Ashland Directions featured a column called “Where Are They Now” back in the ’80s and I happened to see a nicely written piece on a former teacher at Ashland High School. Her name was Miriam Riley. Miss Riley taught Latin and Civics in the early 1930s during the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce at the time and she was grateful for the opportunity to teach here. Her first love was history, but the position was filled by Peter Burke. Nevertheless, she said “Ashland was so good to me.”
What I found most interesting was the conditions of her employment. Her contract required that she be unmarried, live in Ashland, and attend all school functions. This made her truly a part of the town. Along with parents and other teachers, she attended all the school dances which were often a formal occasion requiring tuxedos and long dresses.
Miss Riley’s continued education was important to her. She was the first teacher in Ashland to earn a Masters Degree. She would leave Ashland after teaching class, take the 2:25 train to Boston, attend classes at Boston University, and finally take the 10:30 train home to Ashland. She lived on Pleasant Street at the time, which isn’t too far from the train station, but it would still make for a long day.
As we all know, WWII war was in full swing by 1942 and she decided to join the WAACs (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps). It was originally an auxiliary unit of the Army until 1943 when in was converted to full status. The name became WAC at that time. Using her education and teaching background she rose quickly through the ranks to become a 1st Lieutenant the first year of her enlistment. When finally discharged from the service in 1946, she held the rank of Major. She traveled through 44 of the 48 states at the time, met Eleanor Roosevelt, and was scheduled to start a tour in China when WWII ended.
After the war she returned to Ashland for one more year and later became the head of the History Department for Framingham State College where she remained until her retirement at age 60. Once retired, she spent most of her time with her nieces and nephews as well as caring for her elderly mother. She had a remarkable memory of all the students she taught over the years and the teaching staff, and she was particularly fond of Principal William Pittaway. She said he was a “wonderful, wonderful person to work for. He was of the finest character and eminently fair.” She also mentioned teachers and coaches: Grump Walker, Floris Canfield, Stacia Olshinski, Virginia Motz, and Peter Burke, all of whom she kept in touch with after her retirement.
At the time of the article in Ashland Directions she was living in Braintree, Ma. That year was 1987, and she has since passed. I found her obituary online and she died on April 9, 1997 at the age of 90. Although she never married, she was one of six children. I’m sure the nieces, nephews, and their children have interesting stories to tell. I know I would be interested in listening.
Sources: “Where Are They Now?” Ashland Directions, April, 1987
Steve Leacu for Directions