Miss Frankie Connell: Marion County’s first female elected official
Marion County’s rural teachers are shown in this 1912-13 photo published in the 1913 Marion County Atlas. Front row, left, is Miss Frankie Connell, who was elected superintendent of the Marion County school district in 1911. She was the first woman elected to a county office in Marion County, Mo. Photo from the Barry Zbornik collection.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Palmyra native Benjamin Reber wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper, the Palmyra Spectator, which was published on Nov. 25, 1942.
In the letter, he reminisced about his childhood in Palmyra, and about a nostalgic trip back home during his waning years.
One of his fondest memories was a noteworthy county election in 1911.
“You remember how Prof. (M. Van) Bashore was appointed first (Marion) county school superintendent? When election came Miss Frankie Connell ran against him. He pooh, poohed the idea of a woman holding office, but Miss Frankie won, the first woman to hold a Marion county office.”
Born in Lexington, Ky, and raised since infancy in the eastern half of Fabius Township, Miss Frankie Connell was well-known and respected throughout Marion County.
The only child of Squire J.S. Connell and Mary Elizabeth (Mollie) Hansbrough Connell of Fabius Township, she left home in September 1891, at the age of 15, to attend the newly established Orphan School in Fulton, Mo. The preparatory - or high school – affiliated with the Christian denomination, would later be renamed William Woods.
Courses at the school during its first term in the fall of 1890 included: Mental and Moral Philosophy and Logic; Mathematics and Astronomy; English Language and Literature; Natural Science and History; Preparatory Department; Instrumental Music; Voice Culture; and Shorthand and Typewriting. (In Faith and History, the story of William Woods College.)
Before beginning her first teaching job in 1894, she attended the two-week Marion County Teachers’ Institute at Washington School in Palmyra in August. Educators attending this conference:
Misses Eva Sams, Rozella Sams, Ada Rogers, Etta Leggett, Maud Bloomer, Susie Netherland, Amy Sanner, Berta Willis, Marion Comer, Kate M. Shults, Margaret Willis, Rosa Lee Terrill, Ella Hitt, Anna Leake, Birdie E. Potter, Frankie Connell, Maggie McCarthy, Josephine McCarthy, Mamie Appler, Sallie A. Hawkins, Estelle Green, Fannie Freeman, Myrtle Ledford, Minnie Simmons, Mabel Fookes, Lena Taylor, Kate McCardell, Lucy Spence, Cora Crim, Felicia Smith, Sophia Tittle, Minnie LaFon, Etta Steele, Nellie Burkholder, Sadie Foreman, Emily Schmidt, Bell Kincaid and Birdie McChristy. Messrs. Celsus Bell, Chas. B. Kendrick, Eugene A. Nelson, Emmet Luckenbaugh, O.P. Kelley, R.S. Hayden, J.W. Lightbody, and M. Forsythe. (Marion County Herald, Aug. 3, 1893 newspapers.com)
Her first teaching job was during the summer session 1894 at the Moody school house in eastern Fabius Township. The school term began with eight students, and due to the popularity of Miss Connell with parents and students, concluded the following July with 18.
Dollie, a correspondent for the Marion County Herald at Palmyra, was an invited guest at the closing exercises of the school, staged on July 6, 1894, and hosted by Miss Connell and her parents. The crowd for the day was estimated at 75.
“A happier day never was spent,” the correspondent wrote. “The forenoon was spent in reciting lessons, after which we all repaired to the grove on the bank of the Fabius and the patrons and pupils prepared their tables for the crowd. I never saw finer cakes or better cooking any place in Missouri than we had there and iced tea in abundance. Miss Frankie provided a fine spring lamb and Mesdames Slough and Garver had the finest and best fried fish I ever tasted. … After dinner the speeches were made and everyone of them were prefect. Then the prizes were given and to every pupil Miss Frankie gave a choice box of candy and bananas and how joyfully their little faces lit up as each was called to come forward to receive them.”
During mid-September 1894, Miss Connell began teaching her second term at the school.
And thus her 50-year career was under way.
Teaching assignments, as gathered through Palmyra newspaper articles accessed via newspapers.com:
1894: Moody school
1897: Monroe City public schools
1899: Mays school house
1900-01: Mays-Shannon school house in Fabius. The forty-year-old school burned at the end of the school term.
1901: Hannibal’s West School
1908: Principal of Palmyra grade school for two years.
1911: Elected superintendent of the Marion County school district and moved to Hannibal. Her pay was $1,200 per year. Following her term for the Marion County district, she resumed her teaching career with the Hannibal public schools, teaching at both Eugene Field School and Hannibal High School.
Frankie Connell, a life-long educator, retired in 1947 after spending 50 years in classrooms throughout Marion County. She molded the minds of an untold number of students, who would then progress into leadership roles for future social and community development.
She began spending her winters in Florida in the 1950s, and by 1955 she had made St. Petersburg, Fla., her permanent home.
The June 30, 1955 issue of the Palmyra Spectator carried an account of Miss Frankie Connell’s visit back to her home county.
“Former superintendent of Marion county schools, Frankie Connell, visited Palmyra Friday, en route to her home in St. Petersburg, Fla. Miss Connell, who is 84 years of age, was making the trip alone, driving her automobile.”
She died May 21, 1964, in Pinellas County, Fla., at the age of 88.
Click here to read the story how Miss Frankie Connell intervened on behalf of her student, who was about to marry at the age of 14.