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With the end of the school year fast approaching, it's important to remember and honor someone who is often referred to as the Mother of Education in Manatee County.
A proud descendant of the Earl of Moss in Scotland, Frances McKay (1868-1956) was a promising student. She planned a career in journalism and joined the staff of the Chicago Daily News. After receiving a reporting assignment that her father deemed "unbecoming for a young lady," Frankie's journalism career was short-lived.
Unfortunately for Frankie (but fortunately for our community!), asthma led her to a better climate with her aunt in Polk County. As an honors graduate of the Cook County Normal School in Chicago ("normal" schools were set up specifically to train teachers), Frankie McKay accepted her first teaching position in a one-room rural schoolhouse at Fallen Creek.
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As word of her innovative teaching style spread, Manatee County offered to increase Frankie's $20-a-month salary if she would leave Polk County and teach here instead. Decision-makers in Manatee County must have been swayed by the glowing recommendation given by trustees of the Fallen Creek school: "Miss Frankie McKay is the best teacher we ever had, despite the fact that she is a woman."
In January 1889, Frankie McKay started teaching in Palmetto's one-room schoolhouse: a box house that even served as a shelter for a number of pigs that slept under the building at night. Good thing Palmetto offered her a raise, because working conditions were not ideal: Window screens were nonexistent, and the pigs ensured a
large number of flies were always present.
In need of better school supplies, Frankie ordered them, paying for them in $5 installments from her monthly salary. Recognizing the quality education that their children were receiving, parents rallied together and began a fundraising campaign to repay her by organizing social functions such as school plays.
Coming from the big city of Chicago, imagine Frankie's surprise when she learned that geography lessons were forbidden for religious reasons here. Due to the local minister's literal belief that man came from the four corners of the earth, Miss McKay was unable to use the geography books she had brought with her.
In an interview after her retirement, Frankie explains: "I had to teach the truth some way."
With that goal in mind, Frankie began her "mapping lessons" by drawing a neighborhood map on the chalkboard. Interestingly enough, the minister's house occupied the center of the blackboard with the rest of the neighborhood revolving around him. As these lessons progressed, Frankie drew blackboard maps covering the whole state, country, and even eastern seaboard.
In a strategic move designed to get kids talking to their families about geography, these lessons were scheduled at the end of the school day. As it turns out, even the adults in Palmetto were thirsty for knowledge about geography, and many parents and former students would watch these "mapping lessons" through the windows of the one-room schoolhouse.
Bolstered by her success among townspeople, Frankie discussed sailors' ability to sail the seas without falling off, and she eventually had the courage to draw a circle on the chalkboard and declare that the world was round.
Less than a year after her arrival in Palmetto, Frankie married a Civil War veteran, Captain James Alexander Howze, a widower. Captain Howze was a merchant and he came in contact with a salesman from Tampa in August of 1888. The man was ill and Captain Howze provided him with a place to rest before he traveled back to Tampa.
Word soon came back that he had died of yellow fever. A few days later, Captain Howze's wife, Mary, and their children came down the affliction. The children recovered, but Mary Howze became Palmetto's first victim of yellow fever, and was laid to rest in the historical cemetery on 5th Street.
James met Frankie when she was teaching a Sunday School class during her first year in town and married her on Christmas Eve 1889. Frankie became a mother to his three children and they had four more sons together. This cemented Frankie McKay Howze's place in the community and anchored her to this area much to Palmetto's benefit!
Check out next week's column for more about Frankie's life.
Amanda Polson and Tori Chasey Edwards, supervisor and curator at Palmetto Historical Park, love discovering century-old gossip. They call it research. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 941-723-4991.