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The History of Miss Emily Brittain

By Joyce Rauschenberger
Written in June 2012

Emily Brittain


Our elementary school was named after a woman by the name of Emily Brittain.  She was born in Butler in 1848, the daughter of Joseph and Hannah Frazier Brittain, and lived her entire life here.

 Emily Brittain was a school teacher and school administrator here in Butler during the turn of the century.  She graduated from the Butler Academy in 1875 and began teaching the following year.  In 1888, Mr. John Gibson, Butler School Superintendent at the time, selected her to be a principal for one of the new schools he was starting; the Jefferson Street School.  She was the Principal at the Center Avenue and Jefferson Street schools until 1922.  The Jefferson Street School was located beside the Little Red School house.  It was torn down in the early 1900’s.  The land is now the Butler Junior High School basketball court area.

On November 19, 1935, a tribute was made to Miss Brittain during a meeting and banquet of the Butler branch of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.  The event was held at the Nixon Hotel in Butler.  At the meeting, Butler School Superintendent John A. Gibson was asked to speak regarding Miss Brittain’s services in the Butler Public Schools.  He spoke at great length.  His tribute to Miss Brittain was printed in a commemorative booklet that capsulated the event and is dated December 18, 1935.  It reads as follows:


We are delighted to do honor to one whose life was devoted so fully and with such conspicuous success to the Butler Public Schools.  Miss Brittain entered the schools as a pupil in the old stone Academy building, where the Jefferson Street building now stands, in 1863.  She completed the course of instruction in the Butler Public Schools in 1875.  She became a teacher in the schools in 1876 and served as such until 1888.  At this latter date she became a Principal and continued to serve as such until 1922.

Hence, she was identified with the Butler Public Schools as student, twelve years; teacher, twelve years; and principal, thirty-four years or a total of fifty-eight years.  This record has no parallel and in all probability never will have a parallel in the history of the local schools.

The inscription place on the tablet in her honor states that she was a teacher and teacher of teachers.  There are many in my presence here this evening who sat under her as a teacher and who endorse this tribute to her as a teacher with enthusiasm.  There are many present who served under her as a Principal; in all, a considerable portion of the present teaching force of the Butler Public Schools.  I am assured that all these join in paying tribute to Miss Brittain as a teacher of teachers.

There are other truthful inscriptions that might have been added to this tablet of honor.  It could truthfully be said that Miss Brittain was an advisor of Superintendents.  Butler has had but two superintendents of its schools, Mr. Ebenezer Mackey, my predecessor, and myself.  I have vivid personal recollections of the high esteem in which Miss Brittain’s services were held by Mr. Mackey.  I recall that upon assuming the duties of Superintendent as Mr. Mackey’s successor, he advised me to counsel with Miss Brittain as a source of helpful guidance in directing the schools.  During the twenty-six years in which Miss Brittain and myself served together as Principal and Superintendent, I found her possessed of a native intuition and skill in conduct of school affairs which was distinctly unique.  She was “to the manor born.”  Her presence in the school room was modest and unassuming but her influence was directive and powerful.  She smoothed a way for parents, pupils, teachers, and Superintendent.  She inspired, not by demand or direction, but by sympathy and suggestion.  Interviews with her were sought by others rather than imposed.

She had a keen appreciation of the law of diminishing returns, knew how far to pursue details, and how soon to desert them.  She comprehended the placing of first things first.  She had a sense of essentials. She refused to be embarrassed or deterred by inconsequentials.

Her former teachers pay her this tribute.  Her conferences, as her visits to the classroom, were introduced with her smile and invariably concluded with mutual understanding.  Her social contacts were occasions of good will and helpful cheer.

She possessed keen perception of the success of the pupil.  In the old Jefferson Street Building with an enrollment of 500 or more, there probably would not be a half dozen pupils with whose progress she was not definitely familiar.

While she was diligent on her own account and through the direction of her teachers in securing advancement of pupils in the master of their specific subjects, she possessed something vastly beyond this.  She knew the moral way.  She trod that journey herself and had intuitive power in directing others.

We need our heroes.  They constitute the anchorage of the generations.  They are the guide lights on the path upward that humanity has trod.  We delight to honor them because, basically, we must honor them.  If we do not, we lose direction.  We educators unite in tribute to the heroes, the doers in other fields.  We have also a duty to be self-conscious of the heroes in our own profession and memorialize those who led the van in the generations that have passed.

I am certain that all those present desire to unite with me in expressing the highest appreciation of the services which Miss Brittain has rendered the schools of the community and the community itself.  We hope that this meeting and the tablet to be erected in her honor in the Jefferson Street Building will come to her as an appreciation which will give her a rightful enjoyment of achievement which her life efforts have won.

Miss Brittain and I served together for some quarter of a century under Dr. Nathan C. Schaeffer as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Dr. Schaeffer devoted his life in full as an educator.  As the twilight came, he expressed himself thus:

“When we come to the close of life, the question is not how much we have got but how much have we given, not how much we have won, but how much have we done, not how have we saved, but how much have we sacrificed, not how much we have been honored, but how much have we loved and how much have we served!”

Measured by this standard, Miss Brittain’s life work was an achievement whose depth we have no plummet to fathom and whose content we have no balance to weigh.  Its worth can only be meted in the inscrutable values of intellectual light and moral power.

On Thursday, November 21, 1935, a tablet was placed in position in the Jefferson Street School building.  The tablet read:

Emily M. Brittain


Butler Public Schools
Teacher and Teacher of Teachers
Erected in loving recognition by the Teachers she inspired, the Pupils she guided, and the Community she served.


Miss Emily M. Brittain never married and never had children of her own.  In her era, school teachers were not permitted to marry, and if they did, they were no longer permitted to be teachers within the school district.  Her children were those whom she taught and the young teachers whose careers she guided.

Miss Brittain passed away on May 3, 1945, at her home on North Bluff Street in Butler.  She was 97 years old.  Her sister, Jennie, of Butler, and brother John, of Crafton, still survived.  Memorial services held at the Thompson Miller Funeral Home and First United Presbyterian Church were attended by many prior students and teachers as well as school administrators from all across the state

Miss Brittain is buried in her family’s plot at North Cemetery, Butler.  During part of your fifth grade Butler County History lessons, your class took a walking field trip to this cemetery, placed flowers on Miss Brittain’s grave and paid homage to a woman who was loved and admired by so many of her time.

After her death the Butler Area School District was expanding and a new elementary school was constructed on North Washington Street.  It was the school board’s decision to name the new school in honor of the woman who was so a part of Butler’s educational history, so the new school was named Emily Brittain Elementary School. 

Construction on the new school began in 1954 with the cornerstone laid on April 29, 1955 marking the end of construction.  In 1997 an addition was added to the original building to hold a new school library and computer lab.  During the 2000-2001 school year, the building underwent another major renovation.  The footprint of the school building was enlarged again as more classrooms were added to both the upper and lower levels of the school.  Additional classrooms and special learning centers were created by reworking the interior floor plan, new, more secure entrances were built and every classroom received cosmetic upgrades. 

During the 2001 renovations of the school, letters were found in a time capsule tucked away between the bricks of the building, behind the dated cornerstone, written by Miss Brittain’s contemporaries and former students.  The letters spoke very highly of the school’s namesake and praised her as being a woman ahead of her time. 

A tablet, en-graved as stated above hangs in the school.  It is assumed to be the original tablet that once hung at the old Jefferson Street School Building, now long dismantled, but the building where Miss Brittain spent many days.

Emily Brittain group

Miss Emily Brittain – This is a photograph of the students who attended the Jefferson Street School circa 1907.  Miss Emily Brittain was the principal of this school and is believed to be the woman standing at the far left.  Beside her are the school superintendent and teachers of the school. 


EB Plaque


On Thursday, November 21, 1935, a tablet was placed in position in the Jefferson Street School building in recognition of Emily Brittain.