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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Mary Purcell meant education in Sedro-Woolley

(Mary Purcell)
Mary Purcell

      Now her name is only known because of her namesake school, but for much of the first half of the 20th century, Mary Purcell embodied education here. Her first cousin twice removed, Mary (Purcell) Greene helped us research Purcell's childhood. Born in St. Alfonse, Quebec, on June 27, 1873, she was an only child and came with her parents as a school-age child to Custer, Michigan, where she received her early education. In May 1893, as the nationwide financial Depression set in, she graduated from an Industrial School of Business in Big Rapids, Michigan, and returned to teach in the Custer and Stewart public schools. She moved to Skagit County in 1901, apparently to join relatives here, and temporarily took a teaching position at Rexville, which later was consolidated with LaConner schools.
      In the spring of 1902 she moved to Sedro-Woolley to live with her relatives, the Paul Neilan family, and replaced Miss Winnie McGrath for the next school year at Sedro Graded School. At that time there were only nine teachers in the Sedro-Woolley district, including a kindergarten teacher and one for the first classes of the planned high school. She was a classroom teacher until 1909, when she was promoted to teaching-principal of the graded school. Two schools stood on the site by then. We found in a 1937 history of schools that the new high school building was constructed in 1902 where the tennis courts now stand north of Central School. When the new term started in August (there was no Labor Day holiday then), students in both schools were allowed to hold an election to name their schools. The students in grades 1-5 at Sedro Graded School named theirs for their favorite U.S. pioneer, Benjamin Franklin. Students in grades 6-8 and the high school classes chose to name theirs for the famed writer, Washington Irving, who was very popular at the time. Irving died in 1859 and was most popular for his book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
      In July 1918 Purcell earned her "Life Certificate" after additional training at the state Normal School in Bellingham. In 1925 she was appointed principal of both schools until they were razed the next year and replaced by the new Central School. She remained as principal until 1947, when she resigned and retired. She was lauded in a special ceremony in the spring that year. Two years later School District 101 broke ground on the new Mary Purcell Primary School on Bennett Street and it opened for students in September 1951. Your editor was a second-grade student that year, with Miss Denton as teacher. Miss Purcell died Sept. 20, 1957, at age 86.

(Mary Purcell School)
Mary Purcell School, September 1951

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Story posted on March 27, 2011
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This article originally appeared in Issue 53 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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