University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The University of Wisconsin Collection

Page View

Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / They came to learn, they came to teach, they came to stay
(1980)

Greathouse, Kathy
Chapter 3: Emily Webster: math and maxims,   pp. 31-32


Page 31


3. Emily Webster: Math and Maxims
1849-1933
by Kathy Greathouse
Marble and granit are perishable monuments and their inscriptions may be
seldom read.
Carve your name on human hearts, they alone are immortal.
For fifty years, the name of Emily Webster, mathematics professor, lived
in the hearts of students and faculty of the Oshkosh Normal School/State
Teachers College.'
"Hold the child responsible for what he knows and teach him what he
does not know," was one of the many Webster maxims that circulated
through the school during her teaching career from 1875 to 1925. "Anyone
who passed Miss Webster and graduated could teach arithmetic and there was
no doubt about it," recalled a former student years later. No one could
hide
mathematical ignorance from Webster, who disliked careless, mentally lazy
students, but always worked diligently with a student who tried. She was
a
firm believer in individualized learning. But, her campus reputation went
be-
yond the academic realm of arithmetic, and Latin and English, which she also
taught. Emily Webster was known for her sense of humor, her witty speeches,
and her love of travel, nature, and people.
Born on the Western Reserve of Ohio on 9 July 1849, Emily Webster
was the eldest daughter of Lucius and Emily (Pickett) Webster. Webster, a
re-
sourceful and religious man, moved his small family to Winneconne, Wiscon-
sin, where in the early 1850s Indians and wigwams were still a common sight.
In 1871, Emily Webster decided to enroll in a six-week teaching course
at the Oshkosh Normal School, with forty-three other students. After com-
pleting that course, she took four years of advanced work and was one of
eight students in the first graduating class of the Oshkosh Normal School
in
1875. She stayed on to be a teacher at what since has become the University
of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Emily Webster and the Oshkosh Normal School grew up together at a
time when there were few normal schools and students from all over the state
came in search of knowledge that would lead to good jobs and golden oppor-
tunities. During her fifty-year career, she served under four presidents
George Albee, Rufus Halsey, John Keith, and Harry Brown.
Known as an "exacting" math teacher, who turned the "rut [of
math] into
a pleasant path," Emily Webster was "kind-hearted, but not soft-headed."
Her motto was, "accuracy and reasonable rapidity."
"She was as searching and relentless as a lawyer in cross-examination
of
a witness. Tears on the part of a girl, or bluff on the part of a boy, was
never
accepted as legal tender for the correct method or answer for a problem in
arithmetic," recalled a student.
"She said at different times in class, that if girls would spend as
much
time decorating the inside of their heads as they do the outside, they would
be better off."
A large, strong woman, Webster dressed plainly. She lived a simple life
and did not lavish money on herself. She walked the thirteen miles to school
31


Go up to Top of Page