Pictures from Memory's Wall
About the Author
Richard S. MacNamee, author of these verses, was born in West Chester on August 17, 1855. Educated at first in West Chester schools, at an early age he became a hired boy in Charlestown Township where he worked for both the Littles and the Hughes families whose farms lay opposite each other on Pikeland Road. Continuing his education at Charlestown's Littles School, he became part of the community, frequently playing the mouth organ, singing or dancing at the Charlestown Village store during the evenings.
Having earned his teaching certificate from Kutztown State Normal School in 1875 by the age of 20, he took his first teaching position at Longwood, the colored school on Valley Hill Road in Charlestown. Returning to Kutztown the following year, he completed his B.A. and was then appointed teacher at his own Littles School during 1878 and 1879. In 1880, while he was teaching at Howellville School in Tredyffrin, he married Elizabeth Howard of the blacksmithing family in Charlestown Village. In 1881 he began four years at the Chester Springs Orphans School, first as "male attendant" and later as superintendent. In 1885, however, he contracted the severe rheumatic illness - possibly polio - which changed him from a robust young man into a crippled invalid. After a fruitless move to Florida with his wife and baby daughter in search of better health, Richard returned to Charlestown in 1887, penniless and broken in body and spirit.
There his friend, Jesse B.K. Young, arranged a small apartment for the MacNamees in his own home. Richard managed to care for little Helen while Elizabeth returned to teaching at Amity School which was nearby. By 1889 Richard - with a body he could never straighten again - had recovered enough spirit and drive to win the job of principal at Strafford School in Tredyffrin Township.
Thus began 25 years of service to the children of Tredyffrin. An innovative administrator, he introduced new courses into the school system such as domestic science, agriculture and even hot lunches. His greatest achievement, however, was based on his belief that Pennsylvania law should provide for the consolidation of school districts to achieve better local education. He was a leader in promoting and preparing the legislation required to change the school code in order to make such jointures possible. When, in 1908, his proposed legislation became law, Mr. MacNamee was appointed supervising principal of the new Tredyffrin-Easttown School District, and principal of the newly built Tredyffrin-Easttown Joint High School in Berwyn. Both were the first of their kind in Pennsylvania.
Richard MacNamee's fame in his field was not, however, the result of high position or school monuments. People spoke of him as kindly, modest, attentive, smiling, optimistic, inspiring - a mild-dispositioned gentleman unless aroused. At his death on November 19, 1914 at 59, Mr. MacNamee left behind a grief-stricken community which, in its memorial tributes and services, remembered a crippled man who had been a giant in his profession.
Mr. MacNamee's poem was described in the West Chester "Daily Local News" of December 16, 1905: "One of the most charming Christmas booklets this year will see is 'Pictures from Memory's Wall', a richly illustrated poem by Prof. Richard S. MacNamee, Supervising Principal of the Public Schools of Tredyffrin . . ."
The above information was obtained form the Chester County Historical Society through the gracious assistance of Robert S. Goshorn, and from the private papers of Frank A. Young.