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Teacher wore bloomers

Norma Waltermire was an independent sort. The youngest daughter of a traveling minister and schoolbook salesman, she was fascinated by the stories he brought back to their Wisconsin home.

With sample textbooks always nearby, Norma became an exceptional student, and no one was surprised when she grew up to be a teacher. The real shock came in 1914, when 25-year-old Norma announced that she was leaving for the West Coast — land of her dreams.

Late in the afternoon of May 21, a Southern Pacific train arrived in Ashland. Her eyes were fascinated by tall mountains surrounding the village.

“I will teach here,” she thought to herself. “I must stay in this land of promise.”

To stay she had to prove herself. Although she had taught for three years back home, she had no credentials in Oregon. Norma took her employment appeal directly to Susanne Carter, the county’s school superintendent. Miss Carter agreed to certify Norma if she successfully completed a term of teaching, and she offered the isolated Climax school, where no teacher had ever completed a term. Norma eagerly accepted.

Climax sat in a wide ravine, down a steep and rutted trail, on the other side of Grizzly Peak. The school term began in summer when the trail was still dangerous but usually dry. During the winter, the dusty trail turned into a sticky mass of mud that grabbed at boots, clothes and animals’ feet.

The buckboard barely clung to the twisting path as it banged, bumped and shook on its treacherous journey. Mary Charley, the buckboard driver, slowly urged the team around hairpin turns. Norma planted her feet against the dashboard and hung on in terror.

They arrived at an unpainted ranch house on the side of a hill where a group of smiling faces waited for a glimpse of the new teacher. Norma shook hands with everyone, including Mary’s husband, Dell.

It was sticky and hot the next morning as Dell and Norma walked two miles to the schoolhouse. A pleasant path turned into an obstacle course of fences to climb. Dust as deep as a sandy beach crept into her shoes, tugged at her skirt, and completely covered her teacher’s dressy suit.

Norma decided the only sensible thing to do was wear rubber boots topped by her gymnasium outfit — full bloomers and a middy blouse.

The children loved her immediately. Learning had never been so much fun. They sang and played and giggled at her outfit, but studied hard to please her.

One day, a rather large woman came through the school door. The school inspector! She told Dell she had never seen a teacher dressed in such a crude and undignified manner.

Dell grinned and replied, “She’s the only teacher who has enough brains to dress properly for this climate.”

The offered Norma $25 more a month if she would return for another summer, the children cheered and the inspector stomped out the door.

The summer passed so quickly. The children cried when she left, begging her to stay, but Norma had finished the term and, as promised, was given a school in the city.

Norma continued to teach and spent most of her life in Jackson County. She retired to Florida in the 1950s, where she died in 1967.

By then, her bloomers were gone, but those happy summer memories in the little log schoolhouse always brought a smile to her face.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.