary -- my particular concern -- Native Americans."
(photo of troops parading in Independence, Kansas in 1918 - from the family collection of Gail Lee Martin, not for use without permission)
Bertha McGhee's Memories - of the NYA (National Youth Administration) in 1937
Zazzle vintage graphic: Girls- Are You Interested In A Job? by monger
Places Where Bertha McGhee Worked
- Cottonwood Falls, Kansas - 1934 WPA program
- Zara, Kansas - The NYA (National Youth Administration)
- Tyro, Kansas
- Farmington, New Mexico - Navajo School
- Seward, Alaska - The Jesse Lee Home
- Memories of the Great Depression by Bertha McGhee
"One of my memories of the great depression years was my job teaching at an NYA (National Youth Administration) camp on the grounds of a former country club near Zara, Kansas."
Bertha McGhee in NYA Photo
She was a camp counselor and teacher of nature, English, math and social studies. She was with the NYA from 1934 to 1938, three years.
The NYA was at Zara, Kansas.
Bertha is in the center, back row, next to the girl in the letter jacket.
Eleanor Roosevelt Was an Advocate for the NYA - Photo from the Kansas City Star April 18, 1937
- Eleanor Roosevelt's My Day column for Nov. 16, 1936
She visited the NYA camp at Zarah where Bertha McGhee was.
My Page about Bertha's First Missionary Work
- Navajo School - Farmington NM 1929-1931
In 1929, my great-aunt, Bertha McGhee started her life's work for the Women's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Her service began at the Navajo Mission School in Farmington, New Mexico.
The Indian School Where Bertha First Taught
Gathering Lots of Information and Photos
My mom, Gail Lee Martin, gave me Bertha's letters covering the years 1940 to 1983. She also had Bertha's photo album of 1929 to 1931 in the southwest.
A Photo Gallery of Bertha McGhee and Her Family - Click on each photo to see it larger and to read the caption
The Journal Kept by Bertha McGhee - This section covers the war years
Bertha McGhee - Pastor of Church in Hope, Alaska
This is the photo that may be used for the book cover.
Read about the Jesse Lee Home
I was delighted find this book about the Jesse Lee Home. It only has 3 mentions of my great-aunt in it, but lots of information about others and the home.
- Dorene M. Lorenz: Story about Miss Bertha McGhee
Former Seward Resident May 13, 1973 Seward Phoenix Log The friends of Miss Bertha McGhee, a former resident of Seward, will be interested to know that she plans to leave Alaska in July to make her home in Kansas.
Read about Bertha's early life
Preview the book, My Flint Hills Childhood
It contains memories by Bertha McGhee about her childhood. Most of the book details the life of her brother, Clarence, his family and especially his daughter, Gail McGhee.
- My Flint Hills Childhood on Blurb.com
A section of the book is available for preview at the site.
Collecting Family Memories of Bertha McGhee
My mom has been busy contacting family that knew Bertha or heard stories about her life.
"My biggest memory of Aunt Bertha is how she could look at anything and then make it - be it sewing, crocheting, knitting, you name she could make it without a pattern or she would make a pattern for it. Amazing to me because I have to have a pattern for anything I make!!"
Cheryl (Austin's daughter)
Bertha McGhee with her brother Roy McGhee. Return from fishing.
Old Photo of the Jesse Lee Home
Zazzle graphic showing the Jesse Lee Home by dorenemlorenz
Videos about the Jesse Lee Home
This is where Bertha McGhee worked in Seward, Alaska. It closed after the earthquake.
My older cousin went to Alaska in 2010 and shared this information with me: "We were in Seward last week and it appears that there is some interest in refurbishing the Jesse Lee Home. Some scaffolding on one side. I will try to send a picture. I remember most the pictures Aunt Bertha showed of the large cabbages and other garden produce they raised. I also remember her telling of the 1964 earthquake and how they sat on the side of the mountain with the children and watched the fires that devasted much of Seward."
Here's an enjoyable video about the impact of the Jesse Lee Home and about the efforts to restore it.
The Jesse Lee Home
My cousin Tim was recently in Alaska and took photos of the Jessie Lee Home.
Jesse Lee Home in Anchorage, Alaska
What My Cousin Observed
My older cousin went to Alaska in 2010 and shared this information with me:
"We were in Seward last week and it appears that there is some interest in refurbishing the Jesse Lee Home. Some scaffolding on one side. I will try to send a picture. I remember most the pictures Aunt Bertha showed of the large cabbages and other garden produce they raised. I also remember her telling of the 1964 earthquake and how they sat on the side of the mountain with the children and watched the fires that devasted much of Seward."
Bertha McGhee Taught a Sunday School Class
Here's another memory shared with me from someone remembering Bertha McGhee:
"August 29, 2010 - I have memories of Bertha being my Sunday-school teacher in the 1950s. She was absolutely wonderful; always friendly, smiling, and outgoing. I was a young Alaska native youngster, attending the Methodist church in Seward. My very first Bible was given to me by Bertha in 1957, and it has her signature. I still have that Bible; worn, but still usable. My mother grew up in the Jesse Lee Home, which still stands today, but is sadly in need of repair."
Marshall Ronne Jr
Today I discovered a blog called Growing Up Anchorage. It had some great memory pieces about the city. One was by Gene Brown who's parents worked at the Jesse Lee Home for a time and so he lived there also. I loved his stories and it gave me some insight into Bertha's experience with the boys.
Pioneer Missionaries in Alaska
This book parallels some of the same years that Bertha was a missionary in Alaska.
© 2009 Virginia Allain