I enjoy sharing stories about talented and daring teachers who were also pioneers. One such teacher was Mary Elizabeth Post, one of the first teachers to work in the Territory of Arizona. In fact, Mary was only the fifth teacher in Arizona.
Mary was born on June 17, 1841, in Elizabethtown, New York. Her father was a carpenter, but he instilled a strong love of learning in his seven children. As a youngster, Mary attended Burlingtron Female Seminary. She was so proficient in her studies that she was landed her first teaching position in 1856, when she was only 15 years old.
In 1872, Mary traveled to the Arizona Territory by stage coach. The trip was rugged, and conditions in her new environment were rough. She established her school in a building that had formerly served as a saloon. Her lessons were sometimes interrupted by thirsty cowboys looking for an alcoholic drink.
Mary soon discovered, to her dismay, that regular attendance at school was not valued by either the students or their parents. Often the intrepid teacher felt forced to track down the truants and virtually drag them back to the school, much to the disgruntlement of their parents. To overcome the hard feelings, Mary ordered a collection of sewing patterns and taught the mothers how to sew new clothes for their children. The mothers were delighted with how fashionable their children looked, and, before long, Mary saw a marked improvement in her daily attendance. It didn’t take long for the dedicated educator to become an integral part of the lives of her students and their families, almost all of Mexican heritage. She was often invited to their family events and celebrations. “I was in love with my work, Mary once expressed. “I think I was born to be a teacher.”
In addition to her untiring work in the classroom, Mary was active in local women’s organizations, and she was an outspoken proponent of the women’s suffrage movement. Mary retired from teaching in 1912, at the age of 72. She became the first recipient of the Arizona state teachers’ retirement fund. Her pension was $50 a month. In 1918, this chalkboard champion and pioneer was awarded an honorary master’s degree from the University of Arizona in recognition of her humanitarian work in predominantly Spanish-speaking communities.
Mary Elizabeth Post passed away from natural causes in 1934. She was 93 years old. You can read more about this amazing educator at tucson.com in the article Western Movement: Mary Elizabeth Post.