by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
With a few names to research, I began my quest to learn more about Grain Valley’s early educators on Ancestry.com. Having only a name, and sometimes only initials for first names, you can spend hours trying to locate just one person. The only dates I have to work with are the year(s) they might have been in Grain Valley. Based on when their name appeared on our collection of early diplomas, I have to estimate their birth and death dates. When I entered Delma L. Webb, there were several gentlemen with the name, but none were in the state of Missouri. On one of my attempts using a different birth year, I accidently hit “female” before pressing the “search” key.
And now, I am able to tell you about Delma L. Webb, perhaps Grain Valley’s first and only female superintendent. I retrieved her name from a 1921 diploma which hangs on the wall at the Historical Society Museum. That sent me to a collection of photos and artifacts from Birdie Potts Davidson (Valley News article, May 20, 2021.) I found this photo and recognized Birdie’s handwriting on the back.
Delma Webb was born on May 16,1894 in Grain Valley, Missouri. She was the only child of Maggie and James William Webb. Her paternal grandparents were Sarah and Larkin Morris Webb and her paternal great grandfather was Thomas Larkin Webb. Thomas Larkin Webb first acquired land in this area in 1834. He came to live here soon after. He was married three times (his first two wives died in childbirth). He had a total of 18 children! At one time, nearly everyone in the Oak Grove/Grain Valley area was related to a Webb either by blood or marriage.
Presumably, Delma was educated in Grain Valley during her primary years, however, she graduated from William Chrisman High School in 1913. She would have begun high school around 1909, about the time the first brick building was constructed on Main Street. At that time, Grain Valley did not have a four-year high school. It would be interesting to know if she went to live with relatives in Independence or just what arrangements were made for her to attend high school at Chrisman. The 1911 edition of The Gleam (yearbook) listed Delma as Sophomore Class treasurer. She was in good company as other officers included Fanny McCoy (McCoy Park), president; Nancy Cogswell, vice-president and Louise Bundschu (department store), secretary.
After graduation, Delma enrolled at the Normal School (now the University of Central Missouri) in Warrensburg, Missouri in the fall of 1913. While a student there, she was in the Debate Club, the cast of “She Stops to Conquer,” and president of The Campbells, a literary society noted for high academic standards. The 1916 Rhetor (yearbook) listed Delma Lillian Webb as a senior graduating with a degree in English Education.
We can only assume that her entire teaching career was in Grain Valley. I was able to find only a few more pieces of information about Delma. Her father died in 1919 from tuberculosis. Delma also died of tuberculosis on August 13, 1921, shortly after signing Birdie’s diploma. Her mother died in 1925. Article 9 of Maggie’s Last Will and Testament stated: “In loving memory of my deceased daughter, Delma L. Webb, I give and bequeath unto the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention the sum of five-thousand dollars, such funds to be designated as the Delma L. Webb contribution.
So while Delma taught five years, she was the superintendent who signed the diplomas in 1921. Was she Grain Valley’s first female superintendent? Was she Grain Valley’s only female superintendent? Stay tuned --my research continues!
Photo credit: Grain Valley Historical Society