Web posted Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Former school teacher talked to Mark Twain on his last visit to Hannibal in 1902


Editor's note: This article, written by the late Kay Speckhart, Woman's Editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post, was originally printed on Feb. 14, 1970. It was submitted by Mrs. C.V. Tate, Hannibal.

Miss Leolia Reynolds, 88, of 1109 Fulton Ave., is Hannibal's oldest retired school teacher and one of the few residents of the community who met and talked to Mark Twain on his last visit here in 1902.

She is also the oldest member of the First Methodist Church, having joined the church in 1895.

Miss Reynolds retired as a Hannibal public school teacher in 1952 at the age of 70, having begun her teaching career at what is now known as A.D. Stowell School in 1901.

For the past two years, Miss Reynolds, who will observe her 89th birthday in August, has been making her home with a sister, Mrs. Hattie Raithel at 3119 Marsh Ave., but still maintains her home on Fulton Avenue.

She has good health, is able to attend church, go shopping and other places, but never goes alone due to her poor eyesight. Miss Reynolds says that after having been a very active person, her failing eyesight is disturbing to her, so she has "slowed down" and doesn't go anywhere unless accompanied by her sister.

Until she went to the home of her sister, Miss Reynolds had resided on Hannibal's south side all of her life.

She attended the old South School there for all eight years of her elementary education. A.D. Stowell, for whom the school was named in September of 1924, was principal of the institution at that time and also when Miss Reynolds taught there from 1901 to 1918.

Miss Reynolds was a member of the 1901 graduating class of Hannibal High School. The class of two boys and 13 girls planned its graduation program to include the writings of Mark Twain and invited the famous author to come to Hannibal to deliver the commencement address.

Twain accepted the invitation but due to other commitments, later found it necessary to cancel plans for his visit and address here. Miss Reynolds recalls that she recited "The Ice Storm" for the graduation program.

It was in the summer of 1902 that Mark Twain paid his final visit to the hometown of his boyhood. He invited the 1901 Hannibal High School graduating class, which had asked him to be its commencement speaker, to visit with him one afternoon in the second floor parlors of the Windsor Hotel. Class members who still resided here visited with him and posed for pictures with the famed author at the informal reception.

Miss Reynolds recalls very little about her meeting the famous Mark Twain but a reminder of the occasion remains at his boyhood home and museum on Hill Street. Included in the mementos there is a picture of the famous author with Miss Reynolds and other members of the class, taken on that summer day in 1902.

Miss Reynolds left her teaching duties at Stowell School to become principal of Mark Twain School. She served as the school's principal for 29 years, then continued as a teacher at the school until her retirement.

She is well known in the community and has a host of former students living here. Miss Reynolds taught many boys and girls whose parents and grandparents had also been her pupils.

Miss Reynolds remembers nearly all of her former pupils when she meets them and can usually tell them which rooms or grades they were in at her school.

The former teacher makes no estimate of how many boys and girls she taught in her 50 years of teaching but she says there was only one year in that time that she taught a room with less than 35 pupils. That was one year early in her career at Stowell School when she had 28 pupils. She says she went to the principal, telling him she "just didn't have anything to do." Miss Reynolds had taught a room of 61 children the preceding year, although she did have assistance that year.

She also taught classes during the years she served as principal at Mark Twain School, so in her career of 50 years, she taught thousands of school children.

When Miss Reynolds attended Hannibal High School it was located at Central School which also housed the elementary grades. Later the high school was located on Broadway for many years before the present high school building was erected.

There have been many changes in the school system since the days when Miss Reynolds began teaching. Pettibone School was then the North School. It burned but was later rebuilt with contributions from the late W.B. Pettibone, given as a memorial to his wife, Laura Jones Pettibone for whom the school is named.

Mark Twain School was built in 1925. Before its present building, the original Mark Twain School consisted of two cottages on Hawkins Avenue and four rooms in the present brick building. The school has always housed six grades, children formerly being allowed to attend either Eugene Field School, formerly known as West School, or Central for grades seven and eight.

The school system later changed to have junior high school, grades seven through nine, at Stowell, Central and Eugene Field Schools; continuing with that arrangement until the present junior high school building was constructed.

Most members of Miss Reynolds' high school graduating class are now deceased. She knows of only one other member, besides herself, who is still living and she does not reside in Hannibal. Graduating classes were small in those days because most boys and girls did not finish their high school education. A majority of them terminated their schooling after the elementary grades.

Miss Reynolds recalls the mode of travel in those days, walking, but says "we wrapped up more." She walked to and from school as a student and for many years after she began teaching. Street cars came to Hannibal in 1902 but many people continued to walk much of the time after they began operating here.

The only means of transportation in Hannibal before the street car was the horse and buggy.

Miss Reynolds has seen many changes in the educational systems since she began her teaching career but believes that there is much progress in these radical changes.

Speaking of the trade schools and expansion of the educational systems, she feels there is much need for these studies but stated that there will always be much demand for higher education and people in the professions. She believes the schools are "improving all the time."

She smiles when she speaks of some of the changes and refers to the "new math" saying "Oh, my, I couldn't teach arithmetic today. . ." Miss Reynolds formerly taught junior high mathematics but she hasn't learned the "new math."

When asked what she enjoyed most about teaching school, Miss Reynolds replied "I enjoyed every bit of it" and that obviously sums up her feelings about her long career, teaching the thousands of boys and girls to whom her life was dedicated.








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