A selfless dedication to education and students defined the life of Sophie J. Mee, one of the longest serving teachers in the history of Mt. Vernon, who is memorialized through a granite grave marker in the historic cemetery at St. Paul’s Church National Historic Site.
Sophie was born in Hyde Park, New York in 1848, and her family was among the original settlers of the Village of Mt. Vernon, which was established in 1853, about 20 miles north of NewYork City. Only 17, she began teaching in the local public schools in 1865, just as the final shots of the Civil War were being fired.
In the 1800s, teaching was one of the few occupations open to women, partly because education was considered an extension of women’s nurturing role in society. Often, young women taught for a few years before marriage and raising a family swept them away from the calling. But Sophie never married, and that’s perhaps why she remained a classroom teacher for nearly 50 years. She lived in a series of boarding-houses in Mt. Vernon within walking distance of her school, and was active in literary clubs and societies. An extremely committed educator, Sophie did not miss more than two weeks of classroom teaching on account of illness.
For most of her tenure, Sophie educated children in the early grades at School 1, which stood at Fifth Avenue and Second Street. By all accounts, she was an excellent teacher. “One of the best teachers Mount Vernon ever had,” said a contemporary school official. “Everybody liked her and her pupils thought she was the noblest of women,” William H. Holmes, the schools superintendent explained. “She was a fine women and an inspiration to all who knew her. There are many citizens of Mount Vernon who will always remember her as a kind, good and gentle women, and a splendid teacher.”
Her death came in a predictable setting for someone so loyal to the classroom. She collapsed and died of a sudden heart attack while writing on the blackboard, teaching her third grade class, on October 19, 1914. The newspaper article reporting her death shared the front page of the Mount Vernon Argus, the city’s daily paper, with an account of machine guns rattling and the Allies driving the German army back on the western front in the opening stages of World War I.
In honor of her many years of teaching, all city schools closed on October 21, the day of her funeral. Services were held at Trinity Episcopal Church, where she was a parishioner, followed by interment at St. Paul’s. Years later, a local playground was named for the teacher.