Mabel May Tucker White

Honored by:Nancy W. Lewis
Brick location:B:21  map

Mabel May Tucker was born on April 18, 1906. She is fond of telling that this was the day of the Great San Francisco Earthquake. Her parents farmed a homestead in Des Moines County, Iowa, and she was the third of five children. She and her brothers and sister attended the Wasson School, a one-room, eight grade country school for which the land had been given by their great-great grandfather, Robert Wasson, who had moved to Iowa in 1833. After graduation from the Wasson School, Mabel was given the opportunity for a high school education in New London, Iowa, by living during the school year with her grandparents, Joseph and Nancy Wasson.

Between her junior and senior years at New London High, Mabel and several other women of her class attended normal training classes at what was then Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa). After high school graduation, she again attended classes during the summer, and that fall this petite 18-year-old began teaching at the Snyder School five miles from her home. She boarded with a local family during the week; in addition to teaching she also did all the janitoring, including building the fire in the stove and cleaning the outhouses. After her youngest sibling had completed eighth grade at the Wasson School, Mabel was asked to teach there. (This school was also attended by her grandfather, Joseph Wasson, her mother, Etta Wasson Tucker, and 27 of her first cousins, many of whom she taught.) She was able to live at home, though she had to walk a mile and a half to school.

Mabel was encouraged in furthering her education by her family, especially her parents, William and Etta Tucker, and by her teachers and the superintendent of her high school, who told her that he would always have a job for her wherever he might be. Mabel continued to attend ISTC in the summers during the years she taught country school. In her early twenties, she met a fellow student, Frank White, who was also from southeast Iowa (Mediapolis). At the end of the summer in 1928 they were married. Although Mabel continued to teach and even coached girls' basketball for three years, the young couple's money went for Frank to finish his degree at ISTC and then to get a master's degree at the University of Iowa, all this in summer classes and correspondence work. Mabel typed Frank's thesis in the summer heat in a tent (early student housing).

In June of 1933, the first of two daughters, named Nancy for the grandmother who had helped Mabel go to high school, was born. Mabel became a full-time mother but kept busy with church work, creative crochet and embroidery, and the many responsibilities of being the wife of a school superintendent. In April 1942, a second daughter, Linda, joined the family and in 1943 Frank was asked to move to Springfield, Ohio, to teach in an Army Air Force training program. Wartime restrictions on what could be moved forced the family to sell almost all of their household goods at auction, and so Mabel and her children moved to Ohio with their clothes, the washing machine, and a large console radio. From a community of 600 people (the largest one she had ever lived in), Mabel had to adjust to a city of 80,000, 500 miles from her family. Once again, she became active in church work and she put her sewing skills to good use, even constructing dress shirts and boxer shorts for Frank, besides making most of her own and her daughters' clothes.

The end of the Second World War began the years of increasing pressure on public schools as the war babies reached school age. Teachers were in great demand, and at age 49, Mabel White went back to college, this time at Wittenberg University, where Frank was teaching engineering science. She soon was asked to teach during the school year and completed her degree in 1955, having taken much of her work in night and summer school classes. She taught in the Springfield schools for 20 years and retired in 1973. For many years, she heard regularly from students who remembered her as one of their best teachers, and even now she occasionally gets such letters.

Mabel has not been idle in retirement. She has continued to make beautiful things, most of which become gifts for her family and friends. She makes almost all of her Christmas presents each year and gives much pleasure to those who receive her crocheted slippers, embroidered handkerchiefs with crocheted lace edging, and decorated towels. Amusement throughout the year she provides by making refrigerator magnets with seasonal and holiday themes. She makes soft white crocheted layettes for many babies. Both of her daughters are the proud possessors of large crocheted tablecloths made by Mabel in 1990. And at age 85, she made decorations for the Fantasy of Trees (hospital benefit), which included 86 crocheted starched ornaments, 58 paper ornaments, 5 forty-inch garlands, 4 seventy-two inch garlands and a tree-top star.