Rose Garden PhotographsFern (Foltz) Johnson, daughter of Martha (Pore) and Henry H. Foltz, was born on August 14, 1908, in Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona Territory, at her parents' small farm, located at what today is the area of Camelback Road and 20th Street.

When Fern was eight years old, the family moved to a farm at 20th Street and Bethany Home Road. The land was very rocky, and their little house had no electricity or a well.  Water had to be carried to the house from the Arizona Canal. Fern remembers that she and her brothers played out in the desert but never saw any snakes.

A couple of years later, Henry bought a forty-acre ranch at Bethany Home Road and 10th Street. Fern attended Madison School #1 and graduated from Phoenix Union High School in 1927. Phoenix Union was the only high school in the city at that time. Fern rode the streetcar to get to school. She was an average student, except in the physical education classes that she loved and in which she excelled

After graduation, Fern attended Tempe State Teachers’ College, where she was president of South Hall student dormitory and active in Delta Theta Sorority, as well as the Y.M.C.A.  Agriculture was a mandatory class at this college, and every student had a garden.

Upon receiving her two-year degree, Fern was hired to teach Spanish-speaking children in second grade at Madison School. She also became the first physical education (PE) teacher for girls at that school. In addition to being responsible for athletic games, Fern taught dancing, health and exercise classes and helped to establish the first tennis courts on the school grounds. Her beginning salary was a little over $1000 for her first year.

On June 27, 1931, Fern married Raymond Bliss Johnson, a dairy farmer in Phoenix. The couple had been going together since her senior year in high school. At that time, married women were not permitted to teach because people believed that the husband should be the breadwinner.

The couple bought forty acres of land at what is now 79th Avenue and Thunderbird Road. Fern became a farmer’s wife and “did what the day brought” on the couple’s farm in Peoria. Fern and Raymond had three children: Raymond Roy, born June 19, 1932; Kenneth Paul, born March 9, 1934; and Evelyn Fern (Johnson) Riggs, born April 5, 1936.

When Evelyn was six years old, Fern resumed teaching as a substitute during WW II. Peoria schools consisted of primary, grammar and high schools. Fern taught everything from boys' shop and PE to kindergarten through high school classes.

Fern was also an active member of the Peoria Presbyterian Church, as a deacon, Sunday school superintendent and teacher and within the Women’s Circle. In addition, she was also a strong supporter of the Native American ministries, including parishioners and students, whom she met through her church. She often provided them food and clothing, a place to stay and jobs for some of the young ladies attending Southwest Indian School in Peoria.

Fern was interviewed by Pamela Hronek, and her oral history is included in the book, Doing What the Day Brought: An Oral History of Arizona Women by Mary Rothschild. The title of the book came from Fern’s answer to the question about what a pioneer woman did each day.

Fern died on January 26, 1999, after living all her ninety years in Arizona, and was buried at Resthaven Memorial Gardens in Glendale, Arizona.

Donor: Evelyn F. Riggs, November 2001
Photo Located: RGF MS-39, Box J, F-Johnson, Fern
Updated: 11/24/2015, D. Sue Kissel