Sunday, May 22, 2011

Henrietta E. Wright: Teacher and a "Grand Aunt"

Graduation time is upon us once again! In keeping with the season, here’s a graduation photo of Henrietta E. Wright (b. 8 Jun 1908 d. 6 Aug 1985). Henrietta was my maternal Grandmother Louise (Fisher) Slack’s half-sister, and my grand aunt. She went on to become an elementary school teacher and taught for various districts throughout Southwest Missouri for many years.

Henrietta was the fourth and final child born to Henry Elbert Wright (b. 8 Jan 1874 d. 1 Apr 1908) and Pearl Davis (b. 25 Sep 1879 d. 14 Dec 1944). Unfortunately, Henry passed away just prior to Henrietta’s birth. Pearl remarried two years later to Frank Grover Fisher (b. 22 Sep 1888 d. 26 Apr 1965), hence the reason my maternal grandmother Louise (Henrietta’s half-sister) was born with the surname “Fisher”. Pearl’s parents, Marion Davis (b. 31 Jan 1852 d. 12 Jul 1930) and Ellen Tuttle (b. 24 Apr 1862 d. 17 Sep 1935) were actually the ones who raised Henrietta. To my knowledge, Henrietta never did live with her mother Pearl and Frank Fisher. I have my theory why this happened, but I’ll explore that in more detail in a future post.

A burning question I have concerning the graduation photo above is the date it was taken. There’s nothing written on the back of this portrait, nor have I found any documentation associated with it. Furthermore, was it taken for her high school or college graduation? It’s difficult to tell, but she appears to be a little older than a high school student which leads me to believe it’s her college graduation. However, guessing a lady’s age has frequently been a dangerous undertaking for me in the past, so I offer my hypothesis cautiously!

If this does depict her graduation from the Southwest Missouri State Teachers College (now Missouri State and my alma mater) in Springfield, Missouri, then it would have been taken when she was around 22 years old, or approximately 1930. The next time I have the opportunity to visit Springfield, I need to visit the Missouri State library and examine yearbooks from the 1930’s to see if I can match this photo.

Henrietta went on to teach many students throughout Southwest Missouri for over 30 years that I can account for. I believe she retired at some point in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. She never married or had any children, and passed away in 1986 in Springfield, Missouri. I knew Henrietta to be a kind and generous person, with a self-deprecating sense of humor. She was always quick to send a kind letter or card when someone was sick or going through a rough spot.

I have included a school portrait (below) from her teaching years. On the back of the photo it reads: “For your back yard to keep the crows and pests away! 1961-1962”.

While visiting Springfield, Missouri last month, I was able to locate Henrietta’s obituary (below) at the Springfield Greene County Public Library, Library Center. The Library Center has a wonderful index of birth, deaths, marriage and other vital statistics from Springfield newspapers stretching back to the late ninetieth century. I was able to collect many obituaries, to include Henrietta’s (Halls Index of the Springfield Leader and Press for 1985, p. 619, article originally printed August 8, 1985).

One of my favorite stories about Henrietta involved her last car—a powder blue 1951 Buick Special. I was told she was the original owner, and didn’t drive if very often. By the middle of the 1970’s, as I discovered, she was quite literally the prototypical “little old lady” who only drove to church, her volunteer duties and to take care of errands a few days a week. When she could no longer drive, I was the one she gave the car to. It was my first vehicle, in fact. I don’t recall the mileage but it had somewhere around 50,000 miles on it, and the body was in good shape. Unfortunately, the engine and transmission needed significant repair work, but I was not mechanically inclined at that time or financially able to do deal with it. As a result, my first car stayed parked in the garage until it is was sold in the early 1980’s. I always thought it was a cool ride, but ironically—I never drove it! Regardless, I appreciated the gift from a truly "grand" Grand Aunt Henrietta. 

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