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Gail Hamilton Holliday

Teacher and naturalist

-- from The Intelligencer (Wheeling, W. Va.), April 30, 1962 © reproduced with permission.

Famed Dr. Gail Holliday Is 90 Years Young

Taught Several Generations of High School Students in Ohio Valley


Dr. Gail Hamilton Holliday: photo from the 1929 Wheeling High School yearbook

Dr. Gail Hamilton Holliday of 85 Thirty-first St. celebrated her ninetieth birthday Saturday, with an illustrious career of 60 years as a teacher behind her.

The first high school teacher in the state to hold a doctoral degree, she rates a listing in the biology volume of the national guide, "Men of Science."

Taking the start of her ninth decade in stride, she recalls the young high school teacher who took the hills "on both sides of the river" in stride back in the Thirties.

"I was quite a hill climber in those days, Dr. Holliday reported as she remembered tramping the hills to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1937 and become the first West Virginia high school teacher to hold a doctorate.

Her thesis was called "Mosses of the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia; Flowering Plants in the Vicinity of Wheeling, W. Va." and she gathered and studied more than a thousand, walking many miles and working many hours. The project absorbed the time teaching didn't from 1930 to 1937.

But she loved every minute of it. "Yes, I was quite a hill climber. I'll bet my students at Wheeling High School took more field trips than any other group in the country."

"We used to tramp all around. I always figured the best way to learn about nature was to go right out and look at it."

Her former agility in hill tramping is still obvious in the way she hops out of her rocking chair, almost with disdain.

But Dr. Holliday didn't forget the lab in her enthusiasm for field trips -- nor did she let the Ohio County Board of Education forget it.

"I never asked for anything from the board that I didn't get," she still proudly proclaims.

Starting to teach at Wheeling High School in 1901, she soon had established a department with six lab tables, simple and compound microscopes for each student, scalpels, forceps, needles, tweezers, any and everything needed for the effective teaching of biology.

"You wouldn't find a better lab any place in the United States," she recalled. In 1927 she was appointed head of the biology department, serving until 1941 when she taught botany until retiring in 1950.

Dr. Holliday was born April 28, 1872, in Wheeling, the daughter of James Lawrence and Mare E. Grosscloss Holliday.

"I was named Gail Hamilton Holliday because my grandfather admired the writing of one of the popular writers of the time, Gail Hamilton.

"Her real name was Abigail Dodge and she lived in Hamilton, Mass.," the writer's namesake confided.

"I've lived here in Wheeling all my life," Dr. Holliday stated -- then added, "but I didn't stick to one place all the time."

According to the reference book that lists the nation's scientists, Dr. Holliday studied at the University of Chicago, Harvard, Bethany, the Berkley Institute of Arts and Science, received her master's degree at Washington and Jefferson, and her Ph.D. at Pitt.

She began teaching at Webster School in 1891, staying there until 1901 when she started teaching at Wheeling High. Her higher education began at Chicago in 1902 and was completed at Pitt in 1937.

Saturday, she celebrated her ninetieth birthday quietly at home with her sister, Maria Louise Holliday, and their 10-year-old pet (reportedly the boss of the house) "kitty Holliday."

[ From the Ohio County Public Library vertical file ]

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