Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tulsa Historian Fannie Misch

Born in Nodaway, Iowa on January 6, 1886 Fannie Brownlee claimed she had "the instinct for church relationship and the importance of history born right into me".  Some of her most prized possessions were the journals kept by her circuit-riding minister grandfathers- on both sides- dated 1848 in Ohio and 1866 in Iowa.  She and her family migrated to Kansas at the turn of the century. Fannie graduated from Prairie Valley School, Parsons, Kansas in 1903.  She rode in a buggy for six miles to have this graduation picture taken.  

Upon receiving her teaching certificate, her adventuresome spirit  led her to travel with a woman friend and the nephew of family friends to the panhandle of Texas to teach school.

In an interview with the Tulsa World, back in the mid-1970's, Fannie told of their arrival in Texas:  "We arrived with trunks as big as doors but soon had to trim down our possessions, for we found everybody in that pioneer country traveled by horseback."  And so she hung an oval-shaped, aluminum Kodak camera over her saddle horn and set out to document her journey.  Pictures were later used in her first book, "Teachers on Horseback".  The girls' first hurdle was to take a test about Texas history before they could teach.  Staying up two days and two nights, studying by kerosene lamps to cram for the exam, they passed with flying colors.  

Fannie rode a train to the rural community where she hoped to teach.  However when she got there her assignment had changed, so she caught a ride back to the county seat with a lawyer in a hack.  The heat was almost unbearable.  "I had on an embroidered blouse.  By the time I got back to my room, the pattern of the embroidery was burned into my skin."  
Schoolteacher Miss Brownlee
Teachers often boarded with a family, paying for rent and food.  Fannie's friend had to live in a dugout and believed that Fannie was fortunate because she lived in a ranch house.  But Fannie had to climb outside stairs each night to reach her room, which was without heat.  

Typical schoolhouse of the period
Students of all ages were in a typical school house.  Because so many rural kids had to help with farm chores during spring planting and fall harvesting, there were two school terms: "winter" and "summer." They each were about four months long between the harvest and planting seasons.  
This photo shows Fannie (middle) on vacation in the fall so her students in Donley County, TX could pick cotton.

Undated photo

Fannie Brownlee came to Tulsa in 1913 and married Julius Misch. Together they opened Tulsa Printing Company in 1916, which was located at 1011 N. Main.  Mrs. Minch began researching local history and writing everything from book-length histories to articles for newspapers.  

Mrs. Misch served as president of the Tulsa History & Literature Club from 1939-1941

Fannie acquired the Lilah D. Lindsey collection of photos and manuscripts in the late 1950's.  Adding to the material with interviews Mrs. Lindsey had previously given, Misch wrote an article about her for the Oklahoma Chronicles which you can read HERE.  In addition she presented photos of Lilah's husband, Col. Lindsey, to the Creek Nation Museum in Okmulgee.  Lindsey had built the wall around the Council House, set out trees and did brick work at the Wealaka Mission where Lilah had taught. For her efforts and research, Fannie was made an honorary member of the Creek Indian Council.   

She authored several books about the Creek tribes and Missions, including "Kowetah, the first Creek Indian Mission".  She was invited to contribute four articles in the two volume "History of World-wide Methodism" books.  This led to her documenting the local Methodist history with her book,  "Methodist Trails to First Methodist Church  Tulsa".  Her writing and research earned awards too numerous to count.  In 1975 she was the winner of the Oklahoma Heritage Association's Distinguished Service Award.  

Besides being an accomplished writer, Fannie Misch was an active preservationist.  It was she who alerted  the Tulsa County Historical Society (and later the Methodist Oklahoma Conference) to the fact that Tulsa's oldest house, once the parsonage of Tulsa's first Methodist minister Sylvester Morris, was about to be destroyed in an Urban Renewal project.  

The house was rescued and restored by the Methodist conference in Owen Park, on a site Fannie chose because her research had proven that the corner was the intersection of the three Indian Nations.  (The house was later moved several yards over to it's current spot).

She was also responsible for preserving the well-known "Hanging Tree" that sits at 3 N. Lawton.  When the owner of that property passed away, she feared new owners, unaware of the tree's history, might dispose of it.  Thanks to her efforts it was preserved and still stands today.  She recalled how it shaded picnics of the Creek Indians in early Tulsey Town.  And later, three cattle rustlers were once hanged from its limb, hence it's name. 

Fannie Brownlee Misch lived to the age of 92 and is buried in Rose Hill cemetery, Tulsa.  She was nearly finished with her last book titled "Creek Indian Nation East to West" at the time of her death.  She was extremely excited about this book because she had information and photographs not available to anyone else, obtained by interviews with family members of many Creek tribal officials.  

I do not know if the book was every completed by someone else or not.

I could only find a copy of the book "Methodist Trails" but no copies of any other books she wrote.

Source: Tulsa World


Sidney said...

That picture of Miss Brownlee on the porch is kick ass! (Although I'm sure she would have found a different word...)

It was charming to see her age through the progression of pictures you've assembled here.

Thanks for sharing her story with us!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading about Fannie Misch! I love Tulsa history and had never heard of her. The pictures of her through the years were fascinating. I looked them up in a 1968 phone book and found their address...went to it by street view. I was thrilled to see that it's still standing and it continues to look as it did in the photo of her as an elderly lady.
Thank you for sharing this!

Nancy said...

Thanks you all! I really, really appreciate the feedback!

Anonymous said...

I'll bet my grandparents knew Mr. and Mrs. Misch. He was a Tulsa printer, too - born at about the same time.
Beverly (I forgot to leave my name above.)

DrillerAA09 said...

It is fascinating history indeed and one with some great women of the plains. My great aunt got her first teaching contract in Indian Territory in 1902. Later she was instrumental in developing the hot lunch program in the Oklahoma school system.

Laura said...

My older sister just sent me a link to this page and we are enjoying it immensely because Fannie Misch was our grandmother! We have a younger sister, as well -- the only one of us who still lives in Oklahoma. She's in Drumright but works for the City of Tulsa.

We are the three daughters of Frank Misch, Fannie's only son. Her daughter, Marjorie Fuller, is 97 years old and still kicking in Fulton, Mssouri. I talked to Aunt Marjorie yesterday!

I well remember the Ford Falcon Grandma drove toward the end of her life, the one in the last photo. It was faded red, had no air conditioning and I would get (nearly) carsick in the back seat when she was driving because when Grandma drove, she would let up on the gas when she was talking and press on it when she wasn't!

She had a wonderful garden. A big tall magnolia tree stood in the front yard. She and Grandpa lived at 546 N. Santa Fe. That is where the picture with the car was taken.

Thank you for the wonderful memories.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a treasure this is to find this great article about my grandmother! She was a true wonder having experienced so much in her life.
I drove that red car when I was 17! The pictures are wonderful and I am thankful for the information on her life.
By the way, her extensive photographical collection was purchased by Beryl Ford upon her death. Many of that collections photoes were hers.
Thanks Nancy for the memories :-)
Alice, the grandaughter in Drumright.

Nancy said...

Laura and Alice- how wonderful you all are to share your memories of your grandmother! You should be very proud of her legacy to Tulsa and it's history.

Anonymous said...

Ok, my turn. I was the one who found this link, and I have tried to find out what has happened to her copious notes for the Creek Nation book. No luck yet, but I beleive the Tulsa Historical Society has them.

I will 3rd the motion on that red Falcon....I believe she recieved a few tickets for driving too slowly. She would take us to see historical buildings being blown up for urban renewal, which she hated.

Some older folks might recall her at the Tulsa State Fair, in her REAL sunbonnet, spinning thread out of wool. I spent an afternoon one very hot summer in her backyard, learning to make soap from lye, beef fat, and ashes. I well remember, too, her stories of teaching in Texas, and how the sun burned the embroidery on her back.

A good message from this is that our elders are nuggets waiting to be mined. I surely wish I had listened to her more closely, and spent more time with her.

GREAT article! I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I hope you had a good time writing it as well!

Anonymous said...

I too recall that red Falcon! Her head barely reached the steering wheel.

Thanks so much for this article. We have enjoyed it, and hope you enjoyed writing it.

She was a treasure, and I sure wish I had spent more time with her.

I have been trying to locate her undoubtedly copious notes on the Creek Nation book, and I am fairly sure the Tulsa Historical Society has them. If so, they are probably buried in the Beryl Ford Collection. The Tulsa Public Library is working with them on the photos at least, scanning the collection (nearly 23,000 photos, of which perhaps 8,000 were hers) for viewing online, and they are nearly done. I have been able to identify about 20 family photos that got mixed up with the historical ones, most of which accompany your article. I don't recall the one in which she's on the horse, though! Thanks for that.

Best regards,

Ellen in CT

Nancy said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments and additional memories. I would still absolutely love to read a copy of her first book "Teachers on Horseback" - if one still exists.

Anonymous said...

I hope you see this! I know the person who lives at 546 N Santa Fe. Funny.
Do you have an old photos of the neighborhood? Particularly the house across the street? 547 is a Sears Arlington, a two story colonial style bungalow. I would love to see old photos of that house!

AudioriJ said...

Fannie B. Misch, does anyone know what happened to her collection of photographs and things? In her book Methodist Trails she has a couple photos of my relative, Rev. D. J. M. Wood (page 46, 57). I have other photos of him myself but would love larger scans of those two photos for my own family collection. If anyone knows they can contact me here:
Jason Townsend

Nancy said...

Many of her items were donated to the Tulsa Historical Society. Contact Ian Swart 918-712-9484