Bessie Kidder Thomas
“A Friend to Every Kid in School”
The educational innovator John Cotton Dana wrote “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” In penning these words, he undoubtedly had educators like Bessie Kidder Thomas in mind. She was a teacher who demonstrated a passion for learning and dedicated herself to enriching the lives of her students.
Bessie Kidder Thomas, or “Aunt B,” as she was affectionately called, was born into a prominent Woodstock family. She graduated from Woodstock High School in 1904, and then from Wellesley College in 1909. After returning to Woodstock, she began teaching both French and mathematics at Woodstock High School. In 1914, she married LeRoy Thomas. While some school districts during this period required women to give up their jobs when they married, Woodstock did not. In fact, four years later, in 1918, Bessie was promoted to principal of the school, where she oversaw seven faculty members and approximately 150 students. Five years later, in 1923, she served as superintendent of the district. In 1932, after serving for 14 years in administration, she decided to return to teaching, which she did until her retirement in 1948. During this time, Bessie continued to take classes both at the University of Vermont and at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
The W.H.S. Alumni Centennial Booklet 1854-1954 was dedicated to Mrs. Bessie Kidder Thomas. Ted Lobdel, of the class of 1918, wrote of Bessie: “In my heart and mind and in the hearts and minds of all whose good fortune it was to study, work, play and laugh with her, she is the First Lady of Woodstock High School.”
He notes that by her example and her recognition of and praise for her students’ successes and achievements, Bessie inspired her students to do their best. A word she used often was “sportsmanship.” By this she meant not just something to be displayed in an athletic contest. Sportsmanship was a way of life – a code of ethics to be applied in every phase of living – in the classroom, the home, the library, on the street, everywhere, all the time. When some rule was being broken, she would say, “Where is your sense of sportsmanship?”
In The History of Woodstock 1890-1983, Peter Jennison wrote: “It was largely through her efforts that sports played such an integral part of Woodstock High School… On some occasions this grand lady even drove the teams on away games. On one such instance, one of ‘her boys’ remembers that they had to cross a rickety covered bridge. Mrs. Thomas made the players get out and walk across, both to and from the game, while she drove the car across after them.”
When Bessie Kidder Thomas passed away in 1965, the editor of The Vermont Standard stated: “Aunt B was a strong disciplinarian. But she was fair, impartial and most of all – a friend to every kid in school.”