High School Teacher Jessie Redmon Vauset: She Influenced the Harlem Renaissance

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationMany talented educators have earned renown in fields other than the teaching profession. Such is certainly the case with Jessie Redmon Fauset, a high school Latin and French teacher from New Jersey.

Jessie was born in Fredericksville, Camden County, New Jersey, on April 27, 1882. although she was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Redmon Fauset, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Annie Seamon Fauset. When she was just a child, her mother passed away and her father remarried. Jessie’s father was not wealthy, but he instilled in all his children the great importance of education.

As a youngster, Jessie attended the highly-respected Philadelphia High School for Girls, where she may have been the only African American student in her class. Once she graduated, she wanted to enroll at prestigious Bryn Mawr College. Unfortunately, the institution was reluctant to accept its first African American student, and instead offered to assist Jessie in acquiring a scholarship to Cornell University. Jessie excelled at Cornell, and so she was invited to join the distinguished academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her bachelors’s degree in classical languages in 1905, and later earned her master’s degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania.

Even though Jessie had earned a superior college education, her race prevented her from gaining a job as a teacher in Philadelphia. Instead, she accepted teaching positions first in Baltimore, Maryland, and then in Washington, DC, where she taught French and Latin at Dunbar High School.

In 1912, while still teaching, Jessie began to submit reviews, essays, poems, and short stories to The Crisis, a magazine for African American readers founded and edited by author and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois. Seven years later, DuBois persuaded the talented educator to become the publication’s literary editor. Jessie did this work during the Harlem Renaissance, a period of prolific artistic output within the black community. As the magazine’s editor, Jessie encouraged and influenced a number of up-and-coming writers, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, and Claude McKay. She also continued to write her own pieces for the magazine. In addition to her work at The Crisis, Jessie also served as co-editor for The Brownies’ Book, which was published monthly from 1920 to 1921. The goal of the publication was to teach African American children about their heritage, information the former educator had fervently wished for throughout her own childhood.

After reading an inaccurate depiction of African Americans in a book written by a white author, Jessie became inspired to write her own novel. Her first book, There Is Confusion (1924), portrayed black characters in a middle-class setting. It was an unusual choice for the time, which made it more difficult for Jessie to find a publisher. In 1926, Jessie left her position at The Crisis in 1926 and looked for work in the publishing field, even offering to work from home so that her race wouldn’t be a barrier. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find enough work to support herself.

To make ends meet, Jessie returned to teaching, accepting a position at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City. James Baldwin, the acclaimed African American novelist and playwright, may have been one of her students there. Jessie was employed in the New York school system until 1944. During her New York years, Jessie wrote three more novels: Plum Bun (1929), The Chinaberry Tree (1931), and Comedy: American Style (1933). Jessie’s primarily upper-class characters continued to deal with the themes of prejudice, limited opportunities, and cultural compromises. Because her last two novels were less successful than her previous works, Jessie’s extensive writing output decreased.

In 1929, Jessie fell in love and married businessman Herbert Harris. She was 47 years old at the time. The couple made their home in Montclair, New Jersey. They lived there until 1958, when Herbert passed away. After her husband’s death, Jessie returned to Philadelphia, where she died on April 30, 1961, a victim of heart disease. She was 79 years old.

Chicago’s Bob Boone: Innovative Teacher of Creative Writing

Boone-Coming-Up-Taller-Photo-300x274There are so many remarkable educators out there! One of the most amazing is Robert (Bob) Boone, a creative writing teacher and author who hails from Chicago, Illinois.

Bob grew up in Winnetka, Illinois. After his graduation from college, he attended Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, where he earned his doctorate degree in English Education 1975.

Bob launched his teaching career in 1964. He has taught in Staten Island, Germany, Highland Park, and Chicago. Throughout his long career, Bob has focused on developing the writing skills of students who frequently do not succeed in traditional educational settings. In 1977, the innovative educator established the Glencoe Study Center, where he still remains active. He has worked as a creative writing consultant at Hubbard High School in Chicago, the CYCLE Cabrini Green Social Service Agency, and as an ACT/SAT coordinator at Dunbar High School in Chicago.

In 1991, this talented educator founded Young Chicago Authors to provide opportunities for teen writers from Chicago. The program now serves over 5,000 young people each year. In 2009, this talented educator was honored at the White House by First Lady Michelle Obama, where he accepted an award from the Coming Up Taller Leadership Enhancement Conference. He is pictured here with the First Lady and Lacresia Birts, 18, a participant of the Young Chicago Authors program.

Bob has written several textbooks, a teaching memoir, a sports biography, and a book of short stories. In 2002, he was named Chicagoan of the Year by Chicago Magazine. Today, Bob lives in Glencoe, Illinois, with his wife of many years, Sue. They have three children and five grandchildren.

Bob Boone: a true chalkboard champion.

Educator Eulalia Bourne: She’s Part of the Colorful History of the West

EulaliaBourne2[1]American history is full of colorful individuals who made significant contributions to the settlement and development of the West. One such individual is teacher Eulalia Bourne. This remarkable educator, whose career spanned more than four decades, taught elementary school in rural areas, mining camps, and Indian reservations throughout Arizona during some of our country’s most challenging periods: World War I, the Depression, and World War II. This women’s libber was ahead of her time, becoming one of the very few women in her day to own and run her own cattle ranch.

Eulalia thought outside the box in many ways. Every year on the first day of school she would wear a new dress, usually blue to complement her eye color. Every day after that, she wore jeans, Western-style shirts, cowboy boots, and Stetson hats to class. She was once fired for dancing the one-step, a new jazz dance, at a birthday party some of her students attended, because the clerk of the board considered the dance indecent! She even learned to speak Spanish fluently and, when confronted with non-English-speaking students, taught her classes in Spanish, even though it was against the law to do so.

Eulalia is probably best known for producing a little classroom newspaper entitled Little Cowpunchers which featured student writings, drawings, and news stories about classroom events. Today, these little newspapers are recognized as important historical documents of Southern Arizona ranching communities from 1932 to 1943. Additionally, Eulalia published three critically-acclaimed books about her teaching and ranching experiences: Ranch Schoolteacher, Nine Months is a Year at Baboquivari School, and Woman in Levi’s. These volumes, although now out of print, can sometimes be purchased at used book stores and sometimes can be found at online sites featuring royalty-free works. The read is well-worth the search, particularly for those interested in Arizona history.

You can read about Eulalia’s intriguing life in a book entitled Skirting Traditions, published by  Arizona Press Women. You can also find a chapter about her in my first book, Chalkboard Champions.