By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Flora McDavid – then Flora Gibson – was ten-years-old and in fifth grade at the Iron Hill School when her teacher, Mary Anna Davis (soon to be Mary Anna Horne) became engaged and made plans to leave her profession and the school behind. Davis was the only teacher McDavid had known since she started attending the one-room schoolhouse where first through eighth grade students shared space.
Though she technically wasn’t allowed to start classes until she was six-years-old and in first grade – there was no Kindergarten at the time – Davis let her start coming the year before. She wasn’t technically enrolled yet, but she was allowed to come with her brothers, she said, “to visit and get used to it.” She remembers when Davis told her students she was getting married, because she remembers them teasing about her new last name. She also remembered the quilt they contributed to for their teacher, but after 78 years she didn’t think she’d ever lay eyes on that quilt again. Then Pamela Howard stepped in.
Howard doesn’t own the quilts, but they have been entrusted to her care for a while. She explained that a friend of hers, who wishes to remain anonymous, was given two quilts by Horne before she passed away, both featuring the embroidered signatures of students who attended the Iron Hill School. The friend shared the quilts with Howard, who planned to display them at her shop, Walking on Sunshine, for a short while and try to help find as many of the individuals named on the quilt as possible. One of the names that Howard recognized was Flora Gibson, the mother of another friend, Ramona Bellew, as well as Flora’s brother, James Gibson.
“One of our goals was to take the quilt to Flora McDavid (née Gibson),” Howard said. Another goal was to collect all the names and find out how many of the signers were still living.
It’s obvious from looking at the names that there was both a broad age range of students signing the quilt squares and that the embroidery was based on the actual signatures of the students. Some are simple scrawls while other signatures are in gorgeous, flowing script. Some list full names, while others, like a square signed “Harlan E” feature only a first name or a first name and last initial. Still others, like the square for someone called “Sug,” list only nicknames.
Howard was all set to get the quilt to McDavid for a visit, then to start helping look for the other folks, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut down all plans for reunions, get togethers, or other public gatherings. Since then she has been able to get the quilt to McDavid, even if it has taken longer, and required more precautions and quarantine time, than originally anticipated. McDavid, for her part, has been thrilled to see the quilt again and read all the names listed.
“It’s so special, I couldn’t begin to tell you,” McDavid said. “I was so glad to get to see them.”
She added that while there are “very few of them left” – most would be in their late 80s or early 90s by now – it was pleasant to reminisce about her friends and classmates, and the teacher that helped instill in her a love of learning and education. McDavid would later follow the example of Ms. Davis, attending college to become a teacher herself, teaching first at the Salem school, then at Fairview, before settling at Prichard where she taught fourth grade until retirement. Her daughter, Ramona Bellew, also followed the call to teach, another legacy of Ms. Davis and example of how her ability to instill a love of learning in her students has had unanticipated ripples down through the years.
Howard and her friends have researched and listed all of the names embroidered on the quilt, and believe they may have determined who some of those without listed surnames may be. The full list includes; A.F. Williams, Betty L. Davis, Billy Elliott, Dixie Counts, Donald Akers, Edna (possibly Steve Womack’s mother), Flora Edith Gibson, Gladys Newman, Harlan E. (possibly Everman), Howard & Hobert (probably twin brothers Howard and Hobert Davis, younger siblings of the teacher), Jack Carper, James Gibson, Letha Harlow, M.S. Huffman, Margaret Carper, Nancy Ines Akers, Norman Parsons, Robert Parsons, Sug, W.H. Williams, Wilma Parsons, Billy Messer, Blance Haight, Burnett Brothers (possibly Bud and Everett), Delbert R. Marshall, Delphia Kibbey, Dorothy Faye Counts, Frieda Carroll, Georgia Dean, Geraldine Foster, Hazel Newman, Helen Burge, Irene Bush, Loillie Mae Burnett, Louise Burnett, Mae Belle Rowland, Maggie, Mary E. Brown, Maxine Burnett, Myrtle Huffman, Russell Burnett, Tootsie, and Ward Carter.
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