Fifth Graders Bring Timelines to Life at Trezevant Manor

By Conchita Topinka
Spalding saddle shoes, ballroom dancing, classroom hijinks, and lifelong friendships. Alumnae at Trezevant Manor compare notes with the Class of 2031.
The dining room of the Trezevant Manor in Memphis was transformed as the place buzzed with talk of Hutchison. Laughter punctuated the conversations that owed at seven large, round tables of Hutchison girls — ages 85 to 10.

The visiting fifth grade girls were finally meeting the former Hutchison students who would add real-life anecdotes to the timelines they had studied in social science.

The Class of 2031 had come to visit with a group of Hutchison alumnae who now call Trezevant home, as part of a broader effort to meld community service and different research techniques as a way to explore the history of Hutchison. The conversation soon turned to popular after-school activities, friendships, cafeteria options, and the pros and cons of uniforms. The girls came prepared to pepper the residents with questions. Hutchison School became the common denominator for two vastly different eras.

The fifth graders couldn’t get enough of the stories about Spalding saddle shoes (always with bobby socks), ballroom dancing on Fridays (most girls did not enjoy it), limited cafeteria menus (nothing like the choices the girls have today), and Saturday School (Jimmye confesses she was a regular).

“Some of them went to school during World War II!” recalled Harper Ladd ’31, who was still in awe for weeks after the visit. Stories of Jimmye’s forays to Saturday School also left an impression.

“They asked all kinds of questions, and I tried to answer all of them,” said Jimmye Pidgeon ’60. Her transparency included sharing the story of how a group of girls in that class locked a teacher in a closet and paid the price with a stint in Saturday School. “I got a D in conduct for that. Other girls, the ones who actually locked the door, received an F,” she said. Her audience listened, wide-eyed, some of them more intrigued about what it meant to get a letter grade for conduct. “What is conduct?” they asked, trying to wrap their heads around what is a foreign concept in today’s classrooms.

And so it went. How many girls were in your class? What was the Ridgeway campus like when you first got here? Did you have uniforms? What were your classes like?

“They were very smart girls, I was impressed with them. They were very attentive, very interested in what I had to say,” said Lillian Trotter ’60, who has been friends with Jimmye Pidgeon since kindergarten. “They would come back to speak to me again. They remembered that story about how we locked the teacher in the closet,” Trotter laughed, explaining that it was actually a small room between two classrooms, and the pranksters just locked the door on one side.”

“One of the questions that my group asked was, ‘What did you like to do after school?’” said Clayden Young ’31. “They told us that they would go to the drive-in movies or go to a gas station to get snacks.”

Reflecting on Pidgeon’s and Trotter’s years of friendship, both Harper and Clayden said they can imagine remaining friends with some of their classmates for years to come.

Fifth grade science and social science teacher Julie Miller said the time spent at Trezevant was an excellent opportunity to bring their social science coursework to life. Relating their personal experiences to what they are studying makes history more memorable.

“We’ve done a lot of work with timelines. Hollis Ligon, middle school assistant head, made a timeline of the school with the girls to give them some background as far as when the school began, what was going on at the time when these ladies would have been in school, and how much had changed,” said Miller. 

Knowing that their middle school was the first building on the Ridgeway Campus gives the fifth graders a special connection to the alumnae. Miller says comparing school life across generations helps the girls understand the passage of time in a tangible way. It’s interesting for them to think that they attend classes in the same location that these older generations attended.

“We talk about that a lot … how the campus has grown and that, at one time, this was such a rural area and now it is an urban area. In social science and geography, we discuss how much things change in what is a relatively short amount of time,” said Miller. 

Other changes are not so overt. “One interesting fact about Ms. Jimmye is that she was the first woman at the company she worked for to be successful at selling something that was unusual for a woman to sell,” said Clayden.

“Actually, I was in industrial sales and I was either first or second in sales all the time,” said Pidgeon, who sold large construction equipment at her father’s company, Pidgeon-Thomas Iron Company. When the decision was made to bring in someone else to be in charge of that division, it did not sit well with her. “It made me so mad! I got in my car and drove over to my father’s house. And I said, ‘That’s not fair. I’m always either first or second. You can’t bring in somebody from out of town who doesn’t know anybody here.’ He said, ‘Well, Jimmye, you’re a woman.’ ”

Societal norms change and time marches on. But Hutchison bonds prevail, for Hutchison girls young and old.

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