Mary Viley Hawkins

Portrait of Mary Hawkins painted by Bette Myers

Mary Viley Hawkins, daughter of William and Elizabeth Hawkins, was born April 15, 1876 on a tobacco plantation in Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky. The prominent Viley and Hawkins families had adjoining plantations breeding thoroughbred race horses and serving as leading members of the Tobacco Growers Association.

Mary and her brother, Elijah, were cared for by the family servant, Amy Stevenson who taught them to be kind and giving, which led to Mary’s choice to become a teacher. She attended Hamilton College, a private women’s college in Lexington, received her teaching diploma, and taught in Fayette County for ten years. Not wanting any child to be without access to books, Mary created a library in 1907 acting as Librarian.

Mary’s mother, Bettie, passed away in 1906 and was buried in the Lexington Cemetery. Deciding his family needed a change, Mary’s father came to the Kootenai Valley to visit his brother in 1910. While here, he purchased 160 acres of valley farm land in District #11 and the Jordan property along District #2. He returned to Kentucky for the family and their belongings, arriving in Bonners Ferry with Mary, Elijah and his wife Marie, and Amy.

Mary designed a modern bungalow in the traditional southern log home style. Sixty foot logs were used to create 20×20 foot rooms with 12 foot ceilings to house their ornate Victorian furniture. “The Cabin”, as it was known, boasted four chimneys, a covered porch the full length of the southern side, a “modern” kitchen and two rooms in back for Amy. On January 6, 1917, Mary’s faithful companion, Amy Stevenson died and was buried near “The Cabin”.

Mary became acquainted with the ladies in the community, and once again realized the need for children to have access to books. She and 11 ladies formed the Reader’s Club, performing plays to raise money. They accepted donated books, creating the first “mobile” library; which traveled about town in wheelbarrows until being housed in Simond’s Drug Store in 1913.

Mary enjoyed the Kootenai Valley. In 1918, with a group of friends, she climbed Mt. Clifty to view the beautiful valley. That same year, she was asked to fill in for her cousin, Miss Lee Hawkins, as the third grade teacher in the town school. By the end of the term, that love of teaching inspired her to attend Lewiston Normal for six weeks earning an Idaho diploma. Independent School District No. 4 hired her as the third grade teacher for the 1919-20 year.

In 1918, School District #21 had been formed on the Barto ranch 7 miles north of town. It took 2 years for the district to become accredited. In 1920, calling it the McKinley School, the district was able to hire their first teacher; Miss Mary accepted that position. She walked barefoot to the school and home each week, carrying her boots as she didn’t want them to get dirty or wear out. She taught at McKinley School for 2 years.

In the fall of 1922, Independent School District No. 4 once again hired Miss Mary to teach the third grade. She remained in that position for three years, until District #3 was in desperate need of a teacher at the Curley Creek School. She took that challenge even though it meant spending less time at “The Cabin”.

Miss Mary loved reading to her students about the south and “Uncle Remus” stories. She enjoyed teaching art, poetry, songs, and about wildlife, flowers and nature. Each Christmas a tree in the school yard was adorned with apples and suet balls as treats for the many birds. Her students learned astronomy and could identify constellations, enjoying the mythological stories about them.

In June 1926, County Superintendent of Schools, G. W. Tautfest resigned, and Mary V. Hawkins, age 50, was appointed to fill the vacancy. She was the second woman to hold this position. That fall, she ran on the Democratic Ticket and won the election receiving a yearly salary of $125. She served three terms as County Superintendent of Schools from 1927-1932, winning two more elections. She chose not to run for re-election in 1932.

As Superintendent, Miss Mary bought an auto and learned to drive so she could visit the rural schools. She loaned books to parents until schools were started in their areas. She was instrumental in developing more rural schools, and was successful in bringing the Mission School under the jurisdiction of the county.

When Mary’s father died in 1936, she had Amy exhumed, and took them both to the family plot in the Lexington Cemetery.

In retirement, she participated in the expansion of the Reader’s Club; helping it become the county library. She also laid the foundation for the historical society, collecting local history from ‘old timers’ of which she was becoming. She taught Sunday school in the Union Church and was a member of Chapter AP, P.E.O. She continued to entertain guests in “The Cabin” telling stories of the south and serving her famous “beaten biscuits”.

When Mary Viley Hawkins died June 15, 1966, the community lost a spiritual and educational leader. She was buried in the Lexington Cemetery.


A Spiritual and Educational Leader

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