JOANNA AYERS

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 19: Students
Series 09: Biography

Joanna Ayers

Student 1931 – 1935
Office 1935-1936; Bookkeeper 1936 – July 1939


Born Joanna Morley Ayers in 1916, Joanna Ayers was the daughter of Henry Gilmore Ayers (1894-1959), a coal miner from Twila, Kentucky, and Ethel Elizabeth Oaks Ayers (1983-1979). Joanna, more commonly called “Joan,” was the oldest of six daughters who all fondly called their father “D.O.” All of her siblings were students at Pine Mountain Settlement School.

According to a 1942 study written by Glen Morris, PMSS Director (1931-1942),

[Joanna] came from a family which was well-knit socially, and also above the literacy level of the community. The mother had taught school for several years, and the father had served as both secretary and president of the labor union Local.

Joanna Ayers: The Ayers Sisters

Mary Evelyn Ayers, “Eb,” attended the School from 1937 to 1941 and Ruby Ayers from 1935 to 1940. Mattie Ellen Ayers, called “Ellen” later in her life, attended from 1937 to 1941.

Ellen graduated from Pine Mountain in 1941 and married classmate, Paul Hayes, in the School’s Chapel. Late in life she and Paul returned to Pine Mountain School where Paul served as Interim and then Director of the School from 1986 until 1996.

“Bon” or Bonnie Ayers attended Pine Mountain from 1939 to 1937 and settled in Arizona where she practiced law. She married Walter Shaw who was not from Pine Mountain.

Another sister, Georgia Ayers, also a student at the School from 1933 to 1937, married Arthur W. Dodd following her graduation from Pine Mountain. “Dodd,” as he was called in later years, was a teacher, acting director and later school principal at Pine Mountain during the period of 1932 to 1951 when the couple and their children moved to Ganado, Arizona.

Joanna Ayers: PMSS Student

While at Pine Mountain, Joanna lived upstairs in the Infirmary along with her best friend, Fern Hall. Both Joan and Fern remained at Pine Mountain after graduation to work in the School’s office. Fern later married William Hayes, the older brother of Paul Hayes and Joan left to attend Stephen’s College in Missouri. Letters from Joan to Glyn Morris, the Director for whom she had worked, provide a lively account of her years in Missouri.

The threads in the Ayers family run deep in Pine Mountain culture. The many related marriages contributed to a long history with the School and for what later, with some humor and pride, became known among the relatives as the “Ayers Nation.” The continuing contributions and concerns for the School have persisted for a lifetime.

While students at Pine Mountain Joanna, Georgia, and Ruby Ayers all showed talent for music and were often asked to sing. In 1936-1937 the three sisters were all members of the Pine Mountain Settlement School Girls’ Octet, a group that often toured for the School on promotional trips. The PMSS Girl’s Octet was created in 1936-1937 by Glyn Morris and largely focused on traditional ballads and music common to the Southern Appalachians. The octet gave promotional concerts in various eastern and midwestern cities, including a remarkable invitation performance at the White House in Washington, DC, for the Roosevelts and also for Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford at the Ford Motor Company headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

Joan, a talented singer, also performed in several School plays and operettas. As part of the chorus in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, H.M.S. Pinafore or the Lass That Loved a Sailor in 1933, she joined her classmates in one of the most memorable of the many performances given at the School. The musical, a favorite during the 1930s, was performed several times at PMSS with a cast that consisted of both staff and students.

Joanna Ayers: PMSS Worker

After Joan graduated from Pine Mountain School in 1935, she worked in the School’s Office as an assistant for one year (1935-1936) and then bookkeeper from 1936 until July 1939. During that time she also led classes in English Country Dancing for the staff. As Glyn Morris wrote in his 1942 study, “She was trained for both types of work at Pine Mountain, and had in addition to summer sessions at Strayers Business College in Washington, D.C.”

In the summer of 1937, Joan attended a gathering of the English Folk Dance Society at Pinewoods Camp in Buzzard Bay, Massachusetts. She was broadly talented in many areas and had a particular talent for the theater and for performance. She shows her enthusiasm for dance and for her instructor, Mr. Kennedy, at the Massachusetts camp in a letter to Mr. Morris:

It’s just like Pine Mountain, except there are lakes instead of mountains — a lovely spot eight miles out into the woods from Buzzard Bay and Plymouth.

Mr. Kennedy is rare! and I do wish we could have him come down for awhile. I know the kids would enjoy his teaching muchly! He goes about it in the most dynamic way that makes you give everything in you out — very voluntarily, too. The thing that he does so very well is the teaching of the folk soup — you must say “blow” with a “bl-ll-oo!” — and not just blow” — and ire is “f-f-ire!” — accenting f. Oh, he’s just great fun. He would make the kids come up in their liking to sing, he makes it so interesting.

For the next three years Glyn Morris acted as advisor to Joan, finding jobs for her and encouraging her to apply to colleges. In a letter of recommendation, dated July 19, 1939, to the registrar at Black Mountain (NC) College, Morris indicates admiration for Joan and a keen insight into her personality:

Joan Ayers came to Pine Mountain eight years ago. She comes from a good family and has made a real contribution to our life here at Pine Mountain. Upon completing her high school work we gave her a position in the office as assistant to the secretary. Later she took charge of the preparation of all material for our bookkeeper.

She has traveled considerably having been to Western Canada and part of Mexico. She was a member of the girls’ octet which appeared before Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford and later before President and Mrs. Roosevelt and a group of guests at the White House.

She is actively interested in folk music and folk dancing and has had charge of this part of the Pine Mountain program for the past four years. She is attractive, has excellent taste, is well balanced emotionally and absolutely reliable.

She is fearless in her convictions and perhaps this is her outstanding drawback. Joan has been brought up in an environment which has made it necessary for her to stand on her own two feet and give no quarter. She is sometimes outspoken but it is always amenable to reason. I mention these things because they are part of an interesting personality. She has much to give any group, particularly in the matter of singing and folk dancing…..

Joanna Ayers: College Student

Antioch College (Yellow Springs, Ohio), was also interested in Joan but, with Morris’s advice, she eventually selected Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. When she arrived at Stephens on September 10, 1939, she wrote Morris that she was “still a little dazed — things happen so fast….My thoughts are continually wandering back to you all. I can’t thank you enough for helping me with Stephens for I know the experience is going to mean a lot to me.”

Joan’s college experience at Stephens College did indeed become a significant part of her life, as demonstrated in her progress and activities in subsequent correspondence with Morris. Addressing her letters to “Uncle Glyn,” (a nickname originated by Morris), she tells of the people she meets, the folk dance club she started for faculty, the lectures she attended, the books she read, and an opera she attended in St. Louis.

In August 1940, Joan returned to Pine Mountain to work as a staff member for one month for the Guidance Institute, headed by Morris. She graduated from Stephens College in the spring of 1941.

In his 1942 report, Morris wrote,

She is now a Junior at Denison University [Granville, OH], where she continues to manage her own finances, and plans to graduate in June 1943. She has recently been elected secretary of the Women’s Independent League on the University campus.

Joan Ayers’ correspondence in the PMSS Archive ends at this point. However, the February 1948 Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School reports on later activity:

One graduate, Joan Ayers, has just returned from two years in Finland doing relief work with the American Friends Service Committee. She organized work camps for the rebuilding of northern Finnish towns. Campers were volunteers from Finland and many other countries. Since her return to this country Joan has been awarded the Humanitarian medal by Baron Von Mannerheim of Finland.

The experience in Finland led her to become a Quaker and her career related to both social and religious activities led to a B.S. degree from Yale Divinity School.

Joanna Ayers: Her Later Life

Late in life she married and became Joanna Morley Ayers Houseman. She adopted several children and nurtured them along in their own careers while living in Pasadena, California. She lived her life as it was given to her, by always giving back as a contributor and a learner.

She died in Arizona following a brief illness in 2011.

[*Contributions and corrections to this record are invited.]


See Also: 

FERN HALL HAYES Biography

GEORGIA AYERS Biography

JOANNA AYERS CORRESPONDENCE

PAUL HAYES Biography

PMSS GIRLS’ OCTET 1936 – 1937


Title

Joanna Ayers

Alt. Title

 Joan Ayers ; Joanna Morley Ayers ; Joanna Morley Ayers Houseman ; Mrs. Burton Houseman ;

Identifier

JOANNA AYERS

Creator

Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Joanna Morley Ayers ; Joan Ayers ; Mrs. Burton Houseman ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; coal miners ; Mary Evelyn Ayers ; Ruby Ayers ; Bonnie Ayers ; Walter Shaw ; Mattie Ellen Ayers ; Paul Hayes ; directors ; Georgia Ayers ; Arthur W. Dodd ; school principals ; Fern Hall ; William Hayes ; PMSS Octet ; concerts ; The White House ; Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford ; Gilbert and Sullivan ; operetta ; H.M.S. Pinafore or the Lass That Loved a Sailor ; students ; Office ; bookkeepers ; office assistants ; English Country Dancing ; English Folk Dance Society ; Pinewoods Camp ; folk soup ; letters of recommendation ; registrars ; Black Mountain (NC) College ; secretaries ; President and Mrs. Roosevelt ; folk music ; folk dancing ; Stephens College; correspondence ; Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School ; relief work ; American Friends Service Committee ; work camps ; Humanitarian medal ; Baron Von Mannerheim ; Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Buzzard Bay, MA ; Plymouth, MA ; Black Mountain, NC ; Columbia, MO ; Finland ; Pasadena, CA ; Arizona ;

Subject LCSH

Ayers, Joanna Morley, — 1916 – 2011.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.

Date

2014-11-03

Publisher

Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Contributor

n/a

Type

Collections ; text ; image ;

Format

Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet

Source

Series 19: Students ; Series 09: Staff/Personnel

Language

English

Relation

Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 19: Students ; Series 09: Staff/Personnel ;

Coverage Temporal

1931-1940

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Buzzard Bay, MA ; Plymouth, MA ; Black Mountain, NC ; Columbia, MO ; Finland ; Pasadena, CA ; Arizona ;

Rights

Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Donor

n/a

Description

Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Joan Ayers ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Joan Ayers ;

Acquisition

n/d

Citation

“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2014-11-03 hhw ; 2015-08-17 aae ; 2015-09-27 aae ; 2015-12-04 hhw ; 2015-12-28 aae ; 2017-07-28 aae ;

Bibliography

Source

“Joan Ayers.” February 1948 Notes ; PMSS Staff Directory, 1913-present ; 1935 Graduating Class ; H.M.S. Productions ; PMSS OctetWorkers at PMSS Photographs ; Boarding School Students – 1929-1949; Glyn Morris Study & Recommendations V Students. Series 19: Students and Series 09 Biography. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

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