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City of Bothell News (Home page)

Posted on: March 18, 2022

The Mighty Miss Helen DeVoe: Bothell's First Teacher

Miss Helen DeVoe

 Helen Godwin DeVoe was born in Verona Township, New York in 1856 or 1857, the daughter of a physician and a “homekeeper.”  She attended Oberlin College and as of the 1880 census was working as a music teacher and living with her parents and siblings in Ohio.  When her father died in 1882, she and her mother and sister set off for Seattle.  Helen was in poor health and her older sister, who was a physician, told her that the “outdoor life” offered to homesteaders in the Pacific Northwest would do her good.  She purchased a 160-acre claim from a disgruntled settler and the three of them began the trek out west.  Her sister Marmora DeVoe Moody, (Seattle’s first female physician!) arrived in Seattle in the spring of 1885 and Helen and her mother turned up in July.  

Two months later, Helen and her mother set off for Bothell, leaving Marmora to practice medicine in Seattle.  The women traveled by stage coach along Madison street from downtown Seattle to the Madison Park ferry landing where they boarded the steamer “Squak” and came up the Sammamish River.  When the steamer docked at David Bothell’s home, they began a four mile hike along the Everett trail (later Bothell-Everett Highway) to Helen’s claim near present-day Thrasher’s Corner. Along the way they passed 20 men working to remove stumps and prepare the road for wagon travel which would begin a few months later.

Helen’s new home was everything you would expect from an abandoned settler’s cabin built some ten or twenty years earlier.  It had broken hinges on the door and no bed to sleep on so the two resourceful ladies piled their belongings against the door to keep it closed and built a bed frame, although it would be more than a week before they could get hay for a mattress. 

A few months later, while waiting at the Bothell’s for the steamer Squak, Helen was reportedly offered a job to teach at Bothell’s first one-room school which had been constructed on Main Street – it was later moved to the Park at Bothell Landing.  The school session was to begin four months later, in February of 1886, but didn’t actually start until March 29th due to inclement weather.  Helen’s commute being what it was, Mrs. Bothell allowed her to build a 10x12 cabin in her yard where she would live while school was in session.  She taught there for three school sessions, moving home to work on improving her claim in the off-season which was most of the year in those days.  In about 1898, she sold her claim and moved to Seattle where she taught in the public school system there for fifteen years, before teaching in Alaska for two and a half years and then finishing out her career teaching at country schools in King County.  She never married but by all accounts, was well-loved by the community and her students and had many would-be suitors.  

In 1935, local historian S.J. Bower drafted a piece for the Bothell Citizen newspaper where he wrote that in her late-70s, Helen still did her own housework, tended a flower and vegetable garden, tried to practice the piano an hour each day and still loved to sing.  On top of that, she was a trustee and “active worker” of the First Unitarian Church in Seattle which was first organized in her living room back in 1913.  She died in Seattle at 97 years of age, proving the value of that “outdoor life” her sister had encouraged.

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