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“Mapleton School just about won World War I”

21 Dec

Beloved Boulder, Colorado, resident Dee Demmon  passed away on December 10, 2012, at the age of 102. Straight through her nineties, Dee could tell you in astonishing detail about her days as a student at Mapleton Elementary School in Boulder during the  early years of the  twentieth century, about teaching in a one-room school in the Boulder foothills, and about many, many other aspects of small town life that have disappeared along with Dee.

Fortunately, our oral history program has seven interviews conducted with Dee over many years, so you can still hear her tell her stories in her delightful and delighted voice.

In this first of a new series, “HISTORY IN A MINUTE,” you can listen to Dee as she tells about being an elementary school student during World War I and “helping the war effort.” It only takes a minute!

To hear more interviews with Elizabeth (Dee) Demmon, visit our archive at

When snow was SNOW

3 Feb

We’ve heard conversation today about whether the snow outside merited the closure of schools or not. Want to know what it was like in the “old days”? “Listen in” on this interview that Anne Dyni recorded with Irene Wright Smith Lybarger in 1990. In this excerpt, they were talking about the blizzard of 1913, when Ms. Lybarger was a school girl.

Anne Dyni: What was it like going to school at the time of that blizzard?

Irene Lybarger: My father made skis for my oldest brother and I. They were made out of 1 x 4s. And then he put straps on them so we could fasten them on our feet. My oldest brother and I pulled my other sister and brother on the skis in back of us to get to school. Of course, we thought it was fun, but the fences were all covered…I think there was about five-foot of snow.

Ms. Lybarger goes on to say:

It took my father and my uncle five days to get to Hygiene, which was three miles away, and they were working with horses…. Whenever the’d get tired, they’d lay down and wallow in the snow. Then they would move a little faster when they got up again. So that’s the way we got to Hygiene to get some groceries. We had plenty of milk and butter because we milked about thirty cows. But it wasn’t easy.

An understatement, if there ever was one! Next, they discuss how one cleared five-feet of snow from roadways in those days. If you’d like to listen to this interview, you can find it in our online archive here. The part about the snow storm starts about nine minutes in.

The photo above is not of Ms. Lybarger’s family’s horse team, but it is a photo from the Carnegie Library for Local History’s virtual photo collection. It shows a horse team in deep snow in Gold Hill in 1913 or 1914. The photo was shared by Patti Anderson on behalf of Race and Verna Anderson.

We Didn’t Know Anything About It

20 Jan

A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, we made copies of one of our earlier oral histories for the daughter and granddaughters of Elizabeth (Beth) Pesman. Mrs. Pesman’s daughter had written to us saying, “We had tried for years to get my mother to tell her stories on our audio-tape machine, but she didn’t have any use for “technology,” so we were delighted when a  friend told us she had found this in the library, since we didn’t know anything about it.”

Mrs. Pesman’s story is one well worth hearing. Interviewed by Dorothy Hale in 1986, when she was just short of 93 years old, Mrs. Pesman’s voice was still strong and her memories clear. Her account begins like this:

“I was born on January 31, 1893. My mother died when I was four  years old…. She brought up three stepchildren and then seven of her own, of which I was the tail-end. She died of typhoid fever, or heart trouble—or of raising a big family or something…. After a year, my father married again.”

Mrs. Pesman attended CU-Boulder beginning in 1910, trained as a teacher, and taught in the Wellington Lake School, where she was teacher to nine pupils in seven grades.  She was teaching at the time of the 1913 blizzard, which she describes. Some years later, she married M. Walter Pesman, who became a renowned landscape architect in Denver and was one of the founders of the Botanic Gardens. Much to Mrs. Pesman’s dismay, she was refused a teaching job in 1927 because many schools would not hire a married woman. Although she finally was able to obtain another teaching job, during The Depression the Colorado State Legislature considered passing a law not allowing married women to teach anywhere in the state. Mrs. Pesman lobbied the legislature not to pass the bill and was pleased that the lawmakers were “wise enough” not to let it become law.

Mrs. Pesman died in 1987, only one year after this interview was recorded. The end of this month marks the 119th anniversary of Beth Pesman’s birth. We are so glad that her story lives on in our oral history collection—both for her family and for the rest of us.

You can hear Beth Pesman’s interview here.

Get Your Red-Hot New Interviews Here!

25 Oct

John Sand III, President of the Gold Hill Club, was interviewed about Gold Hill history by Caitlin McKenna not long before the recent Fourmile Fire.

THIS JUST OUT: our fall newsletter with descriptions of 18 new interviews that have been added to our online archive. You can read the newsletter online. To hear the new interviews, including one with John Sand III who tells about the history of Gold Hill, its community spirit and ongoing efforts at preservation, visit the archive.

The new recordings include a series of interviews conducted by the fourth-grade members of the Whittier Student Historians Club, in which they interviewed people who attended Whittier Elementary School long ago.

Also included are interviews with people from the group Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry (BASJ), which formed twenty years ago to obtain the release of “refuseniks,” Jewish people who had been refused permission to emigrate from the former Soviet Union and suffered severe discrimination as a consequence of both their religion and their desire to leave the country. The interviews record the experiences of BASJ organizers; those who helped with resettlement; and those who immigrated, becoming “New Americans.”  This project is an ongoing one, undertaken in conjunction with former BASJ members and the University of Colorado’s Jewish Studies program. Look for additional interviews in our winter and spring newsletters.

In addition, this edition of our newsletter contains descriptions of interviews about the history of and life in Gold Hill, and interviews with a member of the Boulder Potters Guild, a long-time Boulder attorney, and a former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant administrator who describes working to change the culture of safety at the now-defunct plant.

Back to the Basics: Frontier Schools

5 Oct

South Boulder Schoolhouse, Eldorado Springs, Colorado; 1880s. Photo by J.B. Sturtevant. Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection.

The first schoolhouse in Boulder, Colorado, was built in 1860. During the next hundred years, the people of Boulder County established sixty-six school districts. A district was established only after proof was provided that there were at least 10 children between the ages of five and twenty-one years of age living in the proposed area. The family with the most children often donated the land for the schoolhouse and took the teacher into its home to provide her or him a place to live.

In 1961, the remaining school districts were consolidated into the two we know today, the St. Vrain and Boulder Valley school districts. This move was not one that was embraced by everyone. In an oral history interview, Isabella Mayhoffer, a former county superintendent, commented that the two reorganized districts now spent more but accomplished no more with their special projects than the rural districts ever did. She remembered the rural school districts this way:

“The rural districts were a home-like situation where the teachers were extremely sincere and most of them very capable. They had a “tutor” attitude toward their children. It was a love affair. [The children] loved the school and the teacher loved them, and the community was back of them…sort of a family affair.”

The above information is taken from the beginning of Anne Dyni’s book, Back to the Basics: The Frontier Schools of Boulder County, Colorado, 1860­-1960. As part of her research for that book Anne Dyni conducted dozens of oral history interviews for the Maria Rogers Oral History Program. Those interviews and more have now been collected into the “Pioneer Schools of Boulder County Special Collection.” The collection is a work in progress, but you can hear our recently posted podcast in which teachers from one-room schoolhouses talk about their living situations and jobs, and you can listen to many of the interviews in their entirety by going to the special collection on our digital archive (click on the yellow “Special Collections” button and then on “Pioneer Schools of Boulder County” in the blue box.)

Back to the Basics: The Frontier Schools of Boulder County is full of fascinating facts and wonderful old photographs. It is available at all Boulder Library branches and can be purchased used from

“There must be more to life than housework!”

3 Sep

“There has to be more to life than endless housework!” This thought led June Howard, who now has lived in Boulder for more than fifty years, to return to school in the early 1960s to earn a teaching certificate. She began teaching in 1963, the start of a twenty-five-year run of teaching elementary-aged students and influencing culture and policy in the school system at a time of tremendous societal change.

Things were different back then. June remembers wearing high heels to her first teaching job in 1963 (“How I tottered around in those high heels, I can’t imagine!”) and then attending a faculty meeting in 1968 at which the big topic was whether teachers should be allowed to wear pants suits to school. June came to the meeting dressed in a pants suit. “I suppose I would have had to go home and change if they’d decided ‘no’.”

Because she entered the school system in the early sixties, June was right on the cusp of an explosion of political change in the United States, some of it based on a push for gender equality. Continue reading

Never Too Young

25 May

ONE OF THE MOST ENDEARING collaborations that our oral history program has undertaken has been our partnership with Polly McDonald’s Fourth Grade Historians Club.

Whittier Historians meet with oral history manager Susan Becker

Polly has sponsored the club at Whittier Elementary School  in central Boulder since 1992. The historians meet once a week during their lunch hour to investigate the history of the school, the surrounding community, and the city of Boulder. Polly teaches them how to do historical research. The Boulder Heritage Roundtable honored the Whittier Elementary School Historian’s Club this month with a Special Project Award.

This school year, the group decided to conduct oral histories with people who had gone to their school long ago:  nine students Continue reading

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