Susan Mills: The science teacher who founded the first women’s college in California

American history offers many examples of extraordinary educators. This blog spotlights just a few of them. Today’s focus is on Susan Tolman Mills, a secondary school teacher who established the first women’s college in California.

Susan Tolman was born in Enosburg, Vermont, on November 18, 1825. One of eight children, she was the daughter of homesteaders who operated a thriving business. Her father owned a tannery and her mother was a homemaker. Susan’s mother was especially insistent that her six daughters become educated, and after the family relocated to Ware, Massachusettes, all the daughters attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Following her graduation, Susan taught classes in science and theology there for three years.

In 1848, the young educator married Cyrus Taggart Mills, a Presbyterian missionary. The adventurous newlyweds traveled to Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. Cyrus became the principal of a seminary for boys, while Susan taught domestic skills to girls in the local schools.

In 1860, the couple moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where they took charge of the Punahou School. There Susan taught geography, geology, chemistry, and botany. She introduced physical education to the female students. She also dedicated her energy to improving the food choices and other amenities provided by the school.

In 1864, Susan and Cyrus relocated to California, with ambitions of establishing a school of their own. Their goal was to provide equal education and opportunities for women. The year after their arrival in the state they purchased a girls’ seminary in Benicia, just east of Vallejo in Solano County. They named their institution Mills Seminary. The couple spent several years improving their school by expanding the number of course offerings and recruiting qualified teachers. In 1871, they sold this property and moved their school to Oakland, on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. This new facility, with four-story buildings, dining halls, and a high central observatory named Mills Hall, was long considered the most beautiful education building in California. Eventually the girls’ school established by the Mills was transformed into Mills College, the first women’s college in the state. The college still serves young women as a liberal arts college to this day. After Susan’s beloved husband passed away, Susan continued to serve as the principal of Mills College, expertly performing her administrative duties.

In 1901, Susan was awarded an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Mount Holyoke, recognizing her extraordinary contributions to education. At the time, the trustees of Punahou commented that Susan, “met and overcame obstacles with equanimity; she accomplished great work with poor facilities; she drew her inspiration from the dull routine of a busy life.”

Susan Mills retired in 1909 at the age of 84. She passed away three years later, on December 12, 1912, in her home, the Vermont cape house she and her husband had built on the Mills campus. This talented and industrious educator was interred at Sunnyside Cemetery, located on the college grounds.

Dr. Kim Lawe: From Her Escape from Communist Viet Nam to Her Work in the Classroom

Here is the inspirational story of a very amazing educator, Dr. Kim Lawe. I worked with her at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Eastvale, CA, before I retired last June. In this brief video she shares a little about her family’s escape by boat from Communist Viet Nam following the fall of Saigon, and her work as an educator.

Teacher, librarian, and author of Chalkboard Champions Terry Lee Marzell retires

 

After a 36-year career as an English teacher and District Librarian in the Corona Norco Unified School District, Chalkboard Champions author Terry Lee Marzell retires! After being honored at the monthly meeting of her school’s Leadership Team, she bids a tearful farewell to her colleagues at Eleanor Roosevelt High School.

 

Chalkboard Champion Tevester Anderson: High school biology teacher and basketball coach

Often talented high school coaches become accomplished college-level coaches. This is certainly the case with Tevester Anderson, who spent two decades as a high school biology teacher and basketball coach and 16 years as an assistant coach at the college level before landing his first position as a Division 1 Head Coach at the age of 61.

Tevester was born February 25, 1937, in Canton, Mississippi. In 1962, he earned his bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine from Arkansas AM & N University, now known as Arkansas at Pine Bluff. In 1971, he completed the requirements for his master’s degree in biological science from North Carolina AT&T State University.

Tevester decided against a career in medicine and instead accepted a position teaching biology and coaching basketball at Canton High School, where he worked from 1962 to 1971. From 1971 to 1980 he taught at Fulton High School. As a high school coach, he was a pioneer in helping integrate high 
school sports. “I learned you can save just as many lives as a 
coach and a teacher as you can as a doctor,” he once said.

Later, Tevester worked as an Assistant Coach at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, as an Associate Coach at the University of Georgia, in Atlanta, Georgia, and, finally, as a Head Coach at both Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, and Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. During his time as Head Coach at Murray State, Tevester led his team to an overall record of 103-52 with two Ohio Valley Conference titles and two appearances in the NCAA Tournament. During his ten-year tenure at Jackson, Tevester led the Tigers to an overall record of 149-170.

This chalkboard champion retired in June, 2013. “We sincerely thank Coach Anderson for his contributions to Jackson State University,” commented Vivian Fuller, acting Athletic Director for JSU. “He is truly a professional in collegiate athletics.”

Michelle Obama recognizes Michigan’s Terri Tchorzynski as School Counselor of the Year

In previous posts I have expressed my strong belief that, like classroom teachers, school counselors are chalkboard champions, too. So it truly excites me to discover that our nation’s First Lady, Michelle Obama, also values the hard work and commitment these dedicated professionals provide to our young people. In a White House ceremony held Friday, January 6, Mrs. Obama honored fifty of our nation’s most talented school counselors, and recognized one of them, Terri Tchorzynski from Battle Creek, Michigan, as the School Counselor of the Year.

Terri works at the Calhoun Area Career Center in Battle Creek, Michigan. A graduate of Central Michigan University and Spring Arbor University, this dedicated educator has been a high school counselor for seven years. Previous to her service in this capacity, Terri served as an English teacher and girls’ varsity basketball coach. One of Terri’s most impressive achievements as a counselor was the creation of school-wide college-readiness program.

The ceremony to recognize the work of school counselors is part of Mrs. Obama’s Reach Higher initiative. The fifty finalists who attended the White House event were selected by the American School Counselor Association. The criteria used to select the honorees include creative school counseling innovations, effective school counseling programs, leadership skills, and contributions to student achievement.

Well done, Terri, and congratulations to the 49 other honorees! As Mrs. Obama said, “You are Heroes!”