Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Kate Pettis Kerr at Slippery Rock

Slippery Rock State Normal School Faculty, 1906
Kate Pettis Kerr - bottom row, third from left
(click to enlarge)

At the age of three, my grandpa Rosmer lost his father, Milton E. Kerr. Left on her own with two young sons to support, his mother, Kate Pettis Kerr, became a career woman long before women's suffrage or the feminist movement. She worked as a teacher at Slippery Rock State Normal School in Butler County, Pennsylvania, about fifteen miles southeast of the town of Mercer, where Milton's family lived.

Slippery Rock State Normal School

Kate Pettis was born October 2, 1864, in Winona, Minnesota. She graduated from Winona High School and Winona State Normal School. She attended the Illinois Art Institiute (her artwork will be featured in a future post) and the Columbia College of Expression in Chicago. She graduated with a B.O. degree from King's School of Oratory.

The Omaha City Directory for 1889 lists Miss Kate E. Pettis, artist at 520 Paxton Block. She and Mrs. Kate E. Pettis, her mother, resided at 706 N. 16th. The same directory lists Milton E. Kerr, in the furniture business with H. M. Manington, at 1510 Douglas.

Kate and Milton were married the following year. Their first son, Milton E. Kerr, was born in Chicago in 1891. Rosmer Pettis Kerr, my grandfather, was born in 1892 in Mercer, Pennsylvania, where his father's family lived.

In 1895, Kate's husband died. In 1900, along with her mother and sons, she was still living in a home adjacent to the farm of Milton's father, Andrew Jackson Kerr.

In 1902, Kate began teaching at Slippery Rock State Normal School, about five miles from Mercer, where she taught elocution and orthography until 1913. The courses were described this way in the 1905-1906 catalogue:
Oratorical Training – The work in Elocution and Oratory aim at the highest cultivation and development of the speaking voice the student is led to comprehend. To appreciate and to communicate thought in the most natural and effective manner every effort is made to develop the individual power of each pupil, and to give him knowledge of the natural laws of expression. The object sought is not mere imitation; but each pupil must think for himself, and learn to appreciate and love good literature. Much stress is laid upon voice-drill by means of exercises in pitch, quality, inflection, articulation, enunciation, tone-color, word-painting, cadence, rhythm, and melody. Physical expression is developed by breathing exercises, bodily movements, gestures, attitudes, and pantomimes. Public recitals are given from time to time, and the literary societies and entertainments afford opportunities for practice before audiences. Special arrangements may be made for private lessons in these subjects. (p. 56)

Orthography – The subject of Orthography includes a careful study of the spelling, enunciation, pronunciation, meaning, and use of words. Constant drills in spelling and defining are given to the students, and the importance of correct spelling and understanding of words is emphasized. Word analysis, including the literal meaning of prefixes, suffixes, and roots which compose our most familiar derived words receives proper attention. Diacritical marks and accent are studied so that proficiency in the use of the dictionary may be gained. (p. 48)

Textbook: Orthography by Sheldon Rice (p. 60)
Kate was photographed in the context of some theatrical presentations there which were doubtless part of the elocution curriculum.

I am grateful to Kevin McLatchy of Slippery Rock University, who was able to tell me that this photograph was taken on the stage of Slippery Rock State Normal School Chapel. Sadly, the Chapel was closed in 1958 due to neglect and termite infestation. Funding for renovation was unavailable, so the building was taken down in 1971.

Mr. McLatchy, in fact, provided all the information I have about my great-grandmother's education and her teaching career at Slippery Rock, for which I'm very grateful. It adds so much to her story and that of her family, as her love of words and language is a legacy her descendants share.

For the benefit of Google searchers, I'll do my best to interpret the names written at the bottom of the photo above: Grace Robinson (may or may not be two separate identifications), Killers or Killern, Mary Welch or Welsh, H. Hunt, G. Cooper, E. W---, D---, Glenn, Mrs. Kerr, Mac, H. Cooper, Sharp, Clark, Brunner, Shearer, DeVreise (?), Patton. [Note, May 8: The caption on the slide above has been updated to reflect what I believe is an error in the identifications. I suspect the identifications were written by someone other than Kate. After studying the enlarged photo with a magnifying glass, I believe Kate Pettis Kerr is not seated at the center of the photo, but rather standing at the back, second from the left. In the photo below, she appears to be wearing the same clothing.]

(click to enlarge these photos)

The identifications are harder to make out in the photo above. With some I won't even try. This is what seems clear to me, working left to right: Mrs. Kerr, Sherrill, Vose or Vogt, Wright, McCoy, Graham, Marks, Kenneth Kiester or Keister, Anderson, Gardner, Smith, Patel, H. Cooper, Kate Ving, French, Hunt. Notice that H. Cooper appears in both photographs. Cooper's dates of attendance at Slippery Rock may be the key to a more accurate range of dates for these two photos.

Slippery Rock Normal School Faculty (part), 1912
Kate Pettis Kerr - upper right corner
(click to enlarge)

Among my grandparents' things I found these mother-of-pearl opera glasses, made by Lemaire of Paris. I'm not sure who they belonged to, but because of Kate Pettis Kerr's connection to the theater, I suspect they were hers.

In later years, Kate also taught in Detroit, Michigan, according to the 1928 Detroit City Directory.

She printed her name inside the cover of Hamilton's Essentials of Arithmetic, Higher Grades by Samuel Hamilton, Ph.D, LL.D., Superintendent of Schools, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (Copyright 1919, 1920, American Book Company).

Stuck to page 41, I found a slip of paper with a percentage problem pencilled on the back.

(click to enlarge)

The front of the note is a Detroit Board of Education form which is rubber-stamped "Garfield Evening School."

There are some handwritten notes at the back of the book. I presume this is Kate's handwriting.


Hey, Kids! Collect 'Em All!

Are you related to Kate Pettis Kerr? As with many of the images that appear in Before My Time, the five images of Kate in this post are designed to be added to your family history slideshow. Here's how:
  1. Click on a photo to enlarge it.
  2. Right-click on the enlarged photo and choose Save Image As.
  3. Navigate to the folder on your hard drive where you want to save it. (You may want to create a new folder called Family History Slideshow.)
  4. Click Save.

Claim This Photo: A New Feature at Before My Time

If you happened upon this website via a search for Kenneth Keister, you may be interested in the photo below which was identified thus on the back. Although this was found with photos kept by Rosmer and Evelyn Kerr, Kenneth is not related to my family. I'd be happy to send the photo to a properly identified descendant.


Juliane's granddaughter said...

Wonderful post and great photos. You are so fortunate to have so many excellent group photos including your great-grandmother. Somebody in your family (I suspect your grandmother) must have known somewhere down the line somebody was going to properly appreciate all these items.

Also love the "claim this photo". Wish you lots of luck in getting some information on these phantom photos that we all have; I have a few of my own found in old antique family albums but in my case with no identification.

Another great post.

Nikki-ann said...

I love your "Claim This Photo" idea! :)

I've enjoyed reading your entry for the Carnival of Genealogy "School Days" theme.

Thanks :)

Jasia said...

What a great article! And thanks for submitting it to the Carnival of Genealogy. Good topic... begging... whatever the reason I appreciate you sharing it. It will be a fantastic addition!

T.K. said...

Thank you all for your encouragement. It's a much better post since this morning, when I was able to add significant new information to it. I'm glad I decided to participate in the Carnival of Genealogy. It was a great motivation to resume my search for more information about Kate, and it ended up being very rewarding for me.

Bob said...

I enjoyed your website specificallly because my great uncle played baseball and football at Slippery Rock Normal and I have two photos of the teams. I'm trying to find any information regarding team rosters. Any suggestions on where or whom to talk to

T.K. said...

Hi Bob, thanks for your comment. My best advice would be to contact Bailey Library at Slippery Rock University. The email address is: askalibrarian at
If the librarians can't help you, they can probably put you in touch with the University archivist, but I'm thinking surely the library would have the old yearbooks that would have the information you're looking for. Best of luck in your search!

Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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