Schools: Esther follows her sisters' footsteps to higher
a recent high-school graduate, Esther Strasburger decided
to move west to begin her teaching career. Saying goodbye
to her large family, Esther boarded a train and proceeded
to cross almost half of the United States, passing through
Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho before
finally arriving in Spokane, Washington. Anna Strasburger
greeted her little sister at the dusty Spokane Depot
on a crisp autumn afternoon in 1907. Lydia Strasburger
also lived in the area and the three sisters were reunited.
But why did Esther, Lydia and Anna travel more than
1600 miles to become teachers when they could have done
that in Iowa? Perhaps this question can be directed
to Ms. Mabel Ireland. At the age of 100, Ms. Ireland
provided extraordinary perspective on this matter.
Ireland - 100 years of homestead history
Mabel Ireland, age 100, still lives on her family's
homestead in Simms, Montana. Her acreage overlooks Esther's
original homestead. The producer of SUN RIVER HOMESTEAD,
Ms. Maggie Carey, described her interview with Ms. Ireland:
"Mabel sat at her kitchen table, dog Missy guarding
her feet, daughter Marilyn sitting next to her. Marilyn
got up often to offer cookies and instant coffee. I
could never speak loud enough or clear enough for Mabel,
and my awkwardness seemed to increase throughout the
interview. By the time Marilyn shouted the questions
in Mabel's ear, Mabel had already chosen another topic
of the Sun River Valley's history to explain. Somehow
Mabel was able to work her way backward to answer the
question. Or perhaps I was asking the questions backwards
and needed some history lessons to catch up."
"When I asked Mabel why the Strasburger sisters
moved to Montana, I expected an answer involving the
Homestead Act or a teaching position at the newly established
school," Ms. Carey remembered. "And Mabel
would answer back, 'Well, why do people do anything?
Why did my people come here? My father and mother rented
a place in Redwood Falls and it rained so much I heard
my father say that he had 63 wheat stacks and 63 bushels
of wheat. And he got this literature from Montana's
Sun River Valley, why, we kids had just got acquainted
with bananas, my brothers George and Frank and I. And
we loved bananas. Why it said in this paper, you can
even raise bananas in the Sun River Valley. And we're
laughing we're going out where we're gonna climb the
trees and we're gonna eat bananas.'"
Bananas are Montana's largest export to this day. No,
not really. But it wouldn't have surprised Ms. Ireland
if you found a railroad pamphlet from 1910 claiming
families need teachers
Homestead Act of 1862 prompted more than 600,000 people
to move west, Ms. Ireland's family and the Strasburger
greatly impacted the West's economy and population. In
states like Washington, Idaho and Montana, the effects
of the Homestead Act could be seen in an increase in agriculture.
Thus, the population tended toward family groups with
plenty of children to help around the farm. Large farming
families needed schools for their children. And with so
many public elementary schools springing up in budding
communities, teachers (like the Strasburger sisters) were
in great demand. Salaries that would attract college-educated
men would be too costly for rural communities. School
districts saved money by hiring women and paying them
pioneer in women's education
arrived at the Spokane Train Depot with hopes of starting
her teaching career and perhaps one day owning her own
land. The State Normal School at Cheney, a teacher-training
institute, was her next stop. Education was very important
to Esther, and attending a normal school was similar
to attending college today.
The records from the years when Esther and her sisters
attended the State Normal School at Cheney were destroyed
in a large fire around 1908. The year Esther might have
enrolled, the class had some 500 students, three-quarters
of whom were women.
Many of the state-funded normal schools became state-funded
universities. For example, Eastern Washington University
traces its roots to the Benjamin P. Cheney Academy.
The academy became the State Normal School at Cheney
in 1889 (the same year Washington was granted statehood).
It became Eastern Washington College of Education in
1937, at which time it was already a fully accredited
four-year degree-granting institution with many majors.
The name was changed to Eastern Washington State College
in 1961; in 1971 the state legislature renamed the institution
Eastern Washington University.
Because the normal schools had originally accepted women,
they continued accepting females when they grew into
universities. Thus, normal schools became some of the
first colleges to allow women. Esther was not only a
pioneer in the West, but in women's formal education
After the sisters received their teaching certificates,
country elementary schools hired them between 1905 and
1909 in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. Records
from Lydia's and Anna's school districts show they earned
between 10 and 12 dollars a month.
Having grown up on a farm in Iowa, Esther, Lydia and
Anna were accustomed to rural life. Many of the young,
single teachers boarded with community members, paying
a precious amount of their small wage for rent each
The homestead families lived in shacks that averaged
twelve by fourteen feet. There were no guest bedrooms
for the teachers and the crowded dwellings provided
on to land and prosperity in Montana
three single Strasburger sisters dated during this period.
seemed to have a lot of suitors, as illustrated by the
postcards she kept. One gentleman in particular captured
married LeRoy Mott around 1910. Lydia also wed that year;
her husband, Eli Hathaway, was ten years her senior. Lydia
gave birth to a baby boy in 1914.
Now imagine Esther's position at this time. A single woman,
five states between her and her childhood home, probably
boarding with strangers, moving from one school district
to the next, teaching for a low wage, and suddenly she
came upon an advertisement for a Montana homestead...
about time we started talking about that budding community
in Western Montana known as the Sun River Valley.
This information was gathered from Eastern Washington