Tuesday, May 7, 2019

52 Ancestors - NURTURE: Violetta Davis Ryan

You’ve heard of “Throwback Thursday.” Consider this “Throwback Month.” While on vacation, it is impossible to do new research and post fresh stories, so for now, please enjoy a “throwback” from 2013.

Coming from a family of teachers, I’ve always disliked the old expression, “Those who can, Do.  Those that can’t, Teach.” However, I was happy when some smart person added, “And those who can’t teach, teach teachers.” OH YES! – you have to have sat through education courses and dealt with administrators to appreciate that part. 

I have written HERE and HERE about my great aunt Violetta Davis Ryan, mostly about her education at the Harrisonburg Normal School (now James Madison University – Go Dukes!).  So today, it’s about Violetta, the teacher.

Faculty photos
Likely following her graduation from college, she lived at home in Shenandoah, Virginia and taught at a nearby elementary school. However, in 1930 she began a long teaching career at Pleasant Hill School in Harrisonburg, Rockingham County. 

Originally the school was a typical one-room frame building used for community meetings, but in 1875 local citizens decided to convert it into a school. Fifteen years later they added a second room and then a third room in 1907. By 1916, the school population had grown such that a new building was necessary.

The original Pleasant Hill School
photo courtesy Rockingham County Public Schools
Land was purchased across the street for the construction of a fine brick building. The Pleasant Hill School operated from 1917 until 1963, and Violetta spent 28 years there.
Pleasant Hill School
photo courtesy of Rockingham County Public Schools
The school was used as a training facility for education majors at Madison College (formerly the Normal School and now James Madison University – Go Dukes!). As a result, Violetta not only nurtured the countless students who passed through her classroom, but also she supervised many student teachers. Because of that role, she was considered part of the faculty at the college. Her official title was Supervisor of Junior High. 
Violetta is second from the left with husband Dick Ryan
and two of her graduating student teachers
In 2004, I received a lovely email from one of Violetta’s former students:

Just wanted you to know that your Great Aunt Mrs. Ryan was the Principal and my 7th Grade Teacher at the old Pleasant Hill Elementary School in the years of 1943-44. I started there in the 2nd Grade and remember her well.

Further, she used to give me jobs cleaning her house back when I was young, since our family lived on the farm east of Harrisonburg, now the home of the new James Madison University! 

Just thought I would let you know!

(Name withheld for privacy)
Harrisonburg, VA

Sixty years later and he still had fond memories of his seventh grade teacher.  

And that is why those who can, TEACH – the hope of making a difference. 

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved


  1. Beautiful woman she was! What a career she had too! That is neat too to have gotten the letter from that former student. Yep, I agree. She did have to make a big impact on him for him to take the time to write the letter to you so many years later.


  2. Teachers make such a difference in children's lives...especially the good ones. Just thinking, around 20 students a year, maybe as much as 30 sometimes, and over a 28 year career, or longer...you can do the math.

  3. My 7th grade teacher was very, very special to me and we corresponded for many years before we lost touch. Thanks for putting a smile on my face as I think about her today.

  4. Your great aunt Violetta touched so many lives over the years. It's wonderful that you heard from one of her students with fond memories!

  5. I thought the faculty photos were just fab. Having them through time totally adds to the story.