By Sylvia Neely
In light of the recent closing of Mata Dexter School the Sharlot Hall Museum felt it is appropriate to reiterate who Dexter was and what she meant to the community of Prescott.
In his book Meeting The Four O'clock Train, Dixon Fagerburg, Jr., recalls his first-grade-teacher, Mata Dexter:
"Some people might remember Miss Dexter as a sedate, polite, cultured dove of a little woman. That was her enviable image in the adult community where those who knew her well called her Mata, undoubtedly with affection. Well, in that first-grade classroom that teacher was a veritable hawk, not a dove. . . .
"It was drill, drill, drill, day after strenuous day. We were not lured into it. We were forcefully buried in it. There was no fooling around. But when the year's ordeal was over, I think it's fair to say that we were well-grounded in the rudiments of the English language, to the everlasting credit of our inimitable first-grade teacher, Miss Mata Dexter."
Mata was born in 1872 in New Albrion, New York. By the time she was seventeen years old she was teaching in Pennsylvania. This popular young lady went on to accept a position in Kentucky, where she stayed for four years. After these brief years of experience, Miss Dexter had the courage and independence to set out by herself for the West. She arrived in Prescott in 1905 to accept a teaching job for eighty dollars a month for a ten-month period. She told her new friends that her family thought she was going to the ends of the earth when she told them of her decision.
In 1905, Prescott was still a young frontier town. Washington School on Gurley Street was the only elementary school, having been built in 1903. Mata taught at Washington School all but one of her thirty-eight years in the teaching profession. In 1910, she became supervisor as well as being the first-grade teacher. She continually upgraded her teaching skills by attending sessions of summer school in various universities. She served as principal at Lincoln School in 1931. In 1932, Miss Dexter became principal of Washington School, a post she held until her retirement in 1943.
Recollections of early teaching conditions are reminiscent of many present conditions. Miss Dexter recalled that, while she taught only first grade, she often had as many as fifty students in her classes. At times, it was necessary to run two sessions of classes to accommodate the fast-growing school population of Prescott.
On March 11, 1949, the Messenger headlines announced, "New School Honors Name of Mata Dexter, Pioneer Teacher." The Prescott board of trustees voted to name the new elementary school in North Prescott the Mata Dexter School. The decision was made, according to Don R. Sheldon, school superintendent, because of the high regard in which Miss Dexter is held and because of her long years of service to the schools and to the community.
"Miss Dexter expressed herself as pleased and very proud that this honor has been conferred upon her. She looks upon Prescott and Prescott schools with real affection, and said that her reward is the thought that she may have had something to do with shaping the lives of many fine Prescott men and women."
An open house was held for the whole community in May 1949, at which Miss Dexter was the honored guest. She presented a portrait of herself to the new school.
School was not Mata's whole life. She was very much involved in Prescott's social life. She was active in PTA; Arizona State Teachers Association; Arizona State School Administrators; Eta Chapter; Delta Kappa Gamma; Business and Professional Women's Club; Monday Club; and the Yavapai Republican Women's Club. She was also known to have fun in her leisure time with picnics, square dancing, and horseback riding.
Mata Dexter died on June 28, 1962. She is a Territorial Women's Memorial Rose Garden honoree at Sharlot Hall Museum. Many of her former students fondly remember her as their favorite teacher.
Sylvia Neely is a Sharlot Hall Museum volunteer.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (pb142f10i2)
Reuse only by permission.
In May of 1949, the Prescott board of trustees named the new elementary school The Mata Dexter School. An open house was held for the whole community at which Miss Dexter was the honored guest.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (po2402p)
Reuse only by permission.
Mata Dexter presented a portrait of herself to the new school.