|Born into a large family in Elizabethtown, New York, Mary Post attended the Burlington Female Seminary in Vermont after being rejected by the University of Vermont due to her gender. In 1863, when she was just 15, she moved with her family to Iowa where she taught Latin, French and math. Mary fell in love with a young politician, but a vicious campaign rumor that he was having an affair was circulated in the community. Mary broke off the relationship, only to discover later he had been faithful to her after all. In spite of later learning the truth, she did not apologize and never married.
Possibly because of this unpleasant incident, she left for the West, traveling alone for five weeks by train and arriving in San Francisco first; then transferring to San Diego where she learned there was a teacher shortage in Arizona. She arrived in Arizona City (today Yuma) in 1872 after a 250-mile stagecoach trip and another 125 miles by steamship on the Colorado River. She was warmly greeted by Territorial Gov. A.P.K. Safford. Reportedly she was the fifth Anglo teacher to arrive in the territory.
She taught at Ehrenberg, a port on the Colorado River, for a few months. There she turned a former saloon into Arizona's third school. The building had no windows and only an earthen floor. After six months in Ehrenberg, she began teaching in Yuma and remained there for most of her career, except for a few years of teaching in San Diego. She retired when she was in her 70s.
She was a curiosity as a single White woman in a town where the majority of residents were American Indian or Mexican American. "I never but once went out on the street unaccompanied and then I was stared at from windows and doorways," she said. Her students spoke Spanish, so she quickly had to learn the language. She was remembered as a strict teacher who did not countenance absenteeism. When students did not show up for class, she went to their homes and, if they had no excuse, escorted them to school. Yuma was still a rough town in the 1870s. One day in 1873, a gallows was constructed across the street from her classroom, and she was forced to cancel class. The atmosphere became so rough that she left to teach school in San Diego for two years, before returning to Yuma where she was made principal of the girls' school. Her brother Albert was placed in charge of the boys' school.
She raised funds for school supplies and was a fixture at state teachers' meetings. She convinced a prominent citizen to hold a horse race that raised $600 for textbooks. She had her conflicts as well. One local citizen accused her of being too partial to Mexicans in the school. He went to the Mexican neighborhoods and urged male voters to support school trustee candidates who had agreed to replace Mary as principal. But Mary had a strong relationship with the mothers of her students, and because women were allowed to vote in school board elections in Arizona, she sought their support. She hired a wagon and went house-to-house in the Mexican El Rincon neighborhood to ask for parents' support. Her hard work paid off when those school trustees who favored retaining her as principal were elected.
Mary Post was an avid suffrage supporter and was also active in women's club activities, including the Yuma Business and Professional Women's Club and the Delta Club, the predecessor to the Yuma Woman's Club. She worked to establish the Yuma Carnegie Library, serving on its board. Mary received a master's degree from the University of Arizona and, after her retirement, served as an interpreter in the community and opened a millinery store out of her home. She was the first beneficiary of the state's teacher pension bill, receiving $50 a month. Mary felt a calling as a teacher and once said, "Nothing ever just happens in this world. I was born and educated for my work. There's a divinity that shapes our ends, hew them as we may."
She died in 1934 at the age of 93. The Mary E. Post School, located at 400 W. Fifth Street in Yuma, is named in her honor. It is now used as the Exceptional Student Services Building for Yuma District I.
For more information, see Stalwart Women: Frontier Stories of Indomitable Spirit by Leo Banks.
Mary Elizabeth Post photo courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society, Yuma.