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UCA Women’s History: Constance Mitchell & Dr. Ada Jane Harvey –”Constant Companions” Part I

Part I of this edition of From the Archives highlights the first of two important women within the UCA community.  When the University of Central Arkansas was the Arkansas State Normal School, Constance Mitchell taught English courses, and Dr. Ada Jane Harvey headed the Foreign Languages department.   This week we focus on Constance Mitchell.

Constance Mitchell, born in 1888, earned her bachelor’s degree from Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington, IL).  She earned her master’s degree in English from George Peabody College (Nashville, TN) and a library science degree from the University of Illinois.  Constance Mitchell taught English at Little Rock High School where she met French teacher, Ada Jane Harvey.  Approximately the same time Constance Mitchell met Ada Harvey, Constance met Dr. B.W. Torreyson, who “almost immediately” offered her a job at ASNS in 1919.  According to Mitchell, she “debated a long time” before accepting Torreyson’s offer.  Upon Constance’s acceptance of a position within the English department, Torreyson soon added French to the curriculum and asked Mitchell for recommendations for a qualified instructor.  Recently conferred a Ph.D, Dr. Ada Jane Harvey was offered the position.  The pair shared an apartment as roommates before purchasing a house together at 703 Donaghey Avenue.  

Mitchell taught English and Library Science courses.  Constance Mitchell, described as an optimist and enthusiastic teacher by many former students, was voted as most popular teacher in 1921, only two years after accepting a position with the English department. 

Constance Mitchell, 1923-1924 ASTC Hiking Club.

Constance Mitchell, 1923-1924 ASTC Hiking Club.

 

Seemingly every semester Harvey and Mitchell offered room and partial board to female students under financial constraints, as well as offering assistance to male students.  During a meeting at the First Presbyterian Church in 1986, a former student recalled, “Students lived with them–and they seemed to spoil each one of them.  Once a student had associated with them, the student was assured a college degree–if they worked hard–for they helped many financially…but seldom talked about it.”  

Flora Martin Walher Cox, a former student from 1926, noted that “Mitchell made the characters and situation come so alive for us that…I felt well prepared to start my 16 years of teaching English literature.”  Walher Cox continued, “Dr. Harvey and Miss Mitchell were both deeply respected and loved by students, teachers and residents all over the state of Arkansas and also other states.”

Constance Mitchell also coached women’s basketball on campus.  In 2008, The Centennial History of the University of Central Arkansas, noted that Mitchell held the third highest percentage of wins in UCA Women’s Basketball history, during the 1920-1931 seasons.  Ten years after her time as coach, Mitchell served as head librarian from 1941 until her retirement in 1954.  

Constance Mitchell, back row center. ASTC State Champions, 1929.

Constance Mitchell, back row center. ASTC State Champions, 1929.

Mitchell quickly established herself as an invaluable part of Torreyson Library.  Dr. Nolen Irby, Arkansas State Teachers College (formerly ASNS) President, was quoted as saying, “She’ll get down there at Little Rock and they’ll like her so well they’ll try to make an offer she can’t turn down and we’ll be looking for a librarian,” when faced with temporarily loaning Constance’s expertise as librarian to the Arkansas State Library Commission.  

Fortunately for Dr. Irby, and ASTC, Mitchell returned after her few months serving as a graduate librarian.  One of Mitchell’s proudest accomplishments on campus was the creation of The Arkansas Room (forerunner of the UCA Archives and Special Collections) within the library.  The Arkansas Room opened in the summer of 1950, based on the donation of books and papers by Joe Frauenthal, a trustee on the College Board.  The Frauenthal donation resided in a “small, locked display cabinet.”  A second donation of Arkansas material from Judge J.S. Utley’s estate necessitated both collections be properly catalogued for a special section within the library.  At the time the ASTC Arkansas Room was considered one of the three best semi-public collections of Arkansas material within the state, with the key distinction of being the most accessible of all.

Before and after her retirement from ASTC, Constance travelled to her family cabin in Virginia, as well as abroad to London and Paris, with Ada.  The pair also played in bridge tournaments all over the country, including hosting one in Conway.  The duo went to Oaklawn races in Hot Springs in the automobile they co-owned, a 1939 Chevy.  Constance loved the vehicle so much she wrote an ode entitled, “The Song of Old Faithful.”  When the pair stayed in, they hosted lunches and dinners often with themes following the type of cuisine served.  “If it was a French menu, they put out French dolls from Paris” on the table as decoration.

From The Log Cabin Democrat, Monday, April 10, 1972.

From The Log Cabin Democrat, Monday, April 10, 1972.

Before her death, Constance Mitchell bequeathed all of “my tangible personal property including furnishing and furniture in our home for her use and benefit” as well as established a trust for the maintenance and support of her “beloved friend,” Ada Jane Harvey.  Constance Mitchell is buried at The Historic Oak Grove Cemetery on Bruce Street in Conway, Arkansas.

 

For more information about Constance Mitchell or Ada Jane Harvey, see: M89-28, M89-29, SMC 148, and SMC 1647. 

Author:  Shelbea Gentry

Contributor:  Danielle Kraus (research)

Editor:  Daniel Klotz