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

ZEOLA COMBS, Student 1922-1923

TAGS: Zeola Combs, Zeola Combs Breeding, students, Katherine Pettit

Zeola Combs was a student at the Pine Mountain Settlement School during the 1922-1923 school year, according to the student file #66 in Box 30 of the School’s archives. Listed with her were her brother, Gardner Combs, and Corliss (whose relationship with Zeola is unknown, possibly brother).


In January 2001, Debra Callahan, the School’s secretary at the time, received several email messages from Pamala Gilbert who described conversations she had with Zeola Combs. The following are excerpts from those emails. (Text is edited for clarity.)

Hello, my name is Pamala Gilbert and for 5 months now I have taken care of a lady named Zeola. She is 91 years old. She always talks about the Pine Mountain Settlement School and how it was the best school. She loved Katherine Pettit and always referred to her as the lovely and beautiful Miss Pettit. Miss Pettit would always let her sit with her in the dining room. Zeola was 9 back then. … She remembers Miss Gilbert and that she was going to spank her for something and Miss Pettit told Zeola, “No, she won’t” and sent a note so she would not get a spanking.

She always says how wonderful the food was. Just today I found your website and showed her. She was so happy and said, “Well, I guess they have bathrooms inside the school now.” … I love hearing her stories and watching her smile. She also talks about Miss Gilbert taking all the girls walking and told them to pick berries on the way. So they did, but got a spanking for it. Also, Miss Gilbert would not let her eat. I asked her for how long [and] she said for a while. Finally, her mother came and took her out and she always tells me if she would have told lovely Miss Pettit, she could have stayed but she said she did not like to cause problems. But she never told Miss Pettit goodbye and always regretted that. … Wish I could bring her down [to the School] but she doesn’t like to travel. But I am trying to get my husband to bring me so I can take pictures for her. …

Zeola told me that was her name [Combs] before she got married. Her name now is Zeola Breeding. The name “Combs” is her parents’ name. She always tells me that Miss Pettit called her “the little Combs girl.”

Zeola said she was in the hospital for awhile because of itching and Miss Pettit would always say, “How is my little Combs girl doing today?” … She also told me that a girl about 14 years always hit her, so one day Zeola poured a picture of water on her. The house mother saw her and she got in trouble, not the other girl. …

Today Zeola told me she had 3 brothers with her in the school: Carl [Corliss?], Larry [Lawery?], and I forgot the last one. It started with a “G” [Gardner]. She said one brother got caught with snuff in his pocket and ask the laundry [worker] if she was going to tell and the lady shook her head and said, “No, I won’t tell on you.” He told Zeola that was nice of her. All of Zeola’s brothers are passed away now. They also loved the school.

Katherine Pettit always asked Zeola’s mother to sit with them at suppertime. I told Zeola I will try to come down [to the School] and she said she hopes I get to eat some corn bread. … Maybe you might have some pictures or papers she could have of the time she was there. She would love that. She lives next door to her son, alone with just her memories. Thank you. Pam G.


The U.S. Census of 1910 provides the following information about Zeola and her family. Zeola was born c. May 1909. Her family was living in Lower Carr, Knott County, Kentucky, and consisted of her parents, Liza (Eliza) Combs (age 21) and John H. Combs, (26), and two brothers, Gardner (4) and Lawery (3). All were born in Kentucky and the father worked as a farmer.

By the 1930 Census, the family was living on Mason’s Creek in Perry County, Kentucky. Along with their daughter Zeola, now age 19, her parents had two sons at home: Lary (23) and Carles (18). Lary and his father were working in the coal mines.


TitleZeola Combs
Alt. TitleZeola Combs Breeding
CreatorPine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY
Alt. CreatorHelen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt
Subject KeywordZeola Combs ; Zeola Combs Breeding, ; students ; Katherine Pettit ;
Subject LCSHCombs, Zeola, — 1909 – ?.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Date2019-03-05 aae
PublisherPine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY
Contributorsubmitted in 2001 by Pamala Gilbert, caretaker.
TypeCollections ; text ; image ;
FormatOriginal and copies of documents and correspondence in file
folders in filing cabinet.
SourceSeries 09: Biography and Series 19: Students
RelationIs related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School
Collections, Series 09: Biography and Series 19: Students.
1922 – 2001
Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Lower Carr,
Knott County, KY ; Perry County, KY ;
RightsAny 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.
DescriptionCore documents, correspondence, writings and administrative
papers created by or addressed to Zeola Combs; clippings,
photographs, publications, illustrations by or about Zeola Combs.
Citation“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number,
if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional
Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.
Processed ByHelen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;
Last Updated2019-03-08 aae ;
Source(s)“Zeola Combs.” Series 09: Biography and Series 19: Students.
Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional
Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

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