GOLDIE VAN BIBBER
Oral History Project
The following story is based on research by Sharon Waite, William Kyle Library Researcher.
Story by Deborah J. Lobey.
LANE COUNTY TEACHER HAS WORST JOB
A number of articles and stories have been written of Goldie Van Bibber’s years as school supervisor in Lane County. One article in 1912 was even entitled Lane County Teacher Has Worst Job. Goldie however, described her work with these words: ‘I wouldn’t teach in the city for anything. I am country born and bred. My education at the State University was aimed to fit me to carry on this work. I consider [this work] has the biggest future of anything in the educational line in the state.” Her upbringing likely played a significant role in her many accomplishments, and fearless determination. Her goal was to provide children with access to educational opportunities in even the most remote areas of her district.
Goldie’s father moved to Colorado from Kentucky to acquire land as part of the Homestead Act of 1862. He was kept busy on his homestead ranch in Tomichi Creek, Gunnison County. He built the family home and made all their furniture. During the winter, he worked as a blacksmith and tool sharpener for mining camps in the area. Her mother was the first teacher in Gunnison Valley in 1882. Hard work was an acceptable way of pioneer life for the Van Bibber family.
Goldie was born on February 28, 1885. During her childhood, the family relocated from Colorado to California before moving to Oregon. In 1903, at 18 years old, Goldie began teaching in eastern Oregon at a rural school in Prairie City. She attended the University of Oregon. As an undergraduate in 1911, she was appointed by Lane County as the rural school Supervisor for the Siuslaw Valley. The location was considered to be the most remote and inaccessible area in the state. Her role was to supervise 31 of the coastal districts, with headquarters in Florence. She was given a salary of $1,000 per year.
SCHOOL LADY ON GRAY HORSE
Goldie Van Bibber’s commitment to providing education to the rural areas was legendary, in every sense of the word. No matter the distance, at barely 5 feet tall, she traversed trails and roads where there were none. She climbed over slippery logs, fallen trees, through bushes and mud, across swollen creeks and streams to reach one-room schoolhouses. Known as the “school lady on the gray horse” (Dandy), she visited schools regardless of the distance. She examined conditions of sanitation, libraries, supplies and repair of buildings, often traveling 25 to 30 miles a day. She traveled to areas where mail arrived less than once a month, discovering no textbooks in many of the schools. In one area, she learned there had been just 3 weeks of school in 4 years. Goldie admitted she specifically chose to be in a rural area. She was convinced her education and experience was best suited to resolve problems of the rural schools. Oftentimes, she was the only school officer to have ever visited a district. Grateful to meet parents and children, the experience left her inspired and determined to improve educational opportunities in the area. Some of the schools she visited were located in Denzer (near Alsea at the mouth of Ten Mile creek). She also travelled to Indian Creek, Mapleton, Riverview, Acme, Portage, Florence, Mercer, Ada, Deadwood and Glenada.
Goldie Van Bibber brought hope, inspiration and courage to her supervisor position. She succeeded in making great strides in the improvement of school buildings and equipment, and extending the school term. She also obtained better pay and contract extensions for teachers. Teachers’ monthly salaries were raised from $43 to $55. In 1912 she rode 60 miles by stage and 100 miles by rail to attend a meeting with rural school supervisors. In her first 2 years as supervisor she was instrumental in the building of 6 new schools.
She never failed to let the needs and importance of her schools be known. She once endured a two-day snowstorm on horseback through streams and steep mountain ridges to attend an annual teachers conference. Goldie arrived in Pendleton, 3 minutes before the session began.
ROAD BUILDING PROJECT
Her work has been described as ‘revolutionary’. Among her many accomplishments was a program to teach schoolchildren in Lane County the elementary principles of road building. Approved by the County, the students used a short strip of road adjacent to the schoolhouse. Their specific project was to replace an existing mud path. The County Surveyor prepared a road-building primer for the students to follow. Designed to provide map-making skills, the primer introduced students to construction methods and the value of good roads. At the same time, the project allowed the County to keep abreast of the industrious endeavor. Students used hoes, picks and shovels to successfully complete the project. The ‘roads course’ was so successful it was adopted by other districts. It It gave rise to a statewide ‘Good Roads Day’ to acquaint citizens with the road building process.
In April 1914, Goldie resigned from her position as Supervisor in order to return to the University of Oregon. She enrolled in a pre-medical course to become more proficient in teaching hygiene among rural schools. She believed it would also allow her to improve the general sanitation of school buildings.
While the stories of Goldie’s achievements are well documented, the backstory of her early years are just as remarkable.
GIVEN UP FOR DEAD
In 1898, she and three younger sisters (Bernice, Eunice and Lola) became ill with Scarlet Fever at the same time. Tragically, her sisters died within 7 days of each other. According to the doctor, there was little hope for Goldie as she lay ill and ‘given up for dead’. It is said a neighbor who had been at her bedside unexpectedly became startled. “Goldie suddenly sat up and began singing a hymn, then she collapsed and slept for a long time.” When Goldie awoke, she said she saw her three dead sisters on the other side of the river. They motioned for her to go back, and shortly thereafter, she made a complete recovery from the fever.
In 1905, her sister Delia died of spinal meningitis. Her gravestone inscription simply reads: ‘fell asleep, 7 years, 10 mos, 2 days’. A younger brother Leslie, died at age 24 from a ruptured appendix.
Goldie repeated her success with the earlier road-building project when she lived in Monument, Oregon. An article in the 1915 Oregon Teacher’s Monthly stated:
“The Putnam school near Monument which is under the able management of Miss Goldie Van Bibber is the first school in Northern Grant County to meet all the state and county standardization requirements and it is one of the very few schools in the county to have gravel walks which were built by volunteer labor.”
In 1916, Goldie married Charles Frederick Putnam in Monument. In 1922 they relocated to Inchelium, Oregon. There, Goldie spent her time researching the area’s history and early ferry systems. She intended to write a book of her research, but passed away before its completion. Of her research, she wrote:
“I began recording history partly because many of [my] husband’s people and my own were pioneers in Oregon in the 1840’s and we were steeped in frontier lore; and partly because I felt the need to strip away the ‘fandangles’ of modern sensationalism and present the life of the frontier in its true and useful aspect.”
Goldie Van Bibber’s achievements and contributions of bringing educational opportunities to the Siuslaw Valley is a story of historical celebration.