Cheney Free Press -



Helen Boots and the story of Sanders Branch School


file photo

Helen Boots, pictured above returning from a 2011 honor flight, learned much about this country from her teacher Mrs. Smouse at the Sanders Branch School.

We continue the story of the Sanders Branch School, nicknamed Brush College. The remarkable Mrs. Smouse, who began teaching there in 1913, made a tremendous impression on the students.

With a lively imagination she often turned a hard or boring lesson into a game. "Her classroom," Helen Boots said, "was often a babysitting area when some of the farm families needed to be gone. They would stop at the school and drop the pre-schoolers off. Mrs. Smouse would take this as an opportunity to teach baby care to the older students."

Never a waster of time, Mrs. Smouse sometimes took her daughter, Jeane, with her to summer school in Cheney. Mrs. Smouse already had teaching degrees and taught grades 1-12. She was interested in industrial arts and enjoyed making furniture for her home. In fact, Helen said Mrs. Smouse was the first graduate with a degree in industrial arts from Cheney Normal School. Mrs. Smouse taught at Sanders Branch School for 14 years. Her wages had been raised to $65 per month for the nine months of the school year. After she retired she often visited her former students. She made her last visit to Cheney in 1953.

When Mrs. Smouse was in her 80s another daughter, Hazel, took her to visit the Great Falls of the Patomic River. Hazel was worried as her mother jumped from rock to rock. She tried to explain to her mother the danger of getting hurt. Mrs. Smouse listened quietly and then said, "I know you are right, but, if I start thinking what might happen to me every time I want to do something, I will never have any fun." She died at the age of 86 at home, sitting peacefully in her favorite rocking chair.

Have you ever strolled through a rural schoolhouse? The water pump was close outside. The big boys brought in a granite bucket of water each day and hung a granite cup nearby. Why granite? Because other metals rust too quickly.

In 1920 the Sanders Branch School had a flagpole and a flag swaying in the breeze above the roof. The older students raised and lowered the flag each day.

All students, including the little ones, knew the Pledge of Allegiance. Sanders Branch students knew all four verses of "My Country,Tis Of Thee." Helen said, "We knew every state, 48 at that time, and the things they were noted for, and every country and how to cross the water to get there."

The student's desks were made to be adjusted as the children grew. In a corner of the room behind the teacher's desk was a pump organ. Often it was one of the students who played the organ for all to sing.

In another corner behind the teacher's desk was a high stool called the dunce seat. Helen said, "Now it would be called behavior modification." Two large framed pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln looked down upon them all to remind them of their decorum.

When Helen was in the eighth-grade the long arm of Cheney School District reached out and gathered all the students into a bus. Sanders Branch School became a memory. Remember the 10-pound book? Helen Boots saved all those memories for you and me and preserved them in the book. Thank you Helen. Mrs. Smouse would be proud of you and so are we.

Luella Dow is a Cheney-area author. She can be reached at


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