Saturday, April 4, 2020

Sepia Saturday: Violetta Makes the News

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

When I saw this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt, I could not help thinking of this studio portrait of my grandaunt Violetta Davis Ryan taken probably in 1920 when she was just 16 years old.

Violetta Davis about 1920

I’ve written so many times about Violetta that I thought for sure there was nothing left to tell. I turned to NewspaperArchive hoping to find something new and interesting. Her name popped up often, usually when she was reappointed as principal at Pleasant Hill Elementary School or when she was attending a conference for educators. Meh ~

But I did find a couple keepers:

When Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was licensed in 1955, there was a campaign to inoculate all school children. In Rockingham County where Violetta was a principal, the schools and other facilities were set up as polio vaccine clinics. Violetta was named as chairman for one of the clinics.
from Harrisonburg Daily News Record
22 Apr 1955

Originally I dated this photo “1960 or 1961” based on a wild-guess at my sister’s age. 

This little item in the Shenandoah Social News column provided a correct date.
Glenn, Me, Violetta, Mary Jollette, Bobbie
Easter 1962
from Harrisonburg Daily News Record 27 Apr 1962
Come to think of it, I do remember that dress as my Easter frock that year. It looks white, but it was a print of pastel watercolor swirls and splotches. That doesn’t sound nearly as pretty as it actually was.

from Harrisonburg Daily News Record
8 Nov 1960
That’s right!  Violetta sold encyclopedias. My parents bought the 1960 World Book plus the annuals – obviously from Violetta. We also had the accompanying Childcraft books (in their "handsome Heritage binding") which were written in simpler text to serve like encyclopedias for younger children. I used World Book to death but rarely bothered with the Childcraft.

Until I saw this ad, I had forgotten Violetta sold encyclopedias. Years ago, they were sold door to door. It is not likely she did that though. She probably sat right at her desk and used her position as teacher and principal to influence parents and other teachers for which she earned a nice little 15% commission.

While you’re at your desk or on your phone, please visit my friends at Sepia Saturday.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved. 


  1. Violetta had an interesting career with a variety of interests. That must have felt good to be part of the vaccine giving as I know polio was feared during that time frame. Kinda of like our current virus.


  2. Great to hear more about Violetta...and I like the pattern you described on your Easter dress. We bought (well, my parents) some Collier's encyclopedias, including some great books. I did write several themes with those as resources.

  3. A lovely picture and an interesting life.

  4. I remember getting our polio vaccine at school.
    My parents bought a set of Encyclopedia that came with a set of story books starting with nursery rhymes in the first one up to takes of Ivanhoe. We used both a lot... no google haha!

    Blogging A to Z

  5. Oh my - encyclopedias! I remember when owning a set was a big thing. When I was in school we didn't have a set so I was always going to the library to look up information for various school projects and assignments. Does anyone remember the episode of "Friends" when a salesman wanted to sell a set of encyclopedias to 'Joey', but he could only afford one book, so bought the book of "V" and then tried to turn all conversations with his friends to subjects beginning with "V" so he'd seem more knowledgeable? :)

  6. The younger generations don't know much about encyclopedias and how wonderful they were. Likewise they don't know about the dangers of polio and how scary it was. Let's hope another Dr. Salk will discover the vaccine for this new scourge and earn fame with an instant Wikipedia page.

  7. I love the details on Ancestors that you can discover from browsing the newspapers online - a great resource. I too remember in the 1950’s the importance attached to Encyclopedias and my mother was keen to get a set for me - but it was not to be. Here the Encyclopedia Britannica wax the desired one to have.

  8. We had the World Book encyclopedias as kids. I seem to remember they were still in the house when the Estate Liquidator came in. When my kids were little, we bought encyclopedias at the grocery store - I think they were Britannica. As I recall, they put out a new one each week so by the end of so many weeks, you had an entire set. I have no idea what happened to those.