Edna Dickey (1992)





“It’s November 30th, 1992 and I would like to introduce to you, Miss. Edna Frances Dickey.   She has been friends with Mrs. (Nina) Bailey (wife of Dr. Francis Bailey) for about 45 years. Miss. Dickey is a local historian. She was born in Londonderry, New Hampshire in 1912. She is eighty years old and resides in Gorham, Maine. She has taught history to students of all ages for almost forty years. Miss. Dickey was an associate professor of history for USM in Gorham for twenty-seven years from 1946 to 1973.   In addition, she was the first and only non-resident Dean of Women for the college.   Miss. Dickey retired from USM as Associate Professor Emerita of History in 1973. In recognition of her contributions to USM, a building was named in her honor. She was the Chairperson of USM’s Centennial Celebration 1978-1979 and given the Distinguished Service Award in 1979.   Her book, “Fifty years of Gorham, 1936 to 1986” was published in 1986. Miss. Dickey also received a “Women of Achievement’ award from Westbrook College in 1986. She continues to be active in her community to this day.


Miss. Dickey I’m glad to have this time with you.


I would like to hear your perspective on the value of continued education for older people.


Page 2


In order to give us insight and context, would you please read the speech you gave on April 15th, 1986 during the “Women of Achievement” awards at Westbrook College?’




Women of Achievement                April 15, 1986

Each of us has a whole world wit-hin which we live and move and have our being. No one’s world is a duplicate or zerox copy of that of another.

My world has always been at the grass roots level my life has been rural and local and always in education.

My only goals were to teach and to have a family. I, never had a family

so I was free to go wherever teaching might lead. I have never thought of myself as doing anything but what any other responsible person in my situation — could do.

I have thought of myself as a caring, people-oriented, kind of person

whose life has been fulfilling because of the young people with whom’I have worked.

My path has fallen in pleasant places. I say it has “fallen” in pleasant places because I am always fascinated when

I hear a young person tell how she has planned, step by step, the course of her life. The course of my life.has mostly

j_!@st h,4ppenedi

One of the most fortunate things that ever happened to me


-was finding myself during my freshman year   at college in a history class with a professor who was pastor, poet, and philosopher.



One of the principles that permeated his philosophy was the concept that

all of life was a sacrament. It probably was not a new idea.

but it was new to me at that time.

This influence became a firm part of the foundation of my life — and so,

I began to build my house upon this rock.

When the tempests have come — and no one escapes tempests or when I have come to the end of my rope

I have tied a knot and managed to hang on.

Planning for this evening compelled me to reflect upon the constants that have kept me on course.

I would like to share these cornerstones that I think have helped me to build the little house of my life.

One of these has been an insatiable curiosity. In childhood, my world was fields and pastures and woods and streams.– and these were for exploring. And the swimming hole — not pool —

was for sharing with other children. The library was for reading.

“There is no frigate like a book to take us miles away.’ ‘The one room school was for learning.


.College was for questing.

I have often likened my college experience to that of

a chicken pecking its way out of the shell of its first life, gradually into the whole wide world beyond.


.Teaching was for finding answers.

Deaning was the rare privilege of entering into

the lives of young people in a @Lery special wa



The topic of deaning leads to the secon’d

major cornerstone which is living with change.

To live is to change, whoever fails to change, has difficulty in surviving

because most of society is constantly in the process of evolution.

The motor vehicle, the media, the computer have invaded all aspects of our lives. It was inevitable, then, that the

Iiitle red schoolhouse of my youth

would give way to area schools with many classrooms.


And the Normal School would be transformed into a unit of the State University system.

More than two thirds of my professional work have been at the Gorham campus as Dean of Women and teaching member of the


History Department.’ Both of these areas underwent change.


ADean of Women — during most of my active years was a generalist, a Jill of all trades.


My first years at Gorham were as resident dean —

much like the residence hall counselor of today. Only th en, regulations for women students were very strict.


Recently I found headlines in a Portland newspaper of 1936 10 years before I came here — which read: “No holding hands for Jack and Jill

Is new decree on Gorham’s Normal Hill.” After 5 years of residency, I considered moving on


Whereupon the president decided to employ house-directors, and asked me to continue as non-resident dean.



So. I continued as a generalist working in

all areas relevant to the lives of women students — housing, student government, activities, general counseling, and advising and

freshman orientation (of both men and women). The next 20 years saw many changes.

Of course, enrollments increased dramatically. Regulations for women students gradually

became freer

But never as open as they are now.


And Student Personnel Administration underwent major reorganization.

In colleges across the country, the

generalist gave way to the specialist. In place of Deans of Men and Women came

Deans of Students at the top of the hierarchy With Associate Deans of special areas. Each special area included both men and women students.


The process of transition at Gorham began while I was still active, and I was pleased to be invited to become the first

Dean of Students. Had I been 10 years younger at that time.

I might have felt the challenge to attempt it.


However, I had already been feeling that the students needed younger leadership.

And so, I continued, a few years longer, in my.generalist capacity

working with a young man

as the new dean of students.



My academic area also was undergoing change.- The increased use of original sources and documents influenced history courses

a great deal more in the 1950s and 1960s. This addition to content required considerable

stud*-t and concentrated class preparation. Such study was never’drudgery for me, and

I attended many summer sessions and workshops. A teacher or professor always expects to s-tudy

and prepare new courses — or should expect to.

Gorham Normal School evolved through 5 name changes within 35 years   and all the g.-owth

that took place with each change culminating in USM as the statewide reorganization

of higher education took place.


It was GSTC   the first name change — when I came, and UMPG   the fourth name change when I retired. Although it grew yftr

_y rapidly in every

respect through these years, the local adjustments for me were minimal — except for the

greatly increased enrollment until

the merger of the two campuses brought about UMPG. Even then, I was fortunate to be in a department that merged very comfortably

not all departments did.


In the process. there were new responsibilities and new committees for faculty members.

I found a grievance committee assignment difficult.


Such has been my professional life. I was never aware of being discriminated against because I was a woman . . . personally or financially.


Perhaps I was insensitive

Perhaps it was because I was in a professional area where women had already been for so many years. Although teachers salaries have been low,

I should say that wherever I have been

schedules were in effect — or in the process of revision — so that there was only one scale for men and women of equal experience and training, in similar positions.


One year of unemployment after college during the depression had a terrific impact on me.

So, I was always grateful to have a job and survive with some security.

For me, both deaning and teaching have had their own


special rewards. They are simple and ongoing. Every teacher must experience them:

.An unexpected telephone call or visitor saying: ‘You touched my life,” Or a note,

“Thank you for always being there,” Or a chance meeting,

“You helped me to feel better about myself.” Sometimes a relayed message that begins.

“Is she still living?”

To rebel, to confront, to promote causes have never been a part of my nature.– though I do sometimes support causes.


I am probably first cousin to Mr. Milquetoast or Dr. Panglass. My chief drive has been to do the best job I knew how to do with-in all my limitations

about the task at hand.


And my strong beliefs in working w-ith people have been that every person has unrealized capabilities is a person of worth

is sacred in her own right

and should be free to become what she is meant to become. (Remember tha-t little book. Hope For The Flowers Trina Paulus.)

The third major cornerstone is challenge.


And it is challenge — be it positive or negative that leads to action.


Deaning and teaching require

ingenuity and imagination. How do you polish a diamond in the roi@gh? How do you dissolve anger and resentment that block learning? Always there are perplexities demanding enough creativity to find

fair and dignified solutions.

After my retirement, I read Elizabeth Vining’s book called Being 70. She says that when she and a friend of hers were


in their 30s, they decided there were 4 kinds of old ladies; Whiney — Bossy — Fussy — Batty. They decided they would be batty.

I decided to be batty, too.


But   besides being batty –‘my need for challenge has persisted And my experience of working with people my nagging compulsion to continue somehow to be of service

yes, and my background in Biblical history would not allow me to sit quietly in my rocking chair.



And challenges came   from my campus,

from my church, and from my community.

And I made commitments for major projects. I wanted to be more a part of our church.

Not until 10 years ago did we have women deacons.

I was one of the first, and when my term ended,

the church created the position of Lay Assistant. I have been happy to serve in that way.


There is an increasing number of young women entering the ministry. My church has been warm and open to me — as I have conducted

or participated in church services,

Bible teaching, visitation. and so on. I would like to think that my work locally may help to pave in a small way

for the acceptance of more young women pastors. There are many in schools of theology today.

And finding parishes to accept them is not easy. And so, commitment to service — I think

is the fourth cornerstone.


Curiosity, change, challenge, commitment building on the foundation of the sacredness of all persons —

have held my life together.


I am sure I preached to the young people within my sphere

of operation — and I know that would not be acceptable now. But we laughed and cried together,

we worked and played together,

we scolded and loved each other.


Most of them have heard me use — at least once, if not many times . a quotation I have always found meaningful and relevant. I used it especially with freshmen as they entered the whole new world of college.


‘Polonius said to his son, Laertes, on his departure: “This above all: to thine 6wn self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”


During this past week — in addition to the excitement and anticipation of this evening and the privilege of being among these distinguished women


My latest project came to fruition with the publication of the Gorham History.

Researching and writing history especially contemporary history

is very different from teaching it.


The self-discipline and loneliness of the author as well as the challenge

were all a part of my experience.


To re-discover this era of amazing change through which I have lived

and to realize the amounts of sheer volunteerism that people have engaged in

to improve the quality of their community

made an exhilarating and exciting project.

We can be batty and offer service at the same time. We can defy Thoreau’s comment.

We never need to lead lives

of quiet desperation.

Edna F. Dickeyl


Page 3


“Thank you.for sharing that most wonderful speech.   The metaphors and images you paint with your writing give us great insight into your awareness and creativity.”


Miss. Dickey’s responses to the following ideas are provided on the videotape only.


Talk about key lifespan development transitions and issues affecting learning in the later adult years, ie. retirement, etc.


Talk about key themes from notes, ie. the 3 C’s campus, church, community; her need to be challenged, goal to be a teacher, get married and have kids; importance of caring, meaning of life.


Her book, ‘Fifty Years of Gorham, 1936-1986.



Talk about eye surgery and impact on mobility and service to community and church.


How do you plan to keep your educational experiences going?


Page 4

“I want to thank you very much Miss. Dickey for letting me interview you. I hope that you have many more good years of life to come and the insight you have offered, is an important and very valuable gift for all of us.’

Ref lections:

Miss. Dickey has lived her life somewhat like the Activity Theory.


That is, whatever you are doing at age 40, keep on doing into old age. It is only since her mobility has been reduced, that she


reflects the Disengagement Theory. That is, she is forced to reduce her outside activities and create a strong interior world.


Miss. Dickey has been a major influence on generations of human


beings in Gorham and touched thousands of people in her many years of teaching. She demonstrates the value of education for older adults and epitomizes the lifelong, self-directed learner concept. She continues to contribute to her community and USM long after


retirement. When her journey is over, it will truly be the end of a very special era in Gorham’s history.


It’s important to provide access to education for older adults as


they have a right to flourish for as long as they possibly can. As


Page 5


adult educators we must plan to reach out and include all older. adults.


As we age, we must make an attempt to get as much as we can out of life, in spite of what may be dealt.






Interview with Miss. Edna P. Dickey, videotape, 11/30/92.