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Mrs. W. L. C. Palmer Oral History Interview

   

Oral History Interview with
Mrs. W. L. C. Palmer

Latin and mathematics teacher of Harry S. Truman and Bess Wallace Truman in Ott High School, Independence, Missouri, September 1898-June 1900; organizer and first president of the Jackson Democratic Club (for women) in Independence; first woman elected to public office (city assessor) in Independence; and a leader in literary and cultural activites in the area.

Independence, Missouri
January 18, 1962
J. R. Fuchs


[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened March, 1963
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 



Oral History Interview with
Mrs. W. L. C. Palmer

Independence, Missouri
January 18, 1962
J. R. Fuchs

[1]

FUCHS: Well, Mrs. Palmer, would you state your maiden name for the record and then your husband's name?

MRS. PALMER: My name was Amanda Ardelia Hardin, before my marriage, (My husband's name, W. L. C. Palmer) and as this is to deal first of all with Harry Truman's school life in the high school in Independence, I will begin with a little of my background and how I happened to come to Independence as a teacher of Latin and mathematics.

I was raised on a farm about ten miles south of Independence. My father's Aunt Lizzie Beal McCurdy and her husband, John G. McCurdy, had come to Independence in 1848, interested in the Santa Fe trade (Uncle John was a blacksmith). Aunt Lizzie sent my father packages of food when he was in prison after Gettysburg, and it was through her influence that he came to Independence at the close of the War Between the States. My father, Hopkins Hardin, came out here from Virginia, and bought the old Joe Pritchett farm which joined the Ewin farm

[2]

on which Miss Myra Ewin, who was later to be Harry Truman's first grade teacher in Independence, was raised. Miss Myra's mother was a Pritchett and perhaps that's why she and her husband, Mr. Ewin, were living on a farm adjoining the one my father bought from Joe Pritchett of Glasgow, Missouri. She was a sister of the famous educators who established Pritchett Institute in Glasgow in the early days when it was a flourishing river town in the trade of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, which originated principally at the great port of New Orleans. One of the Pritchetts later became head of M. I. T.

That Institute possessed the first telescope west of the Mississippi River, and when the famous old Institute died out, the telescope was sent to Fayette, Missouri. It is now the prized possession of Central College (Methodist) in Fayette and is housed in an observatory there.

Well, the Ewins sent their daughter, Miss Myra, to Pritchett Institute to receive her college education. When she would come home for summer vacation we country children thought her the most beautiful and stylish-looking person in the neighborhood. One summer she announced that she would conduct a "summer school" for the children of the neighborhood, and to our dismay, our father,

[3]

Hopkins Hardin, decided we Hardin children must attend her summer school! She was a fine teacher--very methodical and exacting, and I've no doubt that she had a great influence on Harry Truman and her other pupils in the first grade when she came to Independence to teach.

Many years later she was a teacher of history in Independence High School and William Chrisman High School, now called William Chrisman, Division II. (Her picture is with the high school faculty of that famous Gleam of 1901.)

When it came time for me to be sent away to school, my father said, "Well, Sis" (he always called me Sis), "where do you want to go?"

And, I said, "to Missouri University."

He said, "No, they play cards and dance down there. You can't go there."

So, he knew J. B. Ellis, President of Morrisville College, a little Methodist college down in the Ozarks, not far from Springfield, Missouri. That's where I was sent, and we did have a very fine faculty there. It was a small college. One professor I remember in particular was Professor J. T. Outen, a graduate of Princeton University, who didn't want classes larger than four or five pupils. He was our teacher in Greek. To graduate from

[4]

Morrisville College, we had to have four years of Greek, four years of Latin and four years of mathematics, besides other subjects. So, of course, I took the Greek and Latin and mathematics and I had ambitions of becoming a teacher of Greek when I graduated in 1895 from Morrisville College. I had been there five years, from 1890 to 1895. When I graduated and came home, I found my father had secured a little country school for me which is now the Chapel School out on Blue Ridge Boulevard. I taught there from September 1895 to June 1896. Then I heard there was a teacher wanted in the Independence High School, of which W. L. C. Palmer was principal, and I applied for the position and was elected. I came here to teach in September 1896, and my cousin, Mrs. Lizzie Powell, who was Lizzie McCurdy, Mr. John McCurdy's daughter, had a boarding house on North Liberty Street where the Tindall home is now; she said, "Well, of course, you are going to board with me." And, I did, at the rate of $3.50 a week for board and meals. I had only two blocks to walk to the high school. It was in the old Ott School, that was on North Liberty Street, right opposite the new Catholic Grade School. The old Convent has been torn down and a new one built on the west side of North Liberty Street.

[5]

A recent article in the Independence Examiner says the now vacant lot on which stood the old Ott School is to be used again by the Independence School Board for two buildings--one an administration building and the other to house school supplies--at a cost of $265,000. Do you want anything of the history of that Ott School?

FUCHS: Maybe you could tell us a little bit about when the school was first there.

PALMER: The first school that was there?

FUCHS: Yes, and about the physical set up there at the school.

MRS. PALMER: [At this point in the interview, Mrs. Palmer read the portion here quoted from a publication entitled Course of Study and Rules and Regulations of the Independence Public Schools, Independence, Missouri, 1909-1910, written and submitted to the Independence School Board by the Superintendent of City Schools, W. L. C. Palmer.] "This lot and the building on it was purchased March 29, 1867, from Professor W. H. Lewis, by the school board--Independence School Board--for $11,000. This

[6]

building was generally known as the ‘Seminary, ‘ and had been the home of a private school conducted by Professor Lewis. It occupied the site where the Ott School is now located at the southwest corner of North Liberty and West College Street. After its purchase by the school board it furnished school accommodations for the white children of Independence for several years. Here, many of our prominent citizens, either in whole of in part received their education. The year 1885 marks an important date in the history of Independence schools. The old Seminary building having become entirely inadequate to the needs of the city's growing population, as well as being considered unsafe, the district voted $15,000 in bonds for the erection of a new building on the Seminary site, and for the purchase of a site and the erection thereon of a new building, also on the south side of the city. The old Seminary building was torn down and replaced by the ten-room brick building on North Liberty Street to be known henceforth as the Ott School, named in honor of the late Christian Ott, Sr.--at that time a member of the school board." It is to that building that I came to teach in September 1896. The building was not only used for the high school--about four rooms for the high school--but also the rest of it was used

[7]

for a grade school. I had the Latin and the mathematics classes. The library part is very important--we had a small library. Everyone knows that Harry Truman got a great deal of his education from libraries, maybe more than he did from his teachers. At that time the school board had purchased books from the old Independence Library Association, maybe 4,000 volumes. Is that too many?

FUCHS: That's all right. You don't have to.

MRS. PALMER: Well, I wanted to be accurate. Yes, 4,000 [Mrs. Palmer checked this figure in the School Board publication noted above] volumes had been purchased from the Independence Library Association and were housed in a part of the Ott School that was used as a library. Miss Sally Brown was appointed librarian and as she was teaching at the time, she could only be in the library hours after school. But, you would find pupils in there drawing out those books although there was not much room there for reading.

Well, I had some very fine pupils in my classes when I first went to Ott School, in 1895. I remember two particularly--Harry Truman's cousins, Miss Nellie Noland and Miss Ethel Noland.

[8]

They graduated just ahead of Harry's class, which was the 1901 class. I found in September 1898, that Harry Truman and Bess Wallace and Charlie Ross, who afterward became nationally famous too, were pupils in my classes. They were in my classes in the old Ott School from September 1898 to June 1899, and from September 1899 to June 1900. In June 1900, I married the Superintendent of Schools and was not allowed to teach any longer, as married women did not teach in Independence then. I have always regretted that I wasn't teaching from September 1900 to June 1901, because that was the year that these famous pupils graduated from the high school.

I made it a point, however, to be present on graduation night at the new Independence High School, which had been built in 1898 on the ground where Palmer Junior High School now is, but which burned in 1939. The school board had found the rooms inadequate at the old Ott School and built this beautiful new building, which was finished just in time for the class of 1898 to graduate--the first class that graduated there.

Then in 1901, I will always remember the historic setting of that beautiful auditorium in which this famous class graduated. The curtain was the first thing that

[9]

you saw when you came in, and it had been designed and painted by two of the art students. Mr. Palmer had seen that art had been put into the high school, in 1897, and a very fine art teacher, Miss Amanda Whaley, was the teacher. Edward Sherman was considered very artistic but wasn't taking any lessons; my husband insisted that he take lessons from Miss Amanda Whaley. He won her approval and became valedictorian of her art class. But when it came time to design a curtain for the stage (a drop curtain) of the new high school, Ed Sherman, having won first prize in art, drew for it the "Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers," United States flags. That is the historic curtain that rolled up that night in 1901 for this famous class that was graduating with a future President and First Lady of the United States and his press secretary!

But I'll never forget that night! Charlie Ross had won the scholarship honors. Harry was always a very satisfactory pupil, always had his lessons. The teachers loved him. I notice in his Memoirs he said he never had a bad teacher, "they were the salt of the earth." We're very proud of his saying that and of the privilege that we had of teaching him.

FUCHS: Do you recall that at the time all the teachers thought he was a very good boy?

[10]

MRS. PALMER: He was a satisfactory pupil all around, but Charlie Ross won the scholarship honors and was Miss Matilda Brown's prize English pupil. That night she rushed up on the stage after the program and grabbed Charlie, kissed him and congratulated him. Harry was standing by and said, "Well, don't I get one, too?"

Miss Brown said, "Not until you have done something worthwhile."

Years later, when Harry became President of the United States, he selected Charles Ross as his press secretary and the first night they were together, Charlie said, "Wouldn't Miss Tillie be glad to know we are together again."

Harry just picked up the telephone and put in a call for Independence and Miss Brown and said, "Hello, Miss Brown, this is the President of the United States, do I get that kiss?"

She said, "Yes, come and get it."

FUCHS: That's a very interesting story.

MRS. PALMER: Years went on and I lost track of Harry right after...

[11]

FUCHS: I wonder if we could