Take a look at the 1922 photo collage of the first Daly Scholarship recipients and you’ll note that most of the recipients that year (and all through the 1920’s) were young women. Nationally, only about 2% of the college age cohort (18-24) went to the college in those days and most were young men. So, why did so many young women get the Daly Scholarship?
In the 1920’s, only about 20% of America’s youth graduated from high school and in Lake County where many boys worked on family ranches, far fewer boys than girls went on to high school. Since the direct costs of attending college were low and the scholarship funds were plentiful, all of the high school graduates, and some from previous years, who wanted to go to college received a scholarship – most of those high school graduates were young women.
Look a little closer at the 1922 recipients and you’ll see Cornelia (Connie) Robertson on the lower left. Connie’s parents owned the Lakeview telegraph office and she often worked late into the night, sleeping on a cot in front of the switchboard. Although she graduated a few years earlier, she was among the first group of scholarship recipients. In 1979, she told an Oregon Journal reporter that she would talk with Dr. Daly at the telegraph office where she worked while he waited for the night rates to go into effect (yes, he was quite frugal). She said, “He was always buying and selling cattle and sheep. A lot of people didn’t think he had a lick of money, I know.” When asked by the doctor what she planned to with her life, she replied “I’d like to study medicine, but I don’t think my father can afford it.” Daly replied, “Don’t worry. They’ll be a way.” Daly died a year later and two years after that she left for college, then medical school, and on to a career as a doctor in New York City and San Diego. Quite remarkable when you consider that at the time less than 5% of doctors were women – even more remarkable in that her sister, Jocelyn, also received the scholarship and went on to become a doctor.
When Connie graduated from high school in 1921, Daly’s will was being contested. It took about a year but the will was upheld. Knowing that she would likely receive a scholarship for college, she applied for and received a teaching permit issued by the Lake County School Superintendent, Pearl Hall, a very close friend of Bernard Daly. In those days it was not uncommon for high school graduates to become teachers. Lakeview High School, like many high schools, offered teacher training courses and Connie had taken them.
Then, in the fall of 1922, she left for the University of Oregon and after graduating in three years, attended the University of Oregon Medical School in Portland. After medical school, she interned in dermatology at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, earning $15 a month with room and board provided. In 1930, she moved to New York where she worked in a medical office on Park Avenue and lived in Greenwich Village with her sister Jocelyn, who was interning in Jersey City. What a time to be in Greenwich Village, already known as the place to be for budding artists, speakeasies, and jazz clubs — must have felt like a long way from Lakeview. Working in New York, Connie was at the top of her profession. She was one of the first to receive national board certification, established in 1933 first in the fields of dermatology, obstetrics, and gynecology. Very few doctors were board certified in those times; today about 85% of doctors are — she was definitely ahead of her time.
After working in New York for 12 years, she moved to San Diego and then, in 1956, back to Lakeview to help care for her mother. She studied for and received her Oregon medical license and opened her practice in Lakeview sharing medical offices with her sister, Jocelyn, and brother, Lewis, who also became a doctor. Connie lived life to the fullest. In Lakeview, in addition to her medical practice, she was an active member of the Soroptimists, Investment Club, the local historical society and several card clubs. Among other things, she was known for her extensive hat collection and flashy pink Thunderbird. She died in 2001, shortly after celebrating her 98th birthday. According to her niece, Janice (Decker) Kniskern, she was fond of saying, “I was able to do what I wanted in my life which is more than some people can say.”
Not all the women who received the Daly scholarship became doctors but, like Dr. Connie, they did have more choice in their lives. From the 1920’s up to the 1950’s, the most highly educated women in Oregon lived in Lake County. What’s the impact of highly educated women? While research has shown that the educational attainment of mothers is especially important to children, communities, and the women themselves, I’m especially interested in what people from Lake County think about the impact. Over the years I’ve asked many scholarship recipients about this question. While on my 2016 cross-country bike ride I met Erin (Harlan) Taggart (Lakeview High School, 2004) in Baker City where she lives with her husband and two boys. We talked about the impact of the Daly Fund and the question of its impact on women in particular. Erin, who graduated from Eastern Oregon University with no debt is able to be a stay at home mom but, she said the difference for her is that she knows that if necessary, she could support her family.
What do you think about the impact of the Daly Fund on women and the impact of those highly educated women? Let me know in a comment to this post or send me an email.
- Many thanks to Connie’s family for sharing photographs, letters, and the family history written by Janice (Decker) Kniskern, Jocelyn Robertson’s daughter.