HendersonvilleNews StoriesPete Zamplas

Julia Redden was among earliest female principals in N.C.


Pete Zamplas –

Julia Sophronia Trimble Redden, a guiding force at Valley Hill School for most of the first half of the 20th Century, is among early local educators that historians are researching for their immense impact.

Julia Redden (1878-1951) is hailed as among earliest female principals in North Carolina, starting in the Roaring Twenties if not earlier. “My recollection is that she was the very first one,” grandson Arthur “Skeeter” Redden Jr. said. “I’m very proud. She broke the (gender) line, and became a well-respected principal.”

Julia’s great-grandson John J. Redden, who runs Deerfields Retreat with his brother Greg, is proud “she was a strong woman, back in a time when women didn’t take lead roles.” Uncle Skeeter remembers Julia having an authoritative presence as a “big-boned, heavy-set woman with a deep voice. She was a strong-willed woman. She demanded discipline. She’d take a paddle to a student.”

She often read the Bible, Skeeter said. He said Julia remained such a family sage, her son Monroe in considering politics “sought her guidance.” Monroe served three terms in Congress, starting when Harry Truman was president after World War II.

Redden was at Valley Hill School for nearly a half-century, starting as a teacher in 1902 and retiring as principal in 1945 according to local personnel records. She died six years later.

Julie Trimble Redden is honored by an old bronze plaque on a gray stone marker, on the school grounds off South Carolina Avenue between Willow Road and Osceola Lake. The plaque states she “served Valley Hill community (for) forty-three years. She fought a good fight, and finished her course.”

What is clear from Henderson County pay records is Redden was principal starting at least by 1928-29, and until retiring 17 years later. However, records earlier in the Twenties do not list her as a principal of the then elementary-only school. One explanation is she might have been classified more as lead teacher of the small school, but essentially led it. And others contending for honor as first in the state may have been principals in name, but had little to administer in tinier schools.

Trying to figure Redden’s place in statewide and local educational history is thus a challenge for the seven-member Henderson County Education History Initiative Steering Committee researching about early educators. Knowing more about an educator better secures the person’s enshrinement in the Henderson County Education Foundation (HCEF) Hall of Fame.

Nancy Edwards, a retired teacher on the Initiative panel, said state employees she spoke with do not know who its first lady principal is or when they served. The state requires Redden’s social security number (unknown to descendants consulted) to access its records on her.

So far, Edwards said, “the best we can figure out is maybe there were two or three female principals at most” in Redden’s earlier years. Retired teacher Patsy Jones said female administers a century ago was “most unusual.”

Bessie Steedman is another local among earliest female principals in the state. She was the first principal (1912-19) of Fourth Avenue Graded School — later Rosa Edwards School, and now the public schools’ central office. “Miss Bessie” was likely the first lady principal in Hendersonville City Schools. Redden was in the county system.

County pay records dating back to 1920 for Mrs J.L. Redden give clues on her duties and timeline, such as by job coding. Redden is first identified as a principal in 1928-29, with the code “1P” meaning first year as principal, Edwards noted. Redden also is classified as HST (high school teacher), as a teaching principal. She was first “HST” in 1927-28. In 1930-31, she evidently stopped teaching and was simply “HSP” (high school principal).

Yet code changes that could reflect her becoming a lead teacher, if not official elementary principal. Her serial number changed in 1928-29 when she was high school principal, but in 1925 as well, Edwards said.

Curiously, Redden’s years of experience dropped from 21 in 1924-25 to merely four in 1926-27. That could signal she was de-facto elementary principal, starting in 1923-24.

These same county records show Redden’s monthly pay was $100 in 1920-21, then 15 percent higher for the next two years. She got a huge 27.5 percent raise from $115 to $146.66, in 1923-24. That is another hint she had greater, perhaps administrative responsibilities. Her pay inched up to $150 for the next three school years, then rose to $166.66 in 1928-29 as high school principal.

Redden’s salary fell from $177.77 in 1930-31 to $160 two years later. Pay cuts struck by 1930-31, the first full academic year in the Great Depression, Burnitte Babb said. His mother, the late Clara Capps Babb, was in her second year of teaching at Valley Hill in ‘30-31. She succeeded Redden as principal, serving in 1945-72. Burnitte Babb said Clara ran the school for Redden’s last couple of years when Redden’s health was ailing, so Redden’s career reached 1945 when he said state teacher pensions began.

In ‘30-31, “they cut her pay in half,” Burnitte Babb recalled about his mother. He said for the next year or two, governments were so cash-strapped they paid local teachers with “scrip” credit. Scrip could be redeemed once funds were available, and typically paid off taxes, Babb recalled. Retiree Burnitte Babb was Edneyville Elementary principal for 25 years.

Julia Redden taught grades 5-7 in 1920-21, then grades 8-9. In 1925-6, her grades are listed as “H.S.,” presumably high school. This indicates high school grades were added to Valley Hill as early as fall 1925.

Valley Hill continued as an elementary school only after 1934, when its elder grades were consolidated into Flat Rock High School. This also happened to East Flat Rock and Tuxedo schools by then.

Valley Hill School originated as the Ficker School, named after Arnold Ficker. He donated his log cabin and an acre. In 1908, the new, three-room Valley Hill School opened. Then in 1919, a five-room wood-framed Valley Hill debuted.

The wooden school was later “brick-veneered” and expanded, to absorb Pleasant Hill students, Burnitte Babb said. A gym and cafeteria were added, noted Mark White who manages the vacant property. White went to Valley Hill Elementary, in the Sixties. He noted the school was most recently Pathway Christian Academy, in 1999 to 2007.

Clara Babb was “the only female principal here” until the mid-Sixties when Virginia Thompson took over Hillandale Elementary, Burnitte Babb said. After Babb, Ted Reed was Valley Hill principal to about 1980, then led successor school Atkinsson Elementary, Babb said.

Julia Trimble was born in Alexandria, La. She was Baptist. Her family had 13 children. Her father was William M. Trimble. Henderson County genealogical records indicate she had a sister, Iva. Tom Orr said Julia’s brother Whit Trimble was the engineer on a train that ran from New Orleans to here, and died in a train crash.

In 1898, Julia married John Louis Redden (1865-1944), son of Minor Clint and Harriet Marilla Dalton Redden, and they moved here in 1900, according to genealogical data. John Redden was as a rural mail carrier, via horse and buggy and then a Model T, Skeeter Redden said.

He recalled how Julia lived on Hebron Street. In later years, due to breathing ailments she stayed in Arizona and in a local, downtown bed and breakfast, Burnitte Babb said.

John and Julia’s sons Monroe and Arthur, both now deceased, were lawyers. Daughters were Harriet and Ethel. Researchers about Julia include Betty K. Price. She wrote a genealogical essay including on Julia in 2004, citing data from the U.S. Census among sources. She found out Julia’s grandson Henry Brookshire, Jr. was a principal in Hendersonville.

Monroe’s sons Monroe Jr. and Robert Redden, Skeeter’s cousins, were also lawyers. Monroe, Jr. developed a 940-acre tract in Mills River he got in 1927, into a hunting lodge with lakes. In 1998, his grandsons John J. and Greg inherited it, transformed it into Deerfields Retreat, and have hosted musical events.

Skeeter has two sisters. His sons are Art III, who managed Kenmure, and mortgage broker Bradley. Skeeter, 77, is the last of five Reddens who practiced criminal and domestic law. He sees Brad’s twin sons Carson and Chase, 10, as lawyers. “They’re inquisitive. And they don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Meanwhile, the Education Initiative (launched in 2011 by retired teacher Tom Orr) is putting up marble markers at feeder high schools and did so April 7 at what is now the Mills River Academy training facility. Next is Sunday, May 5, 2-4 p.m., honoring Edneyville High at what is now the Justice Academy. On Oct. 5, famed author Robert Morgan will speak about his alma mater, Flat Rock School which was turned into part of the Singleton Centre.

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