Antelope Valley Press - AV Living (Antelope Valley)
Mary Ince Mcpherson An Early Antelope Valley Schoolteacher
Imagine being a young schoolteacher handling an overcrowded classroom of 85 students and then two years later, instructing only seven students in a small one-room classroom in old Wilsona.
Such was the life of early schoolteacher Mary Ince McPherson (1891-1989), who truly loved teaching in the Antelope Valley — Wilsona, Del Sur and Esperanza—for over 42 years.
Born and raised in Texas, a young Mary accepted employment in Oklahoma to help children afflicted with measles and then decided to become a teacher there. However, she then faced the insurmountable task of teaching 85 students of different ages in a small classroom for $50 a month.
Eventually, this position became too much for her and she resigned. She and some relatives then moved to Los Angeles. In 1920, her life changed forever when she went to visit her uncle and aunt, Ira and Mary McCaleb, who had moved to Wilsona around 1918.
The Wilsona School District dates back to December 14, 1915, when it was formed from parts of the Llano, Redman and Roosevelt Districts. Located in the Eastern Antelope Valley, it became one of the largest (100-square-miles) and most geographically isolated districts in Los Angeles County.
The one-room school’s building cost was $1,185. The first enrollment included 16 children. The original school site was in the general area of what is now Avenue O and 200th Street East. It was named Wilsona School District in honor of President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), who served from 1913-1921. After the school opened it had a new schoolteacher every year.
It was during a family visit to see the Calebs — it took seven grueling hours by car to reach Wilsona from Los Angeles — that some of the Wilsona School Board members asked her to teach at the school for the upcoming year.
One newly elected trustee was A.L. Caleb, another relative. Mary told them she did not have credentials to teach in California. No problem as they urged her to see the County Superintendent of Schools Mark Keppel and get credentials to teach. Interested with this proposal, she returned to Los Angeles and took a six-week summer course and received her credentials.
Shortly thereafter, she was teach
ing seven students at the Wilsona School and paid $120 per month for being the teacher, principal, superintendent and typist as well as an extra $10 for janitorial duties.
One interesting class project included discussing Joshua trees. Mary noted: “Over north of here on the other side of J was an extremely large Joshua tree. I had about 10 boys and girls who asked about the tree and so we went out there and I had the 8th grade boys stand fingertip to fingertip around the tree. It took five of these boys to reach around the tree, and later bandits came along and burned it down.”
Upon accepting this position, Mary homesteaded on 320 acres and lived in her newly built home. At this time most of the children lived on westside ranches in the district and the school was on the east side; the Board believed it would be best to move the school near a more central part of the district, about three miles west on 170th Street E.
So, in 1922, Miss Ince was approached by the trustees and asked if she would donate some of her property. She agreed and donated three acres of land for the new location of the school on 170th Street E and Avenue M-4.
However, not everyone favored this proposal. James Croley/Crow who had donated the original land threatened the ranchers with a shotgun when they came to relocate the schoolhouse. What could they do?
They waited only about a week when Croley left Wilsona one day to conduct some business in Los Angeles. During his absence, everyone gathered and picked up and moved the school to its new location and there was nothing that Croley could do.
Ince taught for five years in Wilsona. In September 1925, she married Taylor Lee McPherson (1891-1977) who lived in Los Angeles. After one year, however, the McPhersons moved to Lancaster. Taylor worked at the Lancaster Garage as a mechanic. Mary was asked to teach at Esperanza School due to student overcrowding. She then continued in the Westside Union School District until her retirement.
The McPhersons also organized the original Church of Christ in Lancaster in 1928.
Ince was a full-time teacher in Antelope Valley schools from 1920 to 1956 and then continued as a substitute for 11 years more, setting a record (at that time) for having taught school longer than any other AV instructor. In 1981, the Wilsona School’s multipurpose room was named the Mary McPherson Hall.