Remembering an early educator

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Edith Kirkwood Ormsby Clark was born in Washington, D.C., Sept. 7, 1881, the eldest of the three children of General George W. Clark and Sarah E. Robinson. Her father was a brevet brigadier general in the Union Army during the Civil War. Following his military service, he settled in Washington, D.C., where he worked as a U.S. General Land Office examiner.

When Edith was 14, her mother died, followed by her father in 1898, when she was 17. The three children moved to Iowa to live with their father’s brother, James S. Clark. Edith’s secondary education was at Grinnell College in Iowa with some coursework in library science at the University of Wisconsin.

In 1906, Edith came to Wyoming to visit another uncle, I.R.A. Condit, and secured a position as the teacher at the EK Mountain School near Mayoworth in Johnson County. In January 1907, she was teaching sixth grade in Buffalo where her class was made up of 11 girls and 21 boys. The following year she moved to Story to teach there. That fall, much to her surprise, she was nominated for Sheridan County superintendent of schools. She was elected and relocated to Sheridan to begin her new job in January 1909 at the age of 27.

She served three consecutive two-year terms. During this time, she organized the first Sheridan County Association of School District Trustees. Some of her county superintendent reports are in Charlie Popovich’s book, “Sheridan County Schools A History: With Emphasis on the Rural Schools of Sheridan County.” In the 1909-1910 report, she related that there were 94 teachers in 84 schools with 2,746 pupils in Sheridan County.

In 1914, when aged 33, she was persuaded to run for the Wyoming state superintendent of schools on the Republican ticket. She won that election the same year that John B. Kendrick from Sheridan was elected governor of Wyoming on the Democratic ticket.

Edith K.O. Clark was Wyoming’s seventh state superintendent and the third woman to serve. She served one four-year term and was the youngest and only one of four or five women state superintendents in the country at the time. Edith was dubbed “baby supt.” at convention of state superintendents. She was a member of the school code commission created by the 13th Wyoming State Legislature, which revised the school laws. The commission submitted to the following Legislature in 1917 a plan to create a State Department of Education under a State Board of Education whose provisional qualifications were fixed by statute. This legislation was enacted in February 1917.

Both of Edith’s siblings died in 1918 and were buried in Cheyenne. Her brother, Clifford, passed away from the Spanish flu while serving in the military. Her sister, Eleanor, succumbed to complications of childbirth.

Not a candidate for re-election in 1918, Edith instead applied for and was approved for YMCA canteen service for troop welfare and amusements in France during World War I. She was pleased to be assigned to a combat unit that had seen heavy service at the front, so she had an opportunity to appreciate what the men had experienced.

Returning from overseas in 1919, Edith took on the position of YMCA director for the state of Mississippi until 1922 when she returned to Cheyenne. Back in Cheyenne, she purchased a large home to serve as housing for young female teachers and capitol workers. She later operated a tea house and gift shop, which she ran until August 1932.

Sometime in the 1920s, Edith completed her brother’s homestead entry in Johnson County where she constructed her own homestead cabin. Although primitive with no road access, she enjoyed entertaining guests there.

Her last employment began in 1934 as a caseworker for the Wyoming Emergency Relief Association part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal Federal Relief Administration. Although cancer had returned after surgery for it, in 1936 Edith passed away from a heart attack in the Cheyenne hospital at the age of 54. She was buried there in the Lakeview Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Kudos to the Johnson County Historical Society for spearheading a successful fund drive to raise $1,700 to purchase a headstone for Edith similar to her siblings’ markers. They will make the final payment this month and hope to have the gravestone in yet this year before the ground is too frozen.

Edith was a diarist for most of her adult years, and documented many aspects of her day-to-day life, national events, weather and holidays in her daily diary. Edith K.O. Clark’s diaries dating from 1906-1924, 1931 and 1934-1936 contain drawings, clippings, invitations, place cards, dried flowers and photographs of people, churches, ranches, horses, hunting and camping trips plus sketches by friend Bill Gollings of Sheridan. They are part of the holdings of the American Heritage Center in Laramie. Her collection also includes a notebook, autograph album and some biographical material.

Additional detailed information about Edith Kirkwood Ormsby Clark may be found in the Spring 2018 “Annals of Wyoming: The Wyoming History Journal” in an excellent illustrated article by Ginny Kilander.

 

Judy Musgrave is a member of the Sheridan County Retired Education Personnel who generously contributed to the fund drive for Edith’s headstone, the Wyoming Historical Foundation Board, the Wyoming State Historical Society, Sheridan County Historical Society and the Arizona State Historical Society.

 

 

By |Nov. 9, 2018|

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