Thursday, June 9, 2016

Portrait of a Teacher by Ruth Leedy Gordon

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Jim Patrick

What I Read: Portrait of a Teacher: Mary Elizabeth Post 1841-1934 by Ruth Leedy Gordon

Find It @YCLD: Here!

Note: On June 17 at 11:00 a.m., the Main Library will host a celebration of Mary Elizabeth Post’s 175th birthday.  Local historian Carol Brooks will be the presenter.

What It's About:  Mary Elizabeth Post was a significant pioneer in Yuma’s history due to her forty-plus year teaching career and her lifelong community involvement in civic and church affairs.  When she died at the age of 93, she was still a member of the library board of trustees!

Author Ruth Gordon was a registered nurse who moved to Yuma in 1921.  She befriended Mary Elizabeth Post during the retired teacher’s final years.  Over the course of these 13 years, Gordon compiled notes from her countless conversations with Miss Post in preparation for writing a biography.  In 1938 the author presented her completed manuscript to the University of Arizona library.  However, the book was not published until 1990 when Ruth Gordon’s daughter Janet edited and published the version which is now held by the Yuma County Library District.

Portrait of a Teacher tracks Mary Elizabeth Post’s westward relocation from Vermont—first to Iowa for a few years, and then on to Arizona.  The account of Miss Post’s grueling trip by stage from San Diego to Ehrenberg is particularly colorful, as are the stories of the young Eastern teacher’s adjustments to her overwhelming culture shock.  For example, unlike most Yuma women at that time, Miss Post was a follower of the latest fashions and was particularly fond of fine hats.  She was a talented seamstress, and she eventually taught many local women to sew from patterns.

The book is not only a biography of Mary Elizabeth Post, but also an informal history of Yuma’s early growth—as remembered by an elderly, longtime resident.  Some of the topics addressed include the coming of the railroad, the building of roads and bridges, floods, newspaper rivalries, lively election campaigns, and, of course, the growth of Yuma’s schools.  Ruth Gordon recounts such events within the context of Mary Elizabeth Post’s life.  The author’s affection and admiration for her subject come through clearly, even when she pokes gentle fun at Miss Post’s “precise and sometimes obstinate manner.”

What I Thought:  Although Ruth Gordon was not a polished, professional author, she produced a biography of her friend Mary Elizabeth Post that is pleasantly readable and full of charming anecdotes about Miss Post and early Yuma.  Some of Gordon’s depictions of ethnic groups are not politically correct by today’s standards, but with that caveat, I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about Yuma’s early history.

Readalikes:  Early Yuma by Rosalie Crowe; Vanished Arizona by Martha Summerhayes

Or look this book up on NoveList!