Time Machine: The early years of the C.R. teacher headed to the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame

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Jane Boyd, a “modern saint” who left her mark on Cedar Rapids and on the lives of countless women and children, will be posthumously inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame on Saturday.

The beloved teacher — who was more than a teacher — began teaching at Tyler school, 807 12th Ave. SE, in the 1890s and would go on to found the Community House in southeast Cedar Rapids that bears her name.

Her parents were Jasper W. Boyd, a 41-year-old merchant in Pennsylvania, when he married a 29-year-old teacher, Elizabeth Osmond, in May 1861. They left almost immediately for Iowa, settling first in Lisbon, then moving a few years later to Tipton, where their two exceptional children were born and schooled. Their son, William, was born in 1864; their daughter, Lydia Jane Boyd, called “Jennie,” was born in 1869.

William became editor of the Tipton Advertiser and then editor of the Cedar Rapids Republican in 1893. He also was the city’s postmaster.

Jennie began teaching school in country schools near Tipton when she was 16 and moved on to teaching jobs in Stanwood, Mechanicsville and Minneapolis before following her brother to Cedar Rapids, where she became the first-grade teacher at Tyler in 1894. The Boyds lived with their parents at 612 Seventh Ave. SE. When their father died, the family moved to 1515 E Ave. NE. Elizabeth died in 1899.

tyler challenges

Jennie, with 64 students to teach at Tyler, worked in less than ideal conditions.

In September 1897, the ventilating system in Tyler gave out, and the building filled with noxious fumes that caused headaches and illness. The gases emanated from closets in the basement, where there were holes in the ground instead of sewers. Sewer connections from Eighth Street SE, anticipated to be connected around December, were expected to fix the problem.

At the same time, teachers and students were dodging huge chunks of plaster falling from the ceiling. By 1901, Tyler had a new addition.

It was about that time that Jennie saw that education was going to be only part of her job. In the days when little government help was available for the poor, she dedicated herself to providing counsel, clothing, food and shoes for her students.

In 1910, she leased a room at 117 N. 11th St. SE, a short walk to Tyler. She decided to begin using the name “Jane” instead of Jennie.

She became increasingly active in the programs at the YWCA. She attended extension summer camps and told stories at the YW Loyalty Club meetings.

more than teaching

Jane’s duties as a social worker gradually overshadowed her teaching and, in 1918, the school board released her from teaching so she could concentrate of social work from her office at Tyler.

Jane actively campaigned for improvements in the lives of the children in her charge.

In 1920, she was a guest speaker at the Cedar Rapids Rotary Club, telling the club about children of 14 nationalities in the school district, ones she wanted to develop into good American citizens.

Nearly 100 students from kindergarten to third grade, she told the club, were 5 to 18 pounds underweight. She advocated for hot soup and milk programs. The school, she said, also needed an auditorium and a gymnasium and showers for boys and girls and a room for children with special needs.

She organized mothers’ clubs and clubs for children. She planned programs for children whose parents worked.

Jane’s efforts caught the attention of the Woman’s Club, and 17 members dedicated themselves in 1921 to helping Jane in her work at Tyler. They helped at the school, assisted with sewing and donated to the milk fund.

Three years later, two circles of the King’s Daughters — one named for Jane Boyd — would follow suit.

Asked about her work, Jane said, “I am not a nurse nor a trained social worker. I only try to be a ‘big sister’ to mothers and a mother to the little ones,” according to records at The History Center.

the community house

The idea of establishing a Community House in the Oak Hill Neighborhood took root in 1921, and the Chamber of Commerce got on board. The first Community House, a five-room cottage on 10th Street SE, opened in 1921. It was quickly outgrown.

In 1928, Dr. and Mrs. Wentzle Ruml donated their home on Fifth Street SE as a larger Community House. The home was moved (in halves) to 13th Avenue and 10th Street SE and named in honor of Jane Boyd in April 1929. Jane’s brother returned to speak at the April 22 dedication.

In November 1932, Jane was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital “suffering from a serious toxic infection in her hand as the result of a small scratch,” it was reported. The scratch came from a needle in some used clothing she was sorting to give to the needy. The infection combined with pneumonia, and Jane died three weeks later, on Dec. 16, at age 63.

Hundreds of people — of “all races, all colors, all creeds” and all ages, according to a Cedar Rapids Tribune report — attended her funeral where the president of Coe College called her a “modern saint.”

A photograph of Jane Boyd hung at the Community House for more than 20 years. In 1945, Jane’s brother and his wife commissioned an oil painting by Henry Rossman of New York to replace it. They presented the portrait to the Community House in January 1946.

A new Jane Boyd Community House was built in 1962 at 943 14th Ave. SE. Jane’s portrait hangs there still.

l Comments: (319) 398-8338; d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

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