Mary Nickerson Isely (1876-1968)

Mary married Fred in 1901. Here is information about their family.

The following was written in 1998 by Mary's granddaughter, Anne Bingham.

Mary Nickerson was born in Selma Ohio, June 17, 1876, and moved to Kansas as a child. She graduated from Fairmount College in 1900 with Fairmount's second graduating class, a class of ten. She was president of her class. Mary and Frederick B.Isely were married in Clearwater, Kansas on May 8, l901.

Her half-sister, Frances Nickerson had married Fred's brother, William Henry in 1893. Henry was dean at Fairmount College while both Mary and Frederick were students.

Along with raising four children, she was active in community, church, and cultural affairs. The following story demonstrates her commitment: A friend who was a missionary in India wrote Mary about a baby girl who had been left on the doorstep of the school where she worked, and how funds were so limited that they didn't see how she could be care for. Mary related this story to the Missionary Circle at her church. The women found it a sad story, but their reaction was, "What can we do about it?" Mary's response was, "I have ten dollars that says we can do something about it!" The circle took over and supported the girl until she had graduated from college.

Special interests were art, home planning, and all kinds of sewing and "hand work," such as crocheting and quilting. In 1926 this led to a second college degree in Home Economics at Texas Women's College where her husband was dean. She had always sewed for her family, but at that point she decided to take advanced courses in millinery and tailoring. Her daughter, Marion Isely Alexander, remembered Mary doing such things as taking her husband's worn suit and recutting it to create pants or jackets for her growing boys. She knew how to make every penny count in running a household.

Marion also said, "Mother was the mechanical one if one of us needed a skate fixed or something mended. I remember when we moved from snowless Oklahoma to snowy Missouri Mother made our first sled with curved wooden runners that she shaped and sanded."

During the years after the children were grown she began to assist her husband with his research and field studies. Perhaps that is why she took a typing course in 1939. "By Dr. Isely's side, and always helping and encouraging him in his work, . . . stood Mrs. Isely. She has a genuine love for nature and a sympathetic understanding of young people and their problems. Her cheerful smile, never-failing good humor, and generous hospitality have contributed greatly to her husband's success." (Trinity Alumni Magazine, January 1948)

Mary's last years were spent in the home of her daughter and son-in-law in Boulder, Colorado. Her daughter, recalling her mother in a talk to a group of Mary's friends shortly after her death, told several delightful stories from Mary's childhood:

Ten-year-old Mary's friends cried when she moved with her family from Ohio to Clearwater, Kansas. They were sure that Kansas was full of Indians and that anyone with pigtails was sure to be scalped. The trip was by train and Mary brought with her her favorite possession, a pet canary in a small covered cage. Mary knew that she was not supposed to bring animals aboard, and was frightened that her pet would be taken away if discovered. The canary, however, could not keep quiet. She was frightened when the conductor came and sat beside her. "What do you have there?" he asked. "Some of my possessions," said Mary. "Sounds like a canary," said the conductor. "Why don't you give it more air?"

In Kansas, Mary often rode her horse, Charlie, from the family farm to school, in nearby Clearwater. One day, on the way home, Charlie side stepped and Mary slid off, loosening the girth of the saddle. She managed to right the saddle and tighten the girth, but was not tall enough to get back on the horse. It would have been a long walk home had she not noticed a sloping side rail on a bridge along the road. Bringing Charlie along side, she climbed on the rail and mounted her horse for the ride home.

Mary died in Boulder in 1968 at the age of 92.

Here are photos of Mary.

Click here for larger version.
Mary in 1938.

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