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Meet the Folks - FO18 - Late 1890s Changes in the Valley

Updated on October 9, 2018
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Dr. Bill's first passion is family history. His second is a passion for creating family saga, historical fiction stories that share it.

Each couple built a new home on the same Block in Oak Springs

Typical of new homes built in the late 1890s
Typical of new homes built in the late 1890s

Teachers Petition School Board via Superintendent

Four female teachers in the local Oak Springs School District sent a petition to the local school board through Superintendent Quinten Chambers. Each of the four, Cora Crane, Dora Garrett, Nettie Gifford, and Gertrude Warden, were in her early thirties, and had been teaching in the local district for more than five years. This was not reported publicly until the resulting decision was announced though. Although the local Oak Springs School District was considered fairly liberal, the standard for female teachers was that they not be married. Marriage disqualified them from further teaching under current contracts. The request in the petition was to allow female teachers to marry and to continue to teach if they had more than five years of experience with satisfactory performance evaluations.


In 1898, the members of the school board were: Franklin Gifford, Edward King, Peter Riley, Simeon Bishop and Bryce Taylor. Board President Simeon Bishop announced the new Board Policy as a response to the petition. Female teachers with more than five years of experience with satisfactory performance evaluations could marry and would be permitted to continue to teach under their current contracts so long as they were not visibly pregnant. If a teacher became pregnant, she would be terminated upon ‘showing’ in the sole discretion of the Superintendent. The policy would become effective July 1, 1899. Over the following six months, each of the four petitioners was married, and continued to teach.


Cora Crane married fellow teacher Ellis Prince. Dora Garrett married fellow teacher Andrew Gilmore. Nettie Gifford married Dr. Neal Massey. Gertrude Warden married Electrical Engineer Oscar Humphrey. Separately, but in concert, these four couples purchased the four lots of Block JJ in the southeast corner of town north of Patton Street (Road). They each built a residence and were moved in by the end of the year.

Lives were constantly changing across the Oak Creek valley

A typical rural landscape in the valley
A typical rural landscape in the valley

More Marriages and Moves in 1899

In the east valley, Arthur Keith married Jenny Hay. They built a cottage on the land where Arthur would continue to farm with his father, Jeremiah. Similarly, Charles Pruitt married Lucy Jackson. Charles would continue to farm with his father, Samuel.


In the west valley, Stephen Rhodes married Fannie Cunningham. This was another large event involving the extended Rhodes and Cunningham families of the west valley. They would continue to be involved in the several family farming operations of the west valley. Talbot King married Gertrude Bishop. He would be continuing to farm on the Edward King farm. Also in the King family, Abby, Class of 1895, had gone to teacher’s college, and graduated. She had taken a teaching position in another town, but hoped to return to teach in Oak Springs at some point.


In the east valley, Daniel and Jane McDonald, along with William and Charlotte McDonald, had been concerned about their aging hired farm hands living on their own in their old abode. In 1899, they finally came to a reasonable solution. They built a new “bunkhouse” on the old Reeves place, on the grounds not far from the Darwin Johnson family house. They contracted with Melody Johnson to provide meals for the three men. Actually, she had suggested the possibility. One, of course, was her brother-in-law, Elwin. The others were Orville Anderson, now 63, and Julius Swenson, now 61. The bunkhouse would sleep four, so future growth was accounted for. Everyone felt much better with the men living near another family.


Leroy Starr, 19 year-old son of Jesse and Dora Starr, who had been working for the Telephone Company Construction Crew, moved from the east valley farm into the Campbell Boarding House. He moved to the Nixon Apartments when one became available.


Attorney Emmett Burrell purchased Lot 3 of Block HH just east of the Presbyterian Parsonage. Once the house was built, he married Melissa Powell. Melissa and her brother, David, continued to operate the Powell Furniture Store along with their parents, Fred and Fannie. In a short time, it was learned that David had purchased Lot 4 just east of Emmett and Melissa. He contracted to build a house for himself on that lot. Over the holidays, he and Elmira Nixon, the Town Clerk, announced their engagement and upcoming marriage in the spring. She planned to continue her work as Town Clerk.


Dr. Jasper and Florence Wood announced that they were moving to Florida for the balance of their retirement on November 15, 1899. After hearing of the plan of the Wood couple, Jourdan and Martha Sullivan decided they would try spending the winter months of January, February and March on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They had relatives there and although they admitted the Ozarks winter was not that bad, they felt the warmth of the South would be good for them.

Many of the early residents across the valley were reaching their elder years

The years passed by in the valley
The years passed by in the valley

Early Valley Residents Following the War Faced the End of Their Days

In the fall of 1899 there were ten couples living in the valley where one or both were 70 years old or older. In addition, the widow Amanda Duncan had reached 81. Average life expectancy in 1900 was still under 50 years of age. There were nine addition couples where one or both were in their 60s. I do not believe I am being unrealistic in these results. It does, however, clearly demonstrate a trend here. I believe that trend is realistic.


Amanda Duncan passed away quietly in her sleep on December 1, 1899. She was buried at the Oak Springs Cemetery.


Nathan and Sharon Bishop of the west valley, now in their early 70s, had finally moved to town with their daughter, Martha. They each had periodic illnesses and ailments, but enjoyed their new home in town. They were greatly comforted by their new association with the Presbyterian Church and especially Rev. Wilson Maxwell. He was very attentive and had dinner at their home on a regular basis. However, in the fall of 1899, their physical condition each seemed to deteriorate. In December, within two weeks of each other, they each passed away. Following services at the Presbyterian Church, they were each buried at the Oak Springs Cemetery.


Word was received on New Year’s Eve of the passing of Delbert Campbell, the oldest living member of the Campbell family who first came to the Oak Creek west valley in the 1830s as a boy. His wife, Delia, was staying with family members.

Note from the author

This is the eighteenth episode of the short story (FOx) series, Meet the Folks | … of Oak

Springs. This story fills in some details we were not able to include in recent stories in the series but want to ‘get on record’ for possible future reference. These stories took place in the Ozark Mountains setting of “The Homeplace Saga” series of family saga, historical fiction (home blog found at thehomeplaceseries dot blogspot dot com). This episode provides background information on folks in the valley nearly 20 years following the 80 episodes of “The Kings of Oak Springs” stories. That series had followed the time period of the “American Centennial at the Homeplace: The Founding (1833-1876)” collection of short stories. Some of these earlier stories are published on The Homeplace Saga blog, found at the link, above. These FOx episodes provide depth and background stories for the entire "Saga" series. “The Homeplace Saga” historical fiction family saga stories are the creation of the author, William Leverne Smith, also known as “Dr. Bill.”

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    • Homeplace Series profile imageAUTHOR

      William Leverne Smith 

      9 months ago from Hollister, MO

      Patriarchal attitudes have been with us always... so sad. Yes, fascinating to follow, through the years. Teacher's roles have always intrigued me. ;-)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      The part about teachers becoming pregnant and being terminated was fascinating.....so very interesting to study the prevalent thinking of the times.

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