This week’s Sepia Saturday challenge features a man with a book, a “man of letters,” perhaps. My grand aunt Violetta Lorane Davis Ryan certainly qualifies as a “woman of letters.”
In 1923 Violetta earned her teaching certificate from The State Normal School in Harrisonburg, Virginia, later known as Harrisonburg State Teachers College, then Madison College and today James Madison University – Go Dukes!
This next picture of Violetta with a small stack of books under her arm (my Sepia Saturday connection!) was taken outside her parents’ home in Shenandoah, Virginia, in 1924, so she was most likely THE TEACHER, not the student.
|from Violetta's sister Velma's album|
411 Sixth St, Shenandoah, VA
The brief biographical sketch under her graduation picture in the 1923 yearbook says she was a member of the French Circle, Athletic Association, High School Club, and YWCA. The yearbook staff summed her up this way:
Success, seasoned with humor and good nature – that’s Violetta. “If a task is once begun, Contentment’s never reached until it’s done.” She is never satisfied until her good is better and her better best.
All very complimentary, don’t you agree? Violetta’s classmates seemed to regard her as rather “bookish” but not in a good way. The yearbook supports the view many people held that women went to college in order to find a husband. Two pages of the 1923 yearbook were devoted to listing the 31 recent and upcoming happy nuptials.
The emphasis on marriage coupled with the fact that Violetta didn’t make the list must have stuck with those fine women who composed The Class Prophecy. It was intended as a light-humored prediction of the futures of the graduates, but girl bullies were sharpening their claws to hurt their own even in Violetta’s day. Her natural intelligence, her “bookishness,” making “her good better and her better best” earned her this little mention in the Class Prophecy:
C. Kibler and Annie Councill shy
Both married ministers.
Sue Turpin and V. Davis lead
Sad lives as spin(i)sters.
Where did Violetta’s bookishness take her? She returned to school and earned her BS in High School Teaching and Administration in 1930. In 1934 she graduated from Columbia University with a Master of Arts degree, very unusual in her day. She taught school and served as principal in several schools in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Violetta was also on the staff at Madison College supervising student teachers.
Violetta built a beautiful apartment building on South Mason Street. (My husband and I lived in the cutest basement apartment when we first married.)
|Violetta checking on the construction of her apartment building|
She also married. Dick Ryan worshipped her as she deserved.
Aunt Violetta was the first liberated woman I ever knew, being liberated long before women were burning their bras in the 1960s. She encouraged women in our family to be educated. She preached the importance of independence. That’s what books did for Violetta.
Take THAT, you B*tches.