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

Last, Ellen
Chapter 7: Hilda Belle Oxby,   pp. 49-51 ff.

Page 49

7. Hilda Belle Oxby
by Ellen Last
In Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the twenties roared very quietly, if at all. At
student dance in the gym of the Normal School, President Schofield noticed
with alarm that some of the young women students had rolled down their
stockings. Turning to faculty member Hilda Belle Oxby, he asked her to repri-
mand the students for their shocking behavior and to request that they roll
their hose. Her bright eyes sparkling, she replied that she would be happy
do so "as soon as he walked over to some of the women teachers dressed
similar style and did the same.. .He didn't, and neither did [she].'"
The mixture of independence, tolerance, respect for people, and sprightly
humor are still evident in the speech and manner of Hilda Belle Oxby. Her
sion of herself and of the school and community whose intellectual and
cultural life she helped to create and foster remains as strong and bright
When Harvey Schofield, first President of the Normal School at Eau
Claire, invited Oxby to join his staff at the school's opening in 1916, he
brought to the small school a unique woman with a mind "always filled
with a
tremendous mental curiosity." This curiosity had, even at this early
stage of
her career, led her into numerous experiences which few girls of her back-
ground even dreamed of. In a time when girls from isolated communities in
northern Michigan didn't go to high school, she went, driven to the boarding
school by her mother in a sleigh. In a time when young women wishing to
teach went to normal schools and teachers' colleges, she went to "the
sity" - first the University of Michigan, then the German universities
at Mar-
burg "in the summer," Berlin "in the winter," and Freiburg
"in the spring."
Her thirteen-month stay in Europe ended just as World War I broke out.
She recalls that her ship steamed out of Southampton at 1:00 p.m. The har-
bor was closed at 2:00 that afternoon. Returning to the Midwest, she aug-
mented her previous two years of secondary school teaching at Battle Creek
with a year of teaching in Illinois before being invited by Schofield to
German in the "College Course" of the new normal school.
At this point in her career Oxby's life was touched personally by the sort
of forces she enjoyed studying - the forces shaping relations between na-
tions. The wave of anti-German feeling which accompanied the outbreak of
World War I ended the study of German on many campuses, including Eau
Claire's, and Oxby found herself teaching in her minor - rhetoric - in that
stronghold of unsung heroines, the freshman composition course. She also
taught Latin, began making "lemonade" of the "lemon"
she'd been handed,
and made the best of it by retraining in Spanish. She spent four summers
the University of Mexico and two summers in Middlebury, Vermont, immers-
ing herself in the Spanish language and culture as she had previously done
with the German.
This interest in other nations and their relations with the United States
led her, in 1925, to Columbia University, whose graduate program in
education was popular with many normal school teachers. Faced with the
choice of graduate programs, Oxby felt no excitement at the prospect of "tak-

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