My mother was the older child, the only daughter of a single Mom.

Group portrait of students around snow-covered...

Group portrait of students around snow-covered school building–the children are standing on the roof, on snow banks, and in snow troughs. Valdez, Alaska. Circa 1910 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She and my Dad married in the garden of the Women’s League at the University of Michigan, where they’d met.

My Mom, Elizabeth Frederick, neé Notley, born in 1917, known all her life as Betty, had signed up to be a dance teacher, as a Sophomore, to meet guys.

My Dad, Raymond Frederick, Junior, born in 1918, known as Ray after he left home for college, instead of the Buddy he’d been called to distinguish him from his father, was a Freshman at the University of Michigan when he signed up for dance class to meet women.

They dated off and on throughout school and married a year after my Dad graduated.

She’d have been happier to marry a year earlier, but, he told her, “I need to get a job and get my career established before I get married,” so, she waited.

She married in a lovely, feminine, street-length, light brown, organza gown, with a beautiful, wide summer straw hat.

It was an affordable dress, useful after the wedding, unlike the long-train, white formal wedding gown her sister-in-law wore in her own wedding a week later.

The garden was decorated with flowers from a wedding that had been performed there hours before, and whose participants gave her permission to continue to use their flowers.

My parents must have known, on that sunny July 27, 1941 day that the country was gearing up for war.

I don’t know if her mother, Geraldine Notley, neé Stuart, already had a silver tea service to give her as a wedding gift.

My grandmother had lost her husband, George Notley, to syphilis, after a long illness, when she was in her 30s, with two young children to raise.

She was frugal, and, by living in a college town, working for the University of Michigan, and with help from her mother-in-law, was able to put both her children through college.

My grandmother Notley, born in 1882, had graduated from the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, in 1907, with a Bachelor’s degree in History and in 1912, with a Master’s in English.

She was a school principal in Meriden, Kansas for three years.

Then, with letters attesting to her character, succumbed to her electrician brother’s pleas to come join him in Valdez, Alaska, where he had secured a teaching position for her.


Meriden, Kansas, February 18, 1910

To Any Board of Education.

Dear Sirs:- Miss Geraldine Stuart has been the assistant principal in the Meriden High School for three successive years.

And I can cheerfully and positively say that her work has been eminently satisfactory, both as to instruction and discipline…

She has the rare ability of commanding the respect of her students and inspiring them to lofty aims.

If she leaves Meriden it will be under the unanimous protest of her scholars and many friends.

Principal of Meriden High School, W. G. Rees


This is to certify that I am personally acquainted with Miss Geraldine Stuart, of Lawrence, Kansas, who has taught in the Meriden High School for three years, and that it gives me great pleasure to recommend her as a thoroughly competent teacher and a young woman of highest christian character, whose influence is the very best for the young people in the formative period of life.

Pastor Methodist Episcopal Church, Meriden, Kansas, W. B. Fisher

She taught high school history and English in Valdez for two years, eventually accepting an invitation to become a principal in a school district in Nogales, Arizona, again leaving with letters of recommendation.


Valdez Public School

October 6, 1913

To Whom It May Concern:

The bearer Miss Geraldine Stuart, has taught English and History in the Valdez High School for the past two years and has given entire satisfaction.

She is well prepared for her work and has the happy faculty of producing results…

Miss Stuart is a young lady of the highest type and cannot fail to give satisfaction in the work she has chosen.

Very Respectfully, F. G. Davis, Prin.



Valdez, Alaska

I take great pleasure in saying a few words in commendation of the character and work of Miss E. Geraldine Stuart, who has had charge of the History and English departments in the Valdez High School for the past two years.

Miss Stuart is admirably qualified for her work, having taken the degrees of A.B.  and A. M. at the University of Kansas, and having been successful as a teacher for the past six years.

I can only offer the highest praise for her work at Valdez. She has made the work in English equal to that of the best High Schools in the States, and her work in History has attained pronounced success.

Her character is without, and above reproach and no student who is fortunate enough to be under her influence can help being thereby the better fitted morally for meeting life’s  daily battles.

Respectfully submitted, Clerk Valdez School Board

C. E. Bunnell, Attorney At Law

[later, First President of the University of Alaska, according to my grandmother’s handwritten note]

She met my grandfather, George, in Nogales, another boarder in her boarding house. He was a graduate of the University of Chicago (B. A., Philosophy, 1909) and a Customs Agent.

They married on July 7, 1916. I wore her wedding dress, preserved in her cedar chest, to my mother’s 80th birthday.

My grandmother was still listed as a non-resident member of the Betty Washington, Lawrence, Kansas chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in their annual 1917-1918 program booklet, resident of Nogales, Arizona.

Though Mexico is known for its fine silver, it seems unlikely that a school principal and a Customs agent, early 30-somethings, with two children born one year and three after they marrried, could have afforded to buy a silver tea service in the traditional English style.

Perhaps they received it as a wedding gift.

My grandmother’s mother, Frances E. Stuart, neé Tuller, had been raised in Ohio.

She graduated from Oberlin, near Cleveland, Ohio.

As she was born in 1846, it is likely she would have gone to Oberlin around 1864 and graduated around 1868, supposing that the Civil War did not disrupt her education.

Known for its anti-slavery views, Oberlin was one of the first colleges to admit women and blacks.

It was the first to grant women Bachelor’s degrees.

Family records suggest that during my grandmother Notley’s childhood, her father was gone as much as nine years.

The story that came down is that he was trying to be a successful businessman.

Perhaps there was some money in my great-grandmother Frances Stuart’s family, because, eventually, she gave her husband some money to invest.

He bought a hotel in Manhattan, Kansas and moved the family there from Ohio.

Once they got there, my great-grandmother rebelled.

“I am not raising my children to be servants in a hotel.”

She took the children to Lawrence, Kansas and no more was heard of her husband.

Perhaps the silver tea service had come from her family.

When I graduated from college my mother told me I was the fourth generation of women in our family to get a college degree.

I wish I’d asked her where the silver tea service came from.

Are there things you wish you’d asked your mother while you still could?


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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