Teacher and Chronicler of the Dust Bowl Caroline Henderson

I love to share intriguing stories of dedicated educators who exhibit talents in arenas outside of the classroom. This one is about Caroline Boa Henderson, a high school English and Latin teacher who is also celebrated as an author of her personal Dust Bowl survival story.

Caroline Boa was born on April 7, 1877, in Wisconsin, the eldest daughter of affluent farmers. Even as a young girl, Caroline dreamed of someday owning a piece of land she could call her own.

After her high school graduation, Caroline attended Mt. Holyoke College, where she earned her degree in languages and literature in 1901. The new graduate accepted her first teaching position in Red Oak, Iowa, where she taught high school English and Latin from 1901 to 1903. She then taught in Des Moines, Iowa, until 1907. Then, in pursuit of her childhood dream, Caroline relocated to Texas County, Oklahoma, where she staked out a homestead claim on a quarter section of land and moved into a one-room shack which she christened her castle. There she accepted a teaching position in the local school.

In 1908, Caroline married named Bill Henderson, a Texas County farmer. The couple established a farm in nearby Eva, Oklahoma. The following year, Caroline gave birth to a daughter they named Eleanor. When Eleanor came of age, the youngster enrolled at the University of Kansas, where she eventually completed her bachelor’s degree. In order to help pay for Eleanor’s education, Caroline relocated to Lawrence, Kansas, where the two women shared an apartment while Caroline taught school part-time. During this period, Caroline also enrolled in graduate courses in English at the University of Kansas. In 1935, she completed the requirements for her master’s degree.

During the years from 1931-1937, at the height of the Dust Bowl, Caroline published a series of letters and articles in the prestigious magazine Atlantic Monthly. These letters and articles chronicled the grueling conditions faced by farmers who elected to remain on their farms during the severe conditions presented by the Dust Bowl drought, as harsh a natural disaster as any our nation has seen, even in recent years. She also included descriptions of daily life on her own farm, including her experiences with housekeeping, canning, cooking, tending her vegetable and flower gardens, ironing, and caring for her chickens. Her letters and articles earned her a national following, and were included in a PBS special on the Dust Bowl created by Ken Burns in 2012. To read some excerpts from these published pieces, click on the link Letters from the Dust Bowl.

This very amazing teacher and talented author passed away on August 4, 1966, in Phoenix, Arizona.