Since its earliest days, women at Utah State University have had a huge impact on the cultural, scientific, economic, and social fabric of the institution. The Year of the Woman shares these critical voices simply because their stories matter.
Edith Bowen (1933–1947)
Miss Edith Bowen had great faith in the potential of education; however, she found herself frustrated with inadequacies of the school system at the time. Facilities, materials, and adequate teacher training were lacking, but she did not let these frustrations or setbacks stop her from effecting change. Miss Bowen held the belief that it was never too early to begin to teach children; thus, she was a strong believer in the establishment of a kindergarten in Logan City Schools. When approached by two women who were at the back of the urgings to open kindergartens, Miss Bowen was anxious to do what she could to help. As supervisor of the Logan Schools, Miss Bowen knew that finding the funds for a kindergarten would be difficult because Logan City was poor. As she was contemplating how she was going to get the support she needed, she thought of Emma Eccles Jones, a Logan native, who had a Master’s Degree in Child Education from Columbia University. Although she would be paid no salary, Jones accepted when asked if she would be willing to teach the kindergarten. With a teacher secured, Miss Bowen went to the Board of Education and asked if they would be willing to provide a room and a few necessary supplies if she was able to secure a teacher to work for no salary. They accepted, and the beginnings of a kindergarten in Logan were in place. Through the assistance of interested parents and a fundraising social hosted by Mrs. Ellen Eccles, enough money was obtained to start Logan’s first kindergarten in 1927.
How did Miss Bowen rise to be the leading advocate for early childhood education in Logan? In Samaria, Idaho, where Miss Bowen was born in 1880, she was filled with a love of learning. Her parents worked hard to lay a foundation so their children would be prepared when the time did come for them to attend school. In 1901, following her completion of the eighth grade, Miss Bowen moved to Logan to attend the Brigham Young College (BYC). After two years at BYC, Miss Bowen was urged into the world of teaching. While she enjoyed teaching, Miss Bowen felt underprepared and returned to the BYC to complete the “Four Year Normal Course.” She graduated in 1906 as the valedictorian of her class. The next few years were times of frequent change for Miss Bowen, when she spent some time teaching, but found herself back at the BYC as a student and a supervising teacher in the training school. When the training school closed a year later, Miss Bowen returned to teaching in Logan City Schools. During this period, Miss Bowen became increasingly aware of the lack of sufficient facilities and material to support teachers and students.
In 1919, Miss Bowen was offered the position of Primary Supervisor in the Logan City Schools. Honored by the offer, Miss Bowen did not feel like she yet had the proper training to accept such a position. Granted a leave of absence, she entered the Teacher’s College, Columbia University, New York to further her education. Upon her return to Logan, Miss Bowen had many ideas on how to improve curriculum, implement new practices, and make school a more enjoyable place. She was steadfast in her desire to foster best education practices and create effective and enjoyable learning environments. Determined to stay up to date in best educational practices, Miss Bowen spent her vacation time at various college summer school sessions.
While still serving with the Logan schools, Miss Bowen was invited by Professor Henry Peterson to teach an early morning course at the Utah State Agricultural College (USAC) on the “Principles of Teaching.” Additionally, Professor Peterson also wanted to organize what is now recognized as a student teaching program. As the Primary Supervisor of the Logan City Schools, Miss Bowen worked with Professor Peterson in providing names of teachers willing to participate in this program.
By 1930, Miss Bowen had served as the Logan City School Primary Supervisor for ten years. It was around this time that she was invited to fill a position at the USAC Training School. She once again found herself feeling unqualified and secured a leave of absence to further her education. Studying at Columbia University, renowned for its teacher education programs, Miss Bowen received her bachelor’s degree in 1931 and a Master’s degree in 1932.
Upon her return to Logan, Miss Bowen assumed a position as assistant principal and supervisor of student teachers and student teaching. She was an excellent mentor to the faculty and staff at the laboratory school, using innovative methods of collaboration and teaching. Miss Bowen fostered a culture of discovery and invited teachers to try new teaching methods. This strategy allowed for the development of leadership skills in both the teachers and the students.
At the time of her retirement in 1947, Miss Bowen held the title of Principal, Supervisor of Teacher Training, and Assistant Professor in Education at USAC. For her service to children and the community, as well as her pioneering of modern education, Miss Bowen was awarded an honorary degree from USAC in 1952.
Miss Edith Bowen had a great love for education and for the students she worked with throughout her life. Through her passion and determination, she accomplished many great things and created a legacy that is still remembered by many on and off the Utah State University Campus. Today, the on-campus laboratory school bears her name as a testament to her accomplishments.
Aaryn Snow Birchell (1999)
In 2018, Mrs. Aaryn Snow Birchell received the prestigious award as the Utah Teacher of the Year. A 1999 Utah State University English graduate, Birchell finds joy for the last 11 years teaching English at Uintah High, her alma mater, in Vernal, with the previous 12 years as a substitute.
Birchell works to advocate for and champion her students. She seeks to model a mindset of grit and gratitude for her student with a positive “you-can-do-it attitude.” In a world where we are taught to hide our feelings and push our way to the top, Birchell teaches the value of vulnerability while modelling it herself. Dedicated to devoting time to listen to and help her students, Birchell says, “Humanity is our greatest resource, and we must invest and nurture all the beauty of potential as we send these souls out to the world that needs their best.” In an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, students reported that Birchell was a teacher who goes above and beyond to support and educate, truly living up to the honor of being called ‘teacher.’ Birchell herself says “public education is the incredible hope of this country that cannot be diminished.”
During her time as Utah Teacher of the Year, Birchell promoted better work life balance with teacher recruitment and retention while joining with Utah Governor Gary Herbert in a press conference for a call for teachers to come back to the profession. She advocated for better funding for public education on local and state levels and collaborated with Envision Utah’s “A Vision for Teacher Excellence.” The report advises increasing teacher salary for better student outcomes to supporting our brightest students to become our future teachers. Highlighting the need for faculty support within schools and districts, she understands the secondary trauma teachers often face with the stress and burnout that many experience in the occupation. Emphasizing the need for education systems to give permission for self-care to keep the profession sustainable, she said, “If we take care of the teachers, the teachers are going to take care of our kids.”
Edith Bowen and Aaryn Birchell are just two examples of marvelous teachers who have been positive forces in the world of education. As Birchell put it at the time of her award, “Collectively, we are an incredible force for good. Knowledge is powerful, and as it is shared, the next generation then takes that knowledge to create more.” Looking forward to Teacher Appreciation Week in May, we extend a thank you to those teachers who have and continue to inspire students to work hard, and invite you to join with the National PTA by taking time to #ThankATeacher.
Edvalson, Donald, "A Biography of Edith Bowen" (1965). All Graduate Plan B and other Reports. 537. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/gradreports/537
Alana Miller Manesse
Year of the Woman
Department of English