On the west side of Highway MB in the town of Paris, about a quarter mile north of 12th Street, is a particularly fertile piece of land.
It is land rich in nutrients for healthy minds, strength of character and inquisitive natures — land that is perfect for growing teachers.
The farmhouse that once stood there was the birthplace of not one, but two, of Wisconsin’s finest educators:
Mary Davison Bradford, the first female superintendent of schools in Wisconsin and the second to take the helm of a city school system in the nation.
Sister Bartholomew Frederick, OSF, one of the founders of Cardinal Stritch College in Milwaukee.
Let’s start with the one with whom Kenoshans are the most familiar.
Mary Lemira Davison was born Jan. 15, 1856, the sixth of seven children of Andrew J. and Caroline G. Davison. The Davisons had purchased the farm and homestead called the “Willis place” in 1854.
Mary wrote about her home in her autobiography “Memoirs of Mary D. Bradford.”
Andrew became disabled in 1861, and the work of the farm was laid on Caroline and the older children. When Mary’s oldest brother Cordillo died in 1866 of typhoid fever, the Davisons moved into the city of Kenosha.
The farm was sold to German pioneers Matthias and Catharina Frederick in 1868. Subsequently, the farm came into the hands of their son Theodore.
Lover of learning
Mary was a good student and loved school.
In the spring of 1874, her father and sister were exposed to smallpox at the Kenosha train station, and the entire family was quarantined in their home for six weeks.
When Mary returned to school, it was impossible for her to catch up on her studies. She never did graduate from high school.
But at age 16 she passed the teachers examination.
Teaching was truly her life’s work. In the subsequent years, she taught in rural schools, Kenosha High School and attended the Oshkosh Normal School.
She married William R. Bradford in 1878 and gave birth to their son Willie in 1880. Seven months later she was a widow, William dying of tuberculosis.
Mary taught for 12 years at Kenosha High School before being requested to join the faculty of Stevens Point Normal School in 1894 and later Stout Institute and Whitewater State Normal School.
Her selection as the superintendent of schools in Kenosha in 1910 — a post she held for 11 years — was nothing short of revolutionary for our city. She inaugurated a host of features that won her the attention and commendation of the progressive educational leaders of the nation.
During her administration as superintendent, she established the first kindergartens, implemented the junior high school system, introduced industrial and household arts, organized the first Parent-Teacher Association, initiated the first open-air school in Wisconsin, increased professional requirements for teachers and introduced the first salary schedule for school employees.
She retired in the spring of 1921 due to illness, but lived to be a world traveler.
At her last public appearance at the Eagles Club, it was announced that the central senior high school was being renamed in her honor. She died nearly three years later on Feb. 5, 1943.
Frederick lived a life of service and prayer
Sister Bartholomew Frederick began life as Elizabeth Frederick, born Sept. 26, 1882. She was the daughter of Theodore and Catherine Frederick, the seventh of nine children.
Elizabeth left the farm life at the age of 15, just a year older than Mary was when the Davisons moved into the city.
But Elizabeth’s path was very different than Mary’s.
At 15, she joined the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi in Milwaukee and was given the name Sister M. Bartholomew when she was received as a novice in 1898.
A good student, Sister Bartholomew pursued her education on Saturdays and during the summers.
She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from DePaul University in 1922, and in 1927, she earned a Master of Arts in history from Marquette University, one of the first two members of the congregation to receive a master’s degree.
In 1932, at the suggestion of Archbishop Samuel A. Stritch, Sister Bartholomew got busy organizing St. Clare Junior College for members of her order. She served as president of the college from 1934-1942.
Knowing the importance of education, Sister Bartholomew sent other sisters to pursue graduate studies in various Catholic and secular universities in the United States and abroad.
Mother Bartholomew led Franciscan order
She was elected mother general of her community in 1937, a post she held until 1949 at which time the community of sisters included 886 nuns at 87 houses in 13 states and 24 dioceses, and in China.
Under Mother Bartholomew’s leadership, the sisters opened schools in various parts of the country, including southern rural missions and the Cardinal Stritch College Reading Clinic in Milwaukee.
In addition they founded St. Coletta School for persons with developmental disabilities in Jefferson, Wis.; similar facilities were opened in Longmont, Colo., Hanover, Maine, and Palos Park, Ill.
St. Clare Junior College was reorganized in 1937 into a four-year liberal arts school and opened to lay women. In 1946 it was renamed in honor of Stritch, who had been elevated to cardinal by Pope Pius XII.
Sister Bartholomew was the president of Cardinal Stritch College from 1949-1955.
She retired in 1969 but continued to serve. She would visit the Veterans Administration Hospital, where she chatted with the veterans, wrote letters, did simple mending and wheeled the veterans to appointments.
When she died on Dec. 12, 1981, at the age of 99 having spent 85 years in religious life, she was described as “a valiant woman of great vision and achievement.”
As for the farmhouse that both young Mary and Elizabeth called home, it was reluctantly razed by the Frederick family in 1986.