In the 1930s and 40s, Edna Brophy and Edna Griffin worked together as teachers and principals in the Portsmouth School system. Miss Brophy was a principal of Newtown School for 45 years and a teacher for over fifty-two years. Newtown School was located on Turnpike Avenue where the playground is today.  Edna Griffin was principal of Anne Hutchinson School (now a Senior Center) on Bristol Ferry Road for only a few years during World War II, but her background and career demonstrate a diversity in Portsmouth Schools.

In a time when Portsmouth had trouble retaining good teachers, Edna Brophy’s long career demonstrates her dedication to teaching.  A 1973 “Gristmill Column) letter in the Newport Daily News tells us a little about Miss Brophy and Newtown School.  Laura E. Wilkey wrote:  “In 1923 I was in Miss Edna Brophy’s classroom in Newtown School  Miss Brophy (remembered for the fancy aprons she always wore) was principal and taught first and second grades. In the northeast room, Miss Flora Phinney taught third and fourth grades.  The west room contained only the fifth grade, the only fifth grade in town.  Mrs. Gladys Seabury Haggerty ruled fifth grade, which contained ‘big kids’ from all over town.  They either walked to school or rode the trolley cars which went from Newport to Fall River and Newport to Bristol Ferry.”  All the other primary schools in Portsmouth were one room schools. Quaker Hill School had two rooms – one for grades six and seven and the other for grades eight and nine

Edna Brophy 1950 courtesy J. Garman

By 1938 Miss Brophy did not have to worry about the “big kids.”  Henry F. Anthony School was functioning with 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Fifth graders were at Quaker Hill School (now the Admin Building) as well.  Edna Brophy still had first and second grade at Newtown.

Miss Brophy was originally from Westport, Massachusetts.  I’m not sure exactly how she came to Portsmouth, but newspaper articles have her as a boarder with the Randalls on West Main Road in the 1920s.

Edna Griffin was a product of Portsmouth Schools. The Griffin family was from Virginia, but Edna was born in Portsmouth.    She was a student at Newtown School and Belle Fish was her teacher in 1918.  Miss Fish’s school record shows a diverse class with students of Yankee, Irish, and Portuguese heritage as well as Edna-a mulatto child.  Newtown School photos from that period show this diversity.

Newtown School – PHS collection

Edna Griffin went on to receive a degree from Pembroke College (at Brown University) in 1931.  She majored in Greek and Latin and was active in the classical club, college magazine and year book.

Edna became a teacher in Portsmouth schools and in her early years she was assigned to different schools.  In 1935 Edna is recorded as teaching primary grades at Vaucluse School (Braman’s Lane) .  In 1936 she was teaching 7th grade at Anthony School (now Senior Housing).

The 1940 Federal Census offers us a glimpse of her life.  At that time she is living at home with parents Wayne and Bessie Griffin.  Her home is on Park Avenue at that time.  She is 28 and single.  She earns $1200 a year for her teaching.  The school year for a teachers was 40 weeks and in the week prior to the census she had worked 48 hours at her job.

Hutchinson School from Pierce’s book

In 1941 through 1944, Miss Griffin had become principal of Anne Hutchinson School.  She was chairperson for Portsmouth’s Rhode Island War Bond and Stamp effort.

At the beginning of the 1944-45 school year, Edna Griffin resigned as principal.  No reason is listed in the newspaper article, but I can speculate.  I find her in the Providence directories, married to Warren Fitzgerald and working as a clerk.  By 1957 in the Providence City Directory  she is listed as a teacher in Cranston.

Why was there so long a period between teaching in Portsmouth and teaching in Cranston?  Portsmouth allowed married teachers to work in our schools, but even in the 1940s state law allowed school systems to discriminate against married women if their school committee had a rule affecting marriage.  School systems could “retire” teachers who married and not grant them tenure.  It might not have been easy for Edna Griffin Fitzgerald to find a teaching position.

Like Belle Fish (who we spotlighted last year), Edna Brophy educated countless Portsmouth children during her tenure at Newtown School.  Edna Griffin represents the diversity and the opportunity for students and teachers in Portsmouth Schools.  Her Portsmouth education led her to a good college and her career as a principal shows that a woman of color could work and succeed as a Portsmouth faculty member.