One of the most celebrated pioneer teachers in Nevada history was Eliza Mott, a remarkable educator who is credited with founding the first school in Carson Valley, Nevada. In 1852, this enterprising pioneer wife and mother set up her school in her farmhouse kitchen. Her students sat on bare logs around a crude, wooden table. Armed with a couple of McGuffey Readers, a speller, and an arithmetic book, Eliza welcomed into her school boys and girls dressed in plaid shirts or gingham dresses and home-knit stockings. Some were barefoot and some were wearing rough shoes with hard leather soles. The students in Eliza’ s class ranged in age from five to eleven years in age. Some of the pupils were her own children, and some were her nieces and nephews.
Eliza was born on January 13, 1829, in Toronto, Canada. Her family immigrated to Lee County, Iowa, in 1842, and it was there that the young Eliza developed her skills as a teacher. She excelled at academic subjects and vowed to make great strides in the field of education. At the age of 22, she met and fell in love with Israel Mott, and on April 10, 1850, the pair were married.
As soon as they were married, Israel and Eliza decided to go West . The fledgling pioneers set out in a Conestoga wagon pulled by two sturdy oxen. In early 1851 they landed in Salt Lake City, where they joined a Mormon wagon train and headed for California, one of a party of thirty families led by the famous frontiersman Kit Carson. When the caravan stopped to rest at Mormon Station in northern Nevada in July, 1851, Israel decided he liked the area so much he wanted to stay there. The couple homesteaded a 2,100-acre section of land along the Carson River route, and on this homestead Eliza established her school.
As more pioneer travelers established their farms in the area, the name of Mottsville was given to the settlement. It quickly became apparent that a school was needed. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Eliza still had to run the farm. On an average day, the young pioneer woman would rise before dawn to care for her children, milk the cows, cook breakfast for her family and hired hands, prepare lunches for her students, and then complete her lesson plans. By fall, 1855, the Mottsville School had officially outgrown Eliza’s kitchen, and by the next year a schoolhouse was built in town. A schoolmaster was hired from the East, and Eliza resigned as the teacher to care for her family full-time.
This chalkboard champion will always be remembered fondly as the founder of the first school in Carson Valley, Nevada.