Mary Edgett '24 - WestConn's oldest living treasure

Mary Edgett '24
Mary Edgett '24

Some might consider it meaningful, even fitting, that Danbury native Mary Edgett ’24 was born the year her alma mater was founded, 1903.

For more than half a century, Edgett fostered a love for education, mostly in her hometown, teaching middle-school children, many of whom went on to become luminaries in their field.

“I taught Truman Warner,” she says, adding she remembers where he sat, perhaps calling up a glimpse of the man who would go on to contribute substantially to WestConn’s legacy. Warner taught anthropology at WestConn for more than 30 years.

Edgett also taught past president of Harvard University Neil Rudenstine and Ralph J. Braibanti, professor emeritus of political science at Duke University and a pioneer in academic studies of the contemporary Islamic world.

“I’ve taught a lot of students who grew up to be quite interesting people,” she says.

One can’t help but wonder if Edgett didn’t have more than a little to do with that. “Classroom teaching was Mary Edgett ’24: very different back then,” she recalls. “Not so much paperwork as there is today. But then again, we had sizable classes. We were busy.” Despite the workload, she says her job was pure joy. “It really was. I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Perhaps the satisfaction she received from her work has influenced what continues to be her overall good health. She turned 105 last November and, although admitting to a little knee trouble, reports she feels “great.”

“I’ve seen a lot of changes in the Danbury area,” she says, “but I’m most impressed by the way the university has grown. It’s quite impressive now.”

“I was always active,” she explains, rising a bit in her chair. “I played tennis, hiked and skied and was always involved with people and activities, even after I retired.” Other than that, she’s not sure what has contributed to her longevity.

Her no-nonsense demeanor and still sharp-as-a-tack intellect offer an image of what she once must have brought to the classroom. After receiving a teaching certificate from the Danbury Normal School, Edgett earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the Teachers College of Connecticut in New Britain (now Central Connecticut State University). Afterwards, she did graduate work at the University of Hawaii.

Her first job was at Hawleyville School in Newtown, followed by a stint at Beacon Falls, Conn., then at Starrs Plain School, a regional school in Danbury. After that, she taught at the Main Street School, then at Broadview Junior High School in Danbury.

“I taught English and later science,” she reflects, noting that it was uncommon for women to teach science back then.

Edgett herself had some great teachers and inspiring role models, among them teacher Ruth A. Haas. The second president of Danbury State Teacher’s College, Haas was the first woman to head a public college in Connecticut. Edgett has known every one of the school’s principals or presidents since its founding in 1903.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes in the Danbury area,” she says, “but I’m most impressed by the way the university has grown. It’s quite impressive now.”

As is Edgett’s career as an educator. “I had a former student visit recently,” she says, “and she brought one of her old report cards. I had given her all As. It was in pristine condition. Her mother had kept it for her all those years.”

Even after retirement in 1971, Edgett maintained a deep commitment to the Danbury community and was actively engaged in its life for decades. To this day, she maintains membership in the Northern Fairfield County Retired Teachers Association and is a participating member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Not too long ago, Edgett, who some would call a luminary in her own right, received a special accolade from her alma mater. In 2001, during WestConn’s centennial celebration, she was one of 80 alumni who received the Centennial Award for Excellence. Later that year, at WestConn’s commencement ceremony, she received the Alumni Award.

“It was such a surprise and a great honor,” Edgett says.

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