Nebraska’s Lucy Gamble, the first African American teacher in Omaha

Many talented schoolteachers can also be applauded for their historic firsts. One such teacher is Lucinda (Lucy) Gamble, an elementary school teacher who was the first African American to be hired to work in Omaha public schools.

Lucy was born Lucinda Anneford Gamble on September 9, 1875, in Lincoln, Nebraska, the oldest of eight children of her parents, William and Evaline Gamble. The family moved to Omaha when she was five years old. As an elementary student, Lucy was first enrolled in the Old Dodge School, but later transferred to Pacific School. She graduated from Omaha Central High School in 1893.

Following her graduation from high school, Lucy enrolled in Omaha Normal School, a college which trained future teachers. She completed her two-year course of study there in 1895. “My teacher in the Normal school tried very hard to discourage me from going to the school as she said that I never would secure employment in the school system,” Lucy once recalled. But she must have been a very impressive candidate, because within three months of her graduation, Lucy was offered a position at her former elementary school, the Old Dodge School. With this appointment, Lucy became Omaha’s first African American school teacher. Later Lucy transferred to Cass School.

After six years of teaching, according to the custom of the day, Lucy resigned when she married the Reverend John Albert Williams, the son of a former slave who had escaped to Canada through the Underground Railroad. After the Civil War was won, John immigrated to the United States, landed in Nebraska, and became an activist for the African American community. The couple had one son they named Worthington, and two daughters, Catherine and Dorothy.

Even though she was no longer teaching, Lucy continued to serve her community. For ten years, she was the chairperson of the the board of the Omaha’s Negro Old People’s Home, and she was a prominent member of the Omaha Colored Women’s Club. In addition, she also served on the board of the Omaha chapter of the NAACP.

Read a transcript of Lucy Gamble’s personal history on file at the Library of Congress at this link: Lucy Gamble.

Elementary school teacher and award-winning journalist Esther Hansen Clark


“In an era of afternoon ten-cent newspapers and all-male newsrooms, Esther Clark, a former elementary school teacher who years later would dodge bullets in Vietnam, established her credentials in Arizona as a versatile and fearless reporter.” So says biographer Carol Cain Hughes about chalkboard champion and journalist Esther Hansen Clark.

Esther Hansen was born on September 9, 1910, in Denver, Colorado. As a young girl, she attended Manual Training High School. Upon her graduation, she enrolled in Greeley College, where future teachers were trained. This institution is now known as the University of Northern Colorado. Once her education there was completed, Esther accepted a position an an elementary school teacher in southeastern Colorado. In 1936 Esther married Frank Clark, and nine years later the couple moved to Phoenix, Arizona.

In Phoenix, Esther became employed as a journalist for the Phoenix Gazette, a post she held for nearly 30 years. During her tenure there, she published news stories about current events in Arizona, including dispatches detailing the Civil Rights Freedom Concert, American Indian affairs, military news, and the conflict in the Middle East. “Some of her achievements read like daredevil stunts,” says Hughes. “She was the first newswoman to fly in a T-33, a B-47 Stratojet bomber, and an F-100 Super Sabre jet that cracked the sonic barrier.” Other difficult assignments included simulating bailing out of a jet at 43,000 feet and traveling to Panama with the US Army to participate in rigorous jungle warfare training. But it was her 1966 stint as one of the first women reporters embedded on the front lines in the war-torn jungles of Viet Nam that have earned her the greatest acclaim. For her pioneering work in the field of journalism, Esther was profiled by Time magazine. She also garnered the coveted Dickey Chapelle Award in 1941. She was recognized with the Marine Corps League Awards for Notable Contributions to the Marine Corps and the Nation in 1971. Actor John Wayne was similarly honored that year.

Esther retired from the Gazette in 1973, and in 1986 she returned to her home state of Colorado. She passed away on August 1, 1990, in Grand Junction, Colorado. She was 79 years old.

For more about this amazing educator and journalist, you can read Hughes’ more detailed account in Skirting Traditions: Arizona Women Writers and Journalists 1912-2012.


Chalkboard Champion Josephine Heard: Teacher and Poet

Many talented educators often become celebrated authors. Such is the case with Josephine Delphine Henderson Heard, an early 19th century schoolteacher who taught in Mayesville, South Carolina.

Josephine was born in Salisbury, North Carolina, on October 11, 1861, just after the outbreak of the Civil War. Her parents, Lafayette and Annie Henderson, were slaves. After the war was won and the Emancipation achieved, the Hendersons worked hard to ensure a quality education for their daughter. Josephine, who could read by the age of five, started school in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was later enrolled in historically black Scotia Seminary in nearby Concord. To earn her college degree, she attended college at Bethany Institute in upstate New York. Upon graduation, Josephine accepted her first teaching position at the elementary school located in Mayesville, South Carolina.

In 1882, when the young educator was 21, she married William Henry Heard from Georgia, also a teacher and a former slave. Later William became a prominent minister in the AME Church. The pair traveled the world together, including Liberia, as part of his work for the church.

In addition to being a dedicated teacher, Josephine was also a gifted poet. In 1890, she published her book Morning Glories, a collection of 72 poems. Her book is currently in the public domain, and can be accessed online through the Hathi Trust at Morning Glories. Although Josephine passed away in Philadelphia in 1921, her spirit lives on in her poetry. To learn more about this amazing teacher, click on this link: AAWW Biographies.

Sas Carey: International health educator and 2nd grade teacher


One of the most amazing chalkboard champions I have heard of is Sas Carey, a former elementary school teacher with a degree in nursing who has worked as an international health education consultant.

Sas, born in Washington state in 1945, possesses an impressive educational background. She studied at Western Connecticut University and at Keen State College, where she earned her degree in elementary education in 1965. She then taught 2nd grade at Weybridge Elementary School in Vermont.

As interested in medicine as she was in education, Sas returned to school, earning a Bachelor’s in Science, Nursing, at the University of Vermont in 1983. She also earned her Master’s in Education in 1988.

Dedicated to improving the lives of others internationally, Sas has worked as a health education consultant for the Mongolian office of the United Nations Development Programme. She also founded the nonprofit Nomadicare, which provides health services to nomadic herders in Mongolia. Her book Reindeer Herders in My Heart: Stories of Healing Journeys in Mongolia, describes some of her experiences in Mongolia. Additionally, you can check out her fascinating videos on You Tube.

Sas has invested her considerable talent in helping youth. She founded the Alternatives for Teens program, where young people are given opportunities to discuss issues important to them. The program organizes group events that offer alternatives to drug and alcohol use. The organization earned an Exemplary Prevention Program Award from the US Department of Health and Human Services. In 1989, Sas authored the book Life Skills for Teens (currently out of print).

Sas Carey, now in her early 70’s, has accomplished so much in her life. She traces her drive to her Quaker upbringing. “As a Quaker,” she once said, “you listen for your calling for what you’re supposed to do. And it’s a changing kind of thing. You do a thing ’til you’re done with it. Then you do the next thing ’til you’re done with it.”

America’s Wild West tamed by frontier schoolmarms

America’s Wild West was tamed in part due to the talented and dedicated women who served as frontier schoolteachers. The pioneering women who became teachers during this period of our nation’s history were indeed a special breed. At the turn of the century, females were expected to be dependent upon their husbands, fathers, or other male relatives. It was extremely unusual, and not at all encouraged, for a woman to support herself and function independently. Nevertheless, many intelligent and self-reliant women in search of personal freedom and adventure joined the Westward movement as schoolmarms.

The stereotype of a frontier schoolteacher was that of an unattractive spinster or a prim and proper young miss. In reality, she was often neither of those. Many of these ladies came from influential and affluent Eastern families. A few were filled with burning ambition, and others were seeking a better life, and perhaps some were seeking a husband of like mind. In general, though, they were dedicated practitioners of their profession. Despite primitive working conditions, uninviting classrooms, low wages, and overwork, these stalwart women introduced literacy, culture, and morality to the roughneck communities they served. A few of these teachers became missionaries, others became suffragettes, and one of them—Jeannette Rankin of Montana—even went on to become the first woman to be elected to the United States House of Representatives!

Our society owes these frontier schoolmarms a great debt. Read more about pioneering teachers in my book, Chalkboard Champions, available through or Barnes and Noble. Click on the link to find out how to get a copy of the book. Enjoy!