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.

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.”

Casey Shreiner: The middle school teacher elected to Montana’s State House of Representatives

15243Throughout American history, there are many examples of successful schoolteachers entering the field of politics. One such example is Casey Shreiner, a middle school science teacher who is currently serving as a member of the Montana State House of Representatives.

Casey was born in Great Falls, Montana, on July 10, 1982. He earned his college diploma from Montana State University located in the city of Bozeman. Upon graduation, Casey accepted a position as a science educator at Butte Central Catholic Schools, where he was employed from August, 2008, to August, 2010. Next, the talented teacher accepted a position with Great Falls Public Schools, where he worked from August, 2010, until June, 2013.

Casey was elected on the Democratic ticket to the Montana State House of Representatives representing the 22nd District. Upon his election, the former educator sponsored eleven bills, including legislation to revise truancy laws, to establish a pilot project for Native American and rural youth suicide prevention, to protect voting rights for disabled citizens, and to appropriate money for a state-run mental health group home. He has also served as the director of the governor’s State Workforce Innovation Board within the Montana State Department of Labor and Industry.

Casey is married and has two sons.

Dr. George Fischbeck: Dynamic Science Teacher and TV Weatherman

 

imagesThere are many fine examples of talented educators making a mark in fields outside of education. A notable example of this is George Richard Fischbeck, a former science teacher who became a well-known television weatherman in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in Los Angeles, California.

George was born on July 22, 1922, in the small town of Wallington, New Jersey, and raised in Farmingdale, New Jersey. The oldest of four children, he was the son of George and Johanna (Mohlenhoff) Fischbeck. His father was a farmer and his mother was a teacher.

Always an avid student of nature, George first became interested in meteorology when he was stationed in Hawaii with the US Army during World War II and the Air National Guard during the Korean War. Once he was discharged, George attended the University of New Mexico, where he earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in education. Then he worked in Albuquerque as a teacher in a career that spanned 23 years.
His daughter, Nancy Fischbeck of Woodland Hills, once described her father as a whirlwind of energy, and he focused it on teaching others about how nature works. “That’s what my childhood was, and why it was so exciting,” she  said. “We’d do experiments up on the roof, collect meteor fragments on the mesas in New Mexico, or make clouds in a bottle. He was such a great science teacher.”

After he retired from teaching, George launched his career as a television personality as the host of a children’s science program in Albuquerque. Known popularly throughout his 20 years on TV as “Dr. George,” he was well-known for his non-scripted and humorous broadcasts, and for his bow ties, thick-rimmed glasses, and mustache. “That was the classroom. He was the old professor and that was the look,” Nancy remembered. “The old professor with the mustache, glasses, and pointer.”

Dr. Fischebeck could see the obvious similarities between his two careers. “I come from a family of teachers, and I’ll tell you one thing about teaching, if you can get a kid’s attention you can teach them anything,” he once said during an interview. “You’ve got to do whatever you can to make sure they’re listening to you and not doing anything else. And then you can teach them.” It was a strategy that also worked with his television audiences.

For his service to youth, George garnered a Silver Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts of America in 1979.  He was honored again in 2003 when he was given the Los Angeles Area Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He was given an honorary doctorate in humanities from Albuquerque University.

George retired from television in 1997. Once he retired, he became a guest speaker in Los Angeles schools, served as a volunteer with the Los Angeles Zoo, and worked with the Los Angeles Police Department Volunteer Surveillance Team. This amazing educator and television personality passed away from natural causes on March 25, 2015, at the age of 92.