Amy Johns Ryan

Posted by - - 1890s, Builders

We have Amy Johns Ryan, a member of the Class of 1897, and others like her to thank for first-person accounts of Whitworth’s early history. Ryan sat for an interview 50 years later and recalled what life at Whitworth looked like in the late 1890s, during the college’s Sumner days.

As a Sumner resident who lived at home, Ryan noted that her plain, country-style black calico dress with blue and yellow stripes set her apart from boarding students. “I was sitting in the chapel studying one day, when Robert Montgomery walked down the aisle and stopped by me, and he said, ‘I think it’s wonderful, Miss Amy, that you’re willing to come to college and wear a calico dress.’ And I had never thought anything about a calico dress not being the thing to wear. I was so interested in study that I cared little about other things!”

During those Victorian times, women were not allowed to leave campus without an accompanying host. Ryan recalled visits from George Whitworth, who traveled from Seattle to give lectures on the Sumner campus. And while classical subjects like Greek and Latin were offered, all students were required to take spelling. Ryan and Fred Whitworth, George Whitworth’s grandson, were editors of the student newspapers The Gleaner and The New Era; the duo gave the paper a new name each year, based on what they thought was appropriate at the time. In an issue of The Gleaner, Ryan wrote, “And with hearts filled with emotion, we now thank them one and all, for the start in life we’ve found here, in the Whitworth College Hall.” Ryan was also co-editor of The Whitworth College Critic: A Journal devoted to the students of Whitworth College. The journal was written in longhand, on legal tablets.

In her fourth year at Whitworth, Ryan went to Tacoma to take the Teacher’s Examination and received her certificate to teach, and shortly thereafter began teaching in a one-room country school. One of her greatest regrets was not completing her education at Whitworth. She married Harry R. Ryan four years later and they lived in Spokane for twenty years before returning to Sumner, where she was a popular high school teacher who clearly loved the young students she taught. She provided significant leadership in the Presbyterian church during a time when women did not hold direct office.

In April 2014, Ryan’s granddaughter, Whitworth trustee Carol (Peterkin) Myers, ’65, and her husband, trustee Dave Meyers, ’64, pledged to fund a new endowed professorship named in honor of Ryan. The award will be given to an outstanding faculty member who embodies Ryan’s love of learning, her skill in writing, and her innovative spirit; who values the mainline church and the aspirations of women; and who exhibits dedication to students and compassion for all.

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