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Mena Arkansas News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Local Educator Remembered


As “back-to-school” time draws near, much importance and reflection is placed on the influential role teachers play. Polk County lost a veteran educator recently that taught during a much different and simpler time. She invested into the lives of several generations through several rural districts, sometimes with only six children in an entire school and long before consolidation was a consideration.

Ms. Mary Jean Towry Pate, also known to her family as “Prissy Jean,” passed June 21, 2013 but her impression upon the lives of generations of now grown children will live on. Mary began her 40+ year teaching career in 1944. She and all of her three siblings were honor graduates of Vandervoort or Cove High School, all were valedictorians, and all went on to attend college. Mary was a graduate of Henderson at Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

The Towry family has a long history in the establishment of formal education in the Cove/Vandervoort area. Education was a passion of both her parents, Mack and Delia Towry, and grandparents.

Records obtained from the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives indicate her great grandfather founded a school that became named “Towry School.” A sign of the old well at its location is still there.  According to the records, “In about 1888 or 1889, Giles Towry (grandfather of Mack Towry) gave two acres of land and the Towry School was built of logs with split log benches. After a few years in the log building, school was then a home for a term or two, then a plank building was built. It had long benches for children to sit on.”

She finished high school at the age of 16 in 1944. She earned 12 college hours at Southern State at Magnolia, Arkansas and taught her first school at Mountain View, Oklahoma, a one-teacher rural school of only six students. She then attended Southeastern State College at Durant, Oklahoma for two summers and taught two years at Hatton, Arkansas from 1945 to 1947.

At the age of 18, she was wed to William and the couple had two children, Tommy and Margaret Ann, before she attended Saturday classes to earn her B.S.E. in Elementary Education in the summer of 1956 from Henderson. The couple was later blessed with the birth of their third child Patricia, “Patty.”

Having completed her education, Mary no longer had to battle the multiple roles of mother, student and teacher, and life became much more manageable. Mary was assigned the 3rd and 4th grades at Cove in 1958 where she served until 1975 and she was reassigned to 3rd and part of 2nd grade.

In 1979-1980 academic year, Cove school was reorganized and all of the elementary grades were bused to the Vandervoort campus. Interestingly, Mary taught 3rd grade in the very same room that she was in when she had left there in 1958.

Mary ultimately finished her teaching career after four decades. In her later years, she recorded many memories to leave for her family, all describing a much different time, but none probably signify the difference in education as much as the following that she recorded in 2008:

1915 Rules for Teachers and how they are different today –

  1. You will not marry during the term you are under contract.
  2. You are not to keep company with men.
  3. You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function.
  4. You may not loiter downtown in ice cream stores.
  5. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have permission of the chairman of the board.
  6. You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother.
  7. You may not smoke cigarettes.
  8. You may not dress in bright colors.
  9. You may not under any circumstances dye your hair.
  10. You must wear at least two petticoats.
  11. Your dress must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle.
  12. To keep the school neat and clean. You must sweep the floor at least once daily, scrub the floor at least once a week with hot soapy water. Clean blackboards at least once a day and start the fire at 7 a.m. so the room will be warm by 8 a.m.
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