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DUNCAN, Marion (ca. 1916)


Posted By: Jennifer Gunderson (email)
Date: 3/22/2021 at 22:53:26


Of those who have passed on to

" ... Join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In lives made better by their presence"

is numbered Miss Marion Duncan, whose beautiful character still has its influence upon those who came under her guidance through the forty-seven years of her teaching profession or who were her social acquaintances. It is a world belief that no one scarcely has as great influence upon molding the careers of the young as the teacher whose power it is to bring about a natural unfolding and development of character or to repress that development through austere, harsh or unsympathetic treatment. Throughout her active life Marion Duncan called forth the best in others and her influence will not cease to be felt until those with whom she came in contact have passed on from the scene of earthly existence. Marion Duncan was born December 14, 1850, in McHenry county, Illinois, and there resided until her thirteenth year, when she came to Iowa with her parents, Thomas and Almena Duncan, and her three sisters. The family home was established on a farm near Clear Lake and later they took up their abode in the town of Clear Lake. The parents have passed away and the survivors of that family are Mrs. W. C. Tompkins and Mrs. Azubah D. Frost, both of Clear Lake.

When only a girl Miss Duncan began teaching and her entire life was devoted to that profession in Cerro Gordo and Hancock counties. After early connection with the rural schools she became a teacher in Clear Lake and later in Mason City. She taught her first school in 1867 in the little red schoolhouse of the Palmeter district, north of Clear Lake, at a salary of nineteen dollars per month. Later she continued her own education as a student in the State Normal School at Cedar Falls, thus qualifying for more advanced activities in the educational field. After her return she taught for nearly six years in Clear Lake, and in the spring of 1885 she was offered a position in Mason City and became a teacher in the fourth grade of the Central School, where she continued her labors until the close of the school year in June, 1915. When she first became connected with the Mason City schools the enrollment was about five hundred pupils. She lived to see the enrollment grow to twenty-eight hundred pupils under the supervision of ninety-seven teachers and two superintendents. She regarded teaching as something more than instructing the youth in certain branches that might be learned from books. She believed education to be a preparation for life's duties and responsibilities and she was ever most sympathetic in her study of the child, his needs and his talents. When she laid down her work at the close of the school year, it being her intention to permanently retire from the profession, Miss Eloise Dake, in behalf of the Central Parent Teachers Association, according to the account written in the Mason City Times, “fastened a gold chain and locket about Miss Duncan's neck. On the locket was engraved a picture of the old stone building and dates 1885-1915, which represents the number of years of service Miss Duncan has given to teaching in the schools of Mason City. The simplicity of the presentation was most gratifying to Miss Duncan, who feels keenly the giving up of school work and the separation from true and tried friends. The parents' association wished to give Miss Duncan some token of their appreciation for her excellent services and chose the beautiful gold locket and chain, which is highly prized by Miss Duncan.”

When Miss Duncan resigned her position in the Mason City schools she was presented the following testimonial by the board of education:

“To Miss Duncan:
“Much of the work of the school and classroom is commonplace. Day by day, here a little, there a little, the mind opens, the faculties expand, the powers increase, the ability grows. It is often slow and tedious. You have had the happy faculty of making this work a vital living thing—a rare gift.

“The influence of your personality and true womanliness has been for good in moulding the character of the growing child. You have given of yourself and added value to the work of the world. The members of the Board of Education wish to express to you their appreciation of these years of faithful service. It has been your choice to sever your connection with the public schools while you were doing your best work. We wish you joy and the best things in life in the coming years.

“(Signed) T. T. Blaise,
“Eleanor C. Stockman,
“D. W. Vroom,
“R. W. Barclay,
“F. H. Cotton,

“June 1st, 1915. Members of the Board of Education.”

Death called Miss Duncan just a week after she had laid aside the work of the schoolroom. In this connection the Mason City Times said: “In the death of Miss Marion Duncan, which occurred at the W. C. Tompkins' home at Clear Lake a little before six o'clock last night, we find again that life as well as life's labors closed almost simultaneously. One week ago today her work in the fourth grade of the Central school closed and it was her intention to lay down the work forever. She went to the home of her sister at Clear Lake, not strong in body, but worn and weary, and enjoyed a rest of a few days in comparative comfort. Tuesday evening she was taken violently ill and on Thursday, just as the day was closing, her life faded away in the dim light of the evening, and she was gone. It is probable that no teacher ever occupying a position in the Mason City schools was more devoted to the work or was more successful than was Miss Marion Duncan, and hundreds of pupils here express grief today over her taking away. But they are leaving enduring monuments to her memory in the beautiful tributes they are paying her. She was remarkably brave. She hadn't been feeling well for nearly a year, but in phoning the message of her death to the Times this morning, a superintendent said that during the entire year she had never asked for a substitute, wanting to look after her own room and her own children rather than place them in charge of another. She was faithful to her work even to the last.” At a banquet held by the grade school teachers on the evening of April 16th Miss Blanche Goudy, speaking of Miss Duncan's thirty years' service as teacher in Mason City, said: “What is the measure of influence of such a life consecrated to thirty years of service? Thirty years of boys and girls to discipline, to soften and instruct has been no easy task. The intellectual is not the only side of a child's life. Each child is an individual study. James W. Riley, when asked how he succeeded in winning and managing children, said, ‘I have just stayed a child. Unless one strikes the keynote we know the years in a schoolroom become drudgery. Genuine sympathetic interest in the real life of her pupil is the successful teacher's master key. I know of no more beautiful tribute that can be paid Miss Duncan than to be able to gather in one huge volume all the words of appreciation that will fall from the lips of men, women, boys and girls who have spent a year under the influence of her sweet character and sunny disposition when it becomes known that she is retiring from active service. Were I a fairy queen and had it in my power to grant three wishes for you, Miss Duncan, they would be: Health to enjoy all the pleasures of life; friends to share life's blessings; happiness in the knowledge of a life spent in the service of others.”

Another beautiful and well merited tribute paid to Miss Duncan was that uttered by Fred D. Cram, superintendent of the schools of Mason City, who said:

“As sweet and beautiful as the flowers above her, she lay, almost seeming one of them. The life of Marion Duncan had gone, and we gazed upon her features for the last time. It did not seem possible that death could paint out the warmth of her smile, or take from her face the kindness of her mellow eye. The form that had contained the spirit we knew as Miss Duncan was sweet to us, and we were sorry to see it consigned back to the earth of which it was made. We loved her for her beautiful life, for her loyalty, for her kindness, for her meekness. For forty-seven years she had given her life to the people of Cerro Gordo county. Blessed are the lives which she has touched. To have known her is in itself a precious memory. Think of the boundless wealth of thoughts which have been moulded by her direc- tion. How sweet she was in her daily work of directing the thoughts of her boys and girls; how tender in her admonitions; how impartial in her decisions. Her woman's intuition seemed to mark out for her the footpath to righteous and just correction. School boards have come, legislated, and been retired, superintendents have ruled and passed; principals have administered and gone; fellow teachers have worked at her side, and have left for other fields. But that little room in the old Stone Building has known only her through thirty years of change and stress. The tale it tells is one of love and toil, the sweetness of a life well spent. And so, with tears in our hearts, but not many in our eyes; with prayers for the peaceful repose of her angel kissed soul; with gratitude in our own inner spirits that she had finished her work so acceptably and so well, we consigned her to the Spirit of the Plains. Her memory will linger as sweet and modest as a prairie flower.”

Source: Brigham, Johnson. Iowa : its history and its foremost citizens. Chicago : S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1916. Transcribed by Jennifer Gunderson (Mar 2021).

Index of bios from Iowa : Its history and Its Foremost Citizens

Cerro Gordo Biographies maintained by Lynn Diemer-Mathews.
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