“What’s happened to Hattie?”
“Hip! Hip for Hattie!”
It was the winter of 1962-1963. In the chapel of the 9th-21st Ward, Rosa Croshaw–with music leaders from the rest of the stake–convened a large chorus to begin rehearsal for a new Church musical. Set a hundred years before, the script fictionalized the story of building the Salt Lake Theater.
One of the songs Rosa introduced that night depicted the pioneers’ excitement as the theater neared completion. My older sister and I sang from the east side of the chapel (I was only ten; Karen was teaching me to read chorus parts for the first time). The tenors and basses on the west side–including many high school boys–became increasingly rowdy during the song. Rosa smiled patiently as they laughed at lyrics that described ingenue Harriet’s stagestruck state. For poetic purposes, the authors had us sing a diminutive form of the character’s name. I thought my fellow singers’ laughter was a cue that the song was very silly. Then suddenly Kent Wallis jumped to his feet. Taking command of the west section of the chapel, Kent gestured wildly and shouted the phrase we had just sung: “Hip! Hip for Hattie!” Karen sensed my bewilderment and explained, “They’re making fun of Hattie Morrell.”
Last Wednesday, I was working with Kathleen Blair, president of a Relief Society that shares our building. We talked in the cultural hall as we finished a project she had begun with the people in her branch.
Kathleen grew up in Brigham City and went to USU in the 1980s. She described being in English class one day when her instructor, a Logan High alum, regaled his students with a horror story about diagramming sentences with “Hatchet-face Morrell,” his high school English teacher. Afterward, Kathleen approached the instructor and watched his grin dissolve. She thanked him for insight into her Aunt Hattie’s Logan High teaching legacy. As the man apologized, she sensed “it had been a foreign concept that this old maid school fixture came from a family, that she was loved, that she was a real person.”
I then asked Kathleen if she knew the worst, how, at the start of one of Hattie Morrell’s last years at Logan High, the maligned teacher happened to be outside when the lunch bell rang. She was knocked down and trampled by students running from seminary, the business building and the boys’ gym. Of course, as a member of the family, Kathleen knew this. My brother Roger, an upper classman then, reported on the incident at home. I would never have her as a teacher. Miss Morrell retired at the end of my sophomore year, two years after returning from her long recuperation.
But I do remember overhearing a smart, pretty sophomore classmate who took English from Miss Morrell that year. The girl respected the seasoned teacher’s knowledge, appreciated the individual concern she gave her students, but couldn’t help cringing at the decades-worn dresses and the condition of her teacher’s hair. Perhaps those not angered by Miss Morrell’s lack of attention to fashion felt obliged to be embarrassed about it for her.
Here was a woman whose reputation was never neutral apparently. Her (actual grand-) niece Kathleen looked beyond the style-less orthopedic shoes; she grew up adoring her aunt. The two exchanged letters weekly wherein Aunt Hattie often recommended books for Kathleen to read. “I credit her for my education!” Kathleen is aware of others among her cousins who were similarly fostered.
Kathleen sketched some of the family’s broader history: Before Hattie Morrell was born, her parents set the tone for her unorthodox position in society. They entered into a polygamous marriage (in the Logan Temple sealed by a prophet) after the Manifesto had officially banned such unions. Hattie was the eldest of their children–born in 1902 when her mother was thirty-four. Her mother, Mary Ann Daines Morrell, then gave birth to Hattie’s twin siblings, Lillian and Lyman, not long before her father, English immigrant Joseph Morrell, died at the age of fifty.
That was 1906. Logan High was founded in 1917. I wondered to myself if Miss Hattie Morrell could have already qualified herself as a teacher for the new school. However, I found online that both Hattie and Lillian attended Utah State Agricultural College in the mid- to later-1920s. Neither Hattie nor Lillian married and made their home with their mother until she died in 1952. Hattie’s job provided for them; Lillian kept house.
Then this morning, while my bishop described the start of this Christmas season, it hit me that Hattie’s is a Christmas story. She had a message (perhaps grammar and syntax wouldn’t have saved our world–but it certainly helps). And she was an outcast. Her story reminds us that those close to a misunderstood person often comprehend that person’s value. It reminds us of each one’s worth as a member of Heavenly Father’s family.
After testimony meeting, I brought up with Kathleen my thought that Hattie was an outcast. She asked for more details about the trampling incident at Logan High. We both wondered how those students could have done such a terrible thing. Kathleen compared it to the story in 2nd Kings (2:23-24) where God allowed forty-two children–who had ridiculed the prophet Elisha’s bald head–to be killed by she-bears. Kathleen is a tender-hearted person and, for years, the idea of executing “innocent children” bothered her. Finally she realized that the children reflected their parents’ disrespect and it was a problem in the community that the behavior would be tolerated. Perhaps a terrible tragedy was the only way the adults would look at themselves.
“What’s happened to Hattie?”
During the 1980s and 90s, as young parents, Kathleen and her husband Dell lived in Logan. Besides sharing her beloved great-aunt’s last days, Kathleen assumed the role of opening Aunt Hattie’s house as relatives came for her personal property. The executor then invited Kathleen to take what she wanted and dispose of the rest. She chose Hattie’s collection of children’s books–probably two thousand!–including many first editions.
Kathleen said Hattie and Lillian had regularly added built-in cabinetry to keep their possessions organized (there goes a working woman’s budget for clothes). As part of cleaning out, Kathleen tackled banks of drawers along an entire wall dedicated to linens. Tucked here and there within the folds of tablecloths, napkins, sheets, pillowcases, Kathleen and her young son discovered the Morrell sisters’ petty cash. Adding up all the small denominations–including a multitude of two-dollar bills–they retrieved eight thousand dollars!
Perhaps Hattie Morrell also lost track of what she was worth.
Find what’s yours . . . truly, danscir52
copyright 2013 Dan Christensen all rights reserved