The rest of the quote that serves as the title of this Footnote is “But Never Let Anyone Forget She Was a Lady.” This is a quote from Charles Pelham, a school superintendent in Michigan, who knew Miss Hester Bradley as an agriculture teacher. Andrea Kerbuski, a past state FFA Officer in Michigan goes on to write (2008, p. 16):
While most women were content to remain in the relative comfort of their homes, one woman dared to do something no woman has done before – become a teacher of vocational agriculture, and in doing so, an inspiration to countless others.
We have featured a couple of female agriculture teachers during the past month (Lillian Lamb and E. M. Hill) who have credible claims to be the first female agriculture teachers in the Smith-Hughes era. This Friday Footnote honors another pioneer female agriculture teacher; she was not the first female agriculture teacher in America but was nevertheless a pioneer female agriculture teacher.
Hester Rosamund Bradley was born in 1900 near Kalamazoo, Michigan. She was one of three girls and one boy who was raised on the small family dairy farm. Hester loved milking the Jersey cows and wanted to quit high school and work full-time on the farm. Her mother talked her out of it and, in fact, talked Hester into attending Michigan Agricultural College (MAC, now Michigan State University). All of her siblings also attended MAC and received degrees in agriculture.
The 1922 issue of the Wolverine (the yearbook for MAC) indicates that Hester majored in Agriculture, was secretary of the MAC Grange, and was a member of the Ag Club. Hester graduated from Michigan Agricultural College in 1923, the same year she was selected as the most popular girl in the College.
Figure 1. Page from the 1922 Wolverine.
In a letter to a relative Hester wrote (Kerbuski, 2008, p. 16) “I always thought someday I would be a farmer’s wife, so I specialized in poultry and beekeeping and took teaching because of its cultural value.” That aspiration of being a farmer’s wife never materialized. Miss Hester never married not did she have children of her own.
According to The MAC Record (the alumni publication) Vol. 28, No. 25 (April 16, 1923) Hester accepted a teaching position in Howell, Michigan in 1923. No subject was listed. However, the 1923-24 Michigan Teachers’ Directory indicates she was teaching chemistry at Howell at a salary of $1400. In the Nov. 5, 1923, MAC Record it is noted that Hester was teaching algebra in addition to chemistry at Howell. She wrote, “We have a fine school and so far I like it very much.”
Miss Bradley continued teaching science and math for a number of years at several different schools until she finally got the opportunity to teach agriculture. Roy Holding, the farm editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette (1951) describes how it happened:
Back in 1942 when the draft was taking its toll of male teachers Superintendent Raymond Smith of Bath High School sent a wailful plea to Henry Nesman, supervisor of vocational agriculture education in Michigan.
“I’ve looked everywhere for a man to teach agriculture and there isn’t one left,” he wrote, “Now is there a woman anywhere whom you could qualify.”
Miss Bradley was on her way – the Smith-Hughes certificate in vocational agriculture she had received 19 years before from Michigan State College all dusted off.
Two years later she had graduated two of five state farmers.
For 13 years at Bath, Montrose and Richland Schools, she has conquered any feeling farm boys may have had that a woman is no person to be teaching farming.
Figure 2; Article from the Oct. 7, 1942 issue of the Livingston County Daily Press and Argus.
Miss Bradley taught her students farming skills, which included classroom instruction and on-the-farm instruction. While most of her students were male, she also encouraged females to take agriculture. Foo (2008, p. 17) stated that “…she is not only interested in training boys for farming but also in helping girls to get adequate training that will fit them for farm life.”
Miss Bradley appeared on local radio programs with her students, took her students on field trips to harvest sugar beets, attended an Audubon weekend camp, and participated in a professional development short courses at Cornell University. Her students excelled in demonstration and speech contests.
Her classroom was a popular meeting place. Her room rivaled the school cafeteria as her students would congregate there for lunch. Miss Bradley was interested in her students’ class work but also their personal problems. She enjoyed playing cupid with her students. She would loan her Studebaker to one of her students, Jack Welborn, so he could take his girlfriend out on dates. She didn’t think Jack’s Model B Ford truck was suitable for such occasions (Kerbuski, 2008).
Miss Bradley taught agriculture from 1942 to 1957. In 1957 she moved to the Napoleon School District to finish her teaching career as a science teacher. But she remained a member of the Michigan Association of Teachers of Vocational Agriculture (MATVA). She never missed a meeting during her 35-year membership. Foo (2008, p. 17) reports that at the annual conferences of the MATVA “she is surrounded by men – her fellow teachers who know her as a friend, as well as a highly-qualified, competent person in this ‘man’s field of endeavor.’”
Figure 3. Article from the Lansing Michigan State Journal, July 28, 1955.
We learn more about the heart of Miss Bradley in The Record (the Spartan Alumni Magazine, August 1, 1954, p. 12-13). In the “News About These Alumni” section, it was reported that Miss Hester had completed 25 years of teaching and had recently flown to Los Angeles to attend the marriage of Jernice Sklapsky, one of her “adopted family”. Miss Bradley had allowed nine students (current students or children of former students) to live in her home during her teaching career. Hester stated, “Sharing life with the less fortunate gives one an education and inspiration.” She also recognized “training in vocational agriculture” as being important to the success of her adopted family members.
Figure 4. The 1955 Richland High School Yearbook was dedicated to Miss Bradley
Miss Bradley once said, “To have a hand in helping these young folks mold their lives is most satisfying. You can never tell how long your teachings will affect them, nor where your influence will end” (Kerbuski, 2008, p. 17). These words should be on the lips of all agriculture teachers today, both male and female. Miss Bradley was a great example of being a caring, nurturing teacher. Her gender didn’t matter. Nor should it.
Foo, Mei-Lou (2008). Miss Hester teaches vo-ag…But Her Boys Love It” in Perry, Dustin and Benedict, Earl (Eds.) Michigan FFA A Legacy of Great Lakes Leadership. Evansville, IN: M. T. Publishing.
Holding, Roy “Richland Chapter Has Only Woman F.F.A. Advisor in Michigan. As reprinted in The Livingston County Press, Howell, Michigan. April 11, 1951.
Kerbuski, Andrea (2008). Meet Miss Bradley. in Perry, Dustin and Benedict, Earl (Eds.) Michigan FFA A Legacy of Great Lakes Leadership. Evansville, IN: M. T. Publishing.