Chalkboard Champion William A. Hadley: The Blind Teaching the Blind

hadley1Many talented and dedicated educators have devoted their careers to working with handicapped students. Such is the case with William Allen Hadley, a hardworking educator who established a correspondence school for blind adults.

William Hadley was born in Moorsville, Indiana, in 1860. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Earlham College in 1881, and his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota.

After his college graduation, William taught school in Minnesota, and also served as the Superintendent of Schools in the small town of Wilmar, Minnesota. During the next year, the veteran teacher traveled to Germany to study at the University of Berlin. When he returned to the United States, he accepted a position at Marietta College in Ohio. Later he taught in public schools in Peoria, Illinois, and at a Chicago’s Lakeview High School for another fifteen years.

William was a family man. He married Jessie Henderson, a schoolteacher from Fox Lake, Illinois, and the couple had two daughters, Margaret and Emily. William’s favorite hobby was reading books in English, German, Latin, and Greek. He was described as a devout Quaker, a strong, quiet man with a capacity for courage, able to stand up to problems and adversities and enjoying intellectual adventures, and possessing a deep concern for human beings.

In 1915, at the age of 55, William was afflicted with a bad bout of influenza, and then he suffered a detached retina which resulted in his blindness. In order to pursue his academic life, William taught himself Braille. The hardworking educator soon discovered that there were few educational opportunities for blind adults, and he felt compelled to assist others to acquire communication skills. In 1920, the intrepid teacher established The Hadley School for the Blind, a correspondence school where blind students could be educated. His first student was a farmer’s wife from Kansas who, like William, had suddenly lost her vision and sought to regain her ability to read and write. Teaching most of the early courses himself, William began by converting each individual volume of textbooks to Braille by hand and personally answering lessons with letters of correction and encouragement. Within a year he was teaching about ninety students in the United States, Canada, and China. Among the courses offered were reading and writing in Braille, English grammar, business correspondence, and the Bible as literature. These courses were offered free of charge. William served as the Hadley School’s president for more than fifteen years and remained active on the Board of Trustees until his death.

William received an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1931 and a Doctor of Humanities in 1933 from Beloit College. The Bosma Industries for the Blind honored him as the 2004 recipient of the Hasbrook Award, given to a true pioneer in the blindness field.

In 1941, at the age of 101, this chalkboard champion passed away. He is buried in Moorsville, Indiana.

Marcia Brown: Teacher, Renowned Children’s Book Author, and Illustrator

Marcia_J._BrownMany talented educators earn recognition for achievements outside their classrooms. Marcia Joan Brown is a spectacular example of this. She is an internationally renowned author and illustrator of children’s books. Marcia has published over thirty books in her lifetime, and she is a three-time winner   of the coveted Caldecott Medal, the highest award for excellence in children’s picture book illustrations bestowed by the American Library Association.

Marcia Brown was born in Rochester, New York, on July 13, 1918, one of three daughters of the Reverend Clarence Edward and Adelaide Elizabeth (Zimber) Brown. As a young child, Marcia lived in several small towns in upstate New York, including Cooperstown and Kingston, as her father moved from one ministerial post to another. She was raised in a family that supported artistic expression, and she decided at an early age to become an artist. In a videotaped interview in 1996, Marcia reminisced about the books and artworks in her local public library in Cooperstown, New York, that as a child nurtured her sense of wonder and joy in beautiful things.

After her high school graduation in 1936, Marcia enrolled in New York State College for Teachers (NYSCT), the University at Albany’s predecessor, where she majored in English and Drama. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1940. While in college her literary and artistic talents blossomed, as she made numerous contributions to the college’s literary and humor magazines.

After graduating from NYSCT, Marcia accepted her first position as a high school teacher at Cornwall High School in New York City. In 1943, she began working in the New York Public Library’s Central Children’s Room. She spent the next six years gaining valuable experience as a storyteller ,while also delving into the library’s extensive international and historical collections. She published her first four books while working in the library’s Central Children’s Room.

During her long career as a writer and illustrator, Marcia produced over thirty children’s books, and many of her titles have been reprinted in other languages, including Afrikaans, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Xhosa-Bantu. Critics have marveled at her use of spare texts, strong images, and a variety of media, including woodcuts, pen and ink, and gouache. Her characters are described as lively, humorous, magical, and enchanting, and they include handsome princes, sly cats, evil sorcerers, flying elephants, and snow queens.

From 1955 to 1983 Brown won a total of three Caldecott Medals, the award bestowed annually to the illustrator of the year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children” by the American Library Association. She had been a runner-up six times from 1948 to 1954, and those six books have been designated Caldecott Honor Books.

Today, Marcia Brown lives in California and continues to produce works of writing and illustration.

Chalkboard Heroes: The Launching Party!

DSCN3385Family and friends of author Terry Lee Marzell gathered on Sunday, March 8, at the launching party of her new book, Chalkboard Heroes. The event served as another opportunity to celebrate the significant achievements of America’s teachers, not only the twelve remarkable educators described in the book, but all the talented, dedicated, and hardworking teachers that can be found in all corners of our country.

The festive occasion featured this delicious designer cake accented with a reproduction of the book cover in fondant-covered Rice-Krispies treats perched atop a chalkboard-themed cake. This divine confection was created by Darla’s Cake Designs in Chino Hills.

The author’s next event is a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Chino Hills scheduled for Sunday, April 19, at 1:00 p.m. The address is 3625 Grand Avenue. The event is timed to coincide with Teacher Appreciation Week. So come on over, meet the author, and show your support for your favorite teacher. See you there!

Chalkboard Hero Willa Brown Chappell: She Taught Tuskegee Airmen How to Fly

Many exceptional teachers use their instructional expertise to work with students outside of the classroom. Willa Brown Chappell, the first African American woman licensed to fly in the United States, is an excellent example of this.

Willa was born January 22, 1906, in Glasgow, Kentucky. She earned her degree in education from Indiana State Teachers College in 1927. She also completed the requirements for an MBA from Northwestern University in 1937. Following her college graduation, Willa was employed as a high school teacher at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana, and later as a social worker in Chicago.

Lt__Willa_Beatrice_Brown[1]Willa was always seeking challenges and adventures in her life, especially if they could be found outside the limited career fields normally open to African Americans at that time. She decided to learn to fly, studying with Cornelius R. Coffey, a certified flight instructor and expert aviation mechanic at a racially segregated airport in Chicago. Willa earned her private pilot’s license in 1938. Later, Willa and Cornelius married and founded the Coffey School of Aeronautics at Harlem Airport in Chicago, where together they trained black pilots and aviation mechanics. Willa conducted the classroom instruction and Cornelius conducted the in-flight practice.

In 1939, Willa, Cornelius, and their friend Enoch P. Waters founded the National Airmen’s Association of America. Their goal was to secure admission for black aviation cadets into the US military. As the organization’s national secretary and the president of the Chicago branch, Willa became an activist for racial equality. She persistently lobbied the US Government for integration of black pilots into the segregated Army Air Corps and the federal Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), a system established by the Civil Aeronautics Authority just before the outbreak of World War II. The CPTP’s purpose was to provide a pool of civilian pilots for use during national emergencies. Willa was given the rank of an officer in this first integrated unit. In 1948, when Congress finally voted to allow separate-but-equal participation of blacks in civilian flight training programs, the Coffey School of Aeronautics was one of a select few private aviation schools selected for participation. Later, her flight school was selected by the US Army to provide black trainees for the Air Corps pilot training program at the Tuskegee Institute. Willa was instrumental in training more than 200 students who went on to become Tuskegee pilots. Eventually, Willa Brown became the coordinator of war-training service for the Civil Aeronautics Authority and a member of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Women’s Advisory Board. She was the first black female officer in the Civil Air Patrol and the first black woman to hold a commercial pilot’s license in the United States.

This remarkable educator and pioneer aviatrix passed away on July 18, 1992. In 2010, Willa was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award by the Indiana State University Alumni Association. She was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in her native Kentucky in 2003.

To find out more about this remarkable chalkboard champion, you can read a chapter about her in my next book, Chalkboard Heroes, which has just been published and is available on and the website for Barnes and Noble.

Pioneer Educator Olive Mann Isbell

P_32405Pioneer and educator Olive Mann Isbell is a little known figure from California history, but she contributed to our state in a very big way. She is credited as being the first teacher in a school conducted in English in California.

In 1846, when Olive was only 22 years old, she and her husband, Dr. Isaac Isbell, traveled west in a Conastoga wagon as part of the Aram-Imus wagon train. The California territory had recently been severed from Mexico, and the Isbells arrived just as the Mexican army was poised to attack in an attempt to reclaim the land. To attempt to keep them safe, Olive and over two hundred American women and children were barricaded inside Mission Santa Clara de Asis, while the men were quickly drafted to defend the dilapidated fort. Inside the shelter, Olive, sensing the anxiety of the children, decided to organize a school to occupy their attention. The newly-arrived pioneer was well-suited to this work, being the niece of the famous educator Horace Mann and an experienced teacher from her home state of Ohio. With little more than a stick and sooty chalk, Olive conducted her lessons by day, and at night she nursed her fellow pioneers to health and melted down whatever metals she could find to make bullets.

When  Mexico finally laid down their arms and signed a truce with the United States on January 3, 1847, Olive’s Santa Clara Mission School became recognized as the first American school on California soil. This mission school property now belongs to the University of Santa Clara.

You can read more about this amazing educator in my new book, Chalkboard Heroes, now available from