In accepting a position with the faculty of Maryville College in 1932, Jessie Katherine Johnson ’21 wrote these words to then-President Dr. Ralph W. Lloyd: “I shall come to Maryville with the determination to give you my best service and most loyal support.”
At her retirement 35 years later, no one would doubt the fulfillment of her promise.
An alumna from the Class of 1921, Jessie Johnson had graduated with a reputation as a serious student and skilled debater. She began her teaching career in high schools, then joined the faculties of Tusculum College, Stonewall Jackson College and Tennessee Wesleyan College before returning to the classrooms of her alma mater. In the years between, she also completed a master’s degree at Columbia Teachers College in New York City.
Though students today may be hard-pressed to define “systematic discourse,” that was the terminology used for studying the essential skills of outlining, research and speechmaking. Systematic discourse was Miss Johnson’s course, and every sophomore at Maryville College perfected those skills under her guidance in Anderson Hall, Room 214.
Miss Jessie became the College’s American Literature specialist. She loved poetry, and encouraged her students to memorize the classics. Perhaps her favorite poem was a playful one entitled “the Ballad of Jessie and the Cow,” penned by her friend and colleague, Dr. Hunter.
In addition to systematic discourse and American lit, she was admired for her prowess in Chinese Checkers, Canasta and Rook. And she was known for her attire – stylish, well-fitting dresses; tasteful shoes and purses. No occasion was too casual for earrings. At a celebration marking her 25 years of service at the College, Dr. Lloyd said: “I trust she will not think me presumptuous or unscholarly when I say that she early established a reputation as one of Maryville’s best dressed persons.”
Dr. Lloyd continued: “She represents the kind of alumnae and faculty who keep alive and advance the historic cardinal ideal of Maryville College.”
With her sweet, care-giving spirit, she looked after her students and also took a keen interest in the children of her siblings, and their children. Many of them and their spouses are Maryville College graduates.
Today, those family members agree that their Aunt Jessie would feel honored to be an Anderson Hall Legend, especially since her photo and name will hang among colleagues and close friends whom she greatly admired for giving their “best service and most loyal support” to Maryville College.