HUMAN INTEREST STORIES

MABEL BRASHER: LOUISIANA’S FIRST FEMALE HISTORIAN

by Michael D. Wynne

It often amazes this columnist how much of our central Louisiana history still needs to be properly researched, written about and, most importantly, then shared with all of you. I had heard Mabel Brasher’s name many times over the decades, but like the many good names of all of the people that our local schools have been named after, I knew nothing about her. I presumed she, like most of the other namesakes, was some old-time local educator. But after stumbling across her book (for just 25 cents!) recently at a local book sale, I began researching her and found out that she was a whole lot more. She Louisiana’s 1st widely regarded female historian and educator, the author of the state’s 1st widely used high school book on Louisiana history. When her book came out, she received kudos on it from around the nation. Here is what I now know of Mabel.

Mabel was the third of eight known children of Allen M. Brasher (1853-1921) of Texas and Henrietta Christian (1855-1894) of Louisiana. Three of Mabel’s siblings died of childhood diseases which was a common tragedy in the late 1800s.

The first record that I found on Mabel who was born in Alexandria in 1880, was in an August 1897 Town Talk newspaper. In this article, the Louisiana State Superintendent of Education, J. V. Calhoun, had awarded Mabel a scholarship to the George Peabody College for Teachers at Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 17! Prior to that, she was already serving as a teacher in the summer of 1897 having been the first official graduate from the Rapides Parish school system in May of 1897. (Students routinely graduated high school at the age of 17 back then.) From there, Mabel graduated with education degrees from Columbia University and the University of Chicago.

After graduation, she returned to central Louisiana and taught at various schools for the next half century, including schools located in Melder, Boyce, Lecompte, Cheneyville, the Weil School (located then at present day England Air Park) as well as schools in New Orleans and in Tangipahoa Parish. She lived the vast majority of her life though in Alexandria and resided at 1725 White Street.

In 1929, the state of Louisiana had never had a book for high school students on our state’s glorious history. The Louisiana State Teacher’s Association decided that Mabel Brasher would be the one to compile and write this book and the Association would
publish it. This was an exceeding great honor for anyone to be able to write a book to be read by ten’s of thousands of students as well as adults, especially for the author to be a woman in the man’s world of 1929. Mabel described her book in 1929: “Thoroughly familiar with the facts it describes, it will make our people prouder of our great state and enable them to disseminate its advantages far and near.” Mabel then added, “The book was written to a response in demand for a study of Louisiana in the high schools, and is designated to serve as a basis for such a course.”

The Town Talk described the book in 1929 as “beautifully printed, appropriately illustrated and printed in quality cloth.” Mabel’s book was also widely regarded around the state and nation. The “Manufacturer’s Record of Baltimore Maryland” called it the “finest textbook of its kind in the entire nation.”

Mabel lived out her days working as what we would now call a master gardener, especially in the breeding and raising of hybrid amaryllis. She was a charter member of the 1st United Methodist Church of Alexandria, the Alexandria Service League and the Alexandria Garden Club. She never married and is buried under a simple grave marker at Greenwood Cemetery in Pineville. Mabel Brasher Montessori School on Clover Leaf Boulevard is named in honor of her.

Central Louisiana can claim as one of our own one of the greatest women and greater educators in the state and in the south: Mabel Brasher.

 

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