Friday, June 21, 2019

Before the memory fades: Edith Pride Elliot Day on June 24

By Walter Lunt

In Windham, June 24 is a day of special recognition in honor of an esteemed centenarian. Since 1977, the day is observed by those who remember Edith Pride Elliot.

The remarkable Edith Gertrude Pride was born June 24, 1876. For the next 100 years she would earn the undying respect and affection of her friends and fellow citizens. Edith was known for her interest in everything, love of reading and staunch independent nature.

As a young girl, Edith helped out at the town’s first library at Windham Center, founded by her mother and grandmother.

Edith Pride Elliot
At age 14, Edith took up oil painting. She shared her works freely with appreciative family and friends.

One of her proudest moments came in 1897. She was valedictorian of the first graduating class of Windham High School, located in the red brick building that is now the Windham Historical Society museum on Windham Center Road. Just prior to the graduation ceremonies at Windham Hill Church, Edith became ill with a bad cold. Fearing it would turn to pneumonia Dr. Harper, who lived nearby, cared for her overnight in his nearby home until the hour of her address the next day. Her senior year report card rests in a research file at the Windham Historical Society and reads like the true scholar she was:  Fall term, 1896 – Latin, 100; Geology, 100; Astronomy, 96; Civil Government, 100; History of Civilization, 93 (Frank Usher, Principal).

In October of 1899, Edith Pride married Orin Elliot. He died seven months later of tuberculosis. She never remarried.

In 1905, Edith earned a teaching certificate and taught “common” school for four years at a one-room schoolhouse near her home at Windham Center. She was paid $6.00 per week.

In her lifetime, Edith Elliot would witness the administrations of 21 U.S. presidents. In a memoir, written in 1970, she noted, “…while (visiting) in Washington D.C. in 1924 and 1930, I had the opportunity to shake hands with Presidents Coolidge and Hoover. I have voted (in every presidential election) since 1919.”

She also recounted memories of trips “into town” (Portland) for supplies and clothing, twice a year.
Elliot’s uncountable contributions to the town she cherished came over the decades following her brief teaching career. She was active in the Crossroads Garden Club, the Helping Hand Club, The Windham Library Association, The Windham Republican Club, the Evangeline Chapter-Order of the Eastern Star and was a founding member of the Windham Historical Society. She maintained a faithful allegiance to Windham High School throughout her life, attending every graduation ceremony and alumni banquet into the 1970s.

Later in life, during winters, she accompanied her father to Saint Cloud, Florida until he died at age 95. She continued the Florida visits until she was 88 years old. She was active there, as well, helping to organize a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

“I was a joiner,” she once commented, “I joined everything but the Boy Scouts and the Masons.”
In that memoir, written just after her 94th birthday, Edith recalled some momentous events that occurred during her life.

“…my mind goes back over memory lane to 1888 when Union Station was built with that wonderful clock tower. (And) Riverton Park, which opened in 1896. (It) gave pleasure to young and old for many years.”
She continued, “During my lifetime I have ridden by horse and buggy, stagecoach, horse cars, steam cars, electric cars, bus and now the automobile. But I couldn’t get on an airplane.”

On her 100th birthday in 1976, while holding the gold cane for being the town’s oldest living citizen, and still residing in the Windham Center house in which she was born, Edith Elliot reflected on the changes over the last century. “Back along, you knew everyone in town. Now you’re lucky to know your next-door neighbor.”

June 24 was proclaimed “forever” Edith Elliot Day by then Town Manager David Miller and the Windham Town Council. The following year, 1977, in a special dedication sponsored by Rep. Bill Diamond, Maine’s 108th Legislature paid tribute to her for a century of contributions to the educational, cultural, political and charitable life of Windham, Maine.”

And there was one final honor: only a week before her death in May 1977, the town and several local garden clubs designated a plot of ground next to the Windham Public Library to be Elliot Park. A plaque bearing her name next to a small gazebo remains there today. Nearby, a time capsule bearing cultural items of the time was sealed, to be opened on June 24, 2076 – the anniversary of Edith Pride Elliot’s 200th birthday. 

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