A Woman’s Will to Learn

Group photo in front of a house in Gainesville.

That’s Mam-ma, front left holding my mom. They were in Gainesville to attend UF.

I spent this afternoon scanning documents from my grandmother’s photo albums. I didn’t get through everything, but I did process a whole bunch of her report cards from the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women.

She did not do well.

Seeing quite a few Cs and even a couple of Ds really surprised me. Mam-ma was a teacher and believed strongly in education. My mother, who was here going through the documents with me, muttered, “She always expected us to make good grades.”

I don’t remember Mam-ma giving any lectures about doing well in school. She provided incentive — $1 for every A on a grandchild’s report card, 50 cents for a B. The price went up in high school. I think if we made a D or an F we were supposed to pay her, but I generally made A-C in every class, so that wasn’t an issue.

Mam-ma almost always taught 4th grade, and she still had many of those books on her shelves. She and Pap-pa (who was also a teacher) talked with us kids about a lot of different things, and I’m sure I learned many things when I had the chance to stay at her house.  Mam-ma (like my mom) also read in front of us, leading by example. She valued education.

Willie Aline Stevens was born January 13, 1909. Her mother went to school through third grade. I’m not sure what her dad’s education was, but I remember her or my mom saying that he didn’t want Willie to go to high school. He thought 8th grade was plenty of education for a girl. Willie, however, had ambitions. Tate High School had a teacher prep program. If she finished the course, she could earn a lifetime teaching certificate in the state of Florida, and she wanted that badly. She cried and pleaded and made promises, and he let her finish high school. She graduated in 1927 and went to work that fall, at Walnut Hill School in Escambia County.

Now, I haven’t come across her high school report cards, but I do have a booklet from when she finished 8th grade at Muscogee School in 1923. There, she’s listed on the honor roll. So, I know she was studying hard.

Muscogee School, Escambia County, 1923

Mam-ma – Willie Stevens – made the honor roll in 8th grade.

The year after she graduated high school, with her first year of teaching behind her, she attended summer school at the Florida State College for Women.

Willie Stevens' report card from Florida State College for Women, 1928 summer school

Yikes! I never knew Mam-ma made a “D”!!

Now, I have to point out that she made a lot of Bs and Cs, too. And the occasional A. After 1933, she was married. After 1937, she had a child. I don’t know what other stresses she may have had in her life during each class. And I’ll have to do some research to find out what these classes were. Maybe the teachers were jerks, even.

But she persisted. She never gave up. She didn’t quit when her dad pressured her to drop out. She earned her teaching certificate, so she could have a good professional job, but that still wasn’t enough. She wanted to keep learning and earn a college degree. She married a hard-working man who at times was a farmer and a building contractor, and he removed stumps from a field for 50 cents a day, and, by the way, he was also a teacher. And they attended summer school together. (Mom says Mam-ma would grumble that Pap-pa could sleep through a class and still make a better grade than her.) So she had support at home to keep bettering herself. And in 1956, they both received their Bachelor of Arts in Education from the University of Florida.

Report card showing graduation in 1956.

Final report card from UF, and look at those Bs!

I’m proud of my Mam-ma. She was always quiet, while Pap-pa was more the showman, but she was strong, and she persevered, more than I ever knew, so she could have control of her own life, and contribute to her family and community.

I like to think those qualities run in the family.

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About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have three cats and a husband.
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