Almera Romney

Almera “Allie” Romney was a Caucasian Mormon woman who believed her faith dictated that all children, regardless of their ethnicity, should be treated equally. Over the 17 years of her tenure at Huntington School as a teacher and then principal, she fought her boss -- the school superintendent, her church, city officials, and the local newspaper to draw resources and attention to give these children a good education. She singlehandedly transformed Huntington Elementary School – the segregated school that all children of color in Monrovia were forced to

attend – from a disgracefully under-resourced and physically unsafe school where children were considered incapable of learning, to a school where children received an excellent education and thrived academically and socially. She had come from rural Utah and never known a Black person before she came to Huntington School. When she came on staff in 1946, she needed a job to financially support her family and so she took the only open teaching job in the district. At that time Huntington was a ‘stopover’ school -- an undesirable place to work through which teachers moved quickly to ‘better’ schools. She changed that and nearly everything else at Huntington. A first grade teacher for 3 years, she became principal in 1949 and stayed until 1963. When she arrived, Huntington was the only school that Black, Hispanic and Japanese children could attend in Monrovia. It was given only the cast-off books. And while she came to a new facility, it was the only school in the district without a cafeteria. Huntington was not only substandard in comparison with other schools in its physical facilities and lack of food service, but also its share of district expenditures per pupil, its teacher-pupil ratio, and lack of school buses. It had the largest class sizes in the district and a revolving door of teachers. The study of the Monrovia schools that eventually documented the disparate treatment of Huntington was essentially made invisible by the Superintendent. He continued to believe that these children were qualitatively different and not able to learn. He and the local newspaper editor kept Huntington’s mistreatment out of the public eye. They also kept invisible the progress achieved under Ms. Romney’s leadership that proved his theory wrong. Over time, Ms. Romney recruited a team of great teachers who stayed and built a great learning environment. They created an engaging approach to teaching reading that achieved outstanding results. She was an effective disciplinarian who balanced that with music, picnics, and performances that engaged parents, proud to see their children’s talents on display. One of the outstanding teachers she brought into the school who stayed until she retired was Katherine Marugg. Ms. Marugg’s son would eventually serve on the School Board and her daughter-in-law, Jan Marugg, would become the first female Executive Director of the Monrovia Chamber of Commerce, and a much loved and powerful agent of change in Monrovia. Her story is included in this book as well. Ms. Romney became a heroine to the parents, whose children had been enduring an inferior education. One parent who expressed her appreciation was Mary Gadbury Carr, whose son -- a student of Ms. Romney -- was Bob Bartlett ,who would become the first Black mayor of Monrovia. Ms. Carr had experienced the racism of that time first hand. She had come to Monrovia in the 1920s and remembered as a child seeing a cross burned in front of a small residential court on Huntington Drive by the KKK, whose meeting in Monrovia drew 190 people. She also remembered that Black citizens of Monrovia could not get dental care. They were refused treatment by all local dentists, including two longtime City Council members. Ms. Romney had three children. When her husband died suddenly in 1951, she became a single parent of an 8, 13, and 16 year old, with no insurance, no property, no car, and a lot of debt. She couldn’t afford help at home even as she worked tirelessly to rebuild the school. Her personal resources were so slim that she fought to pay her own bills, and had to cancel her children’s health insurance to make ends meet. She built a strong bond among the Huntington community who became her emotional support, and she and others created a connection across race lines that had not existed before. Her influence spread outside the school. Ms. Romney in the 1950s led the Monrovia Human Relations Committee, a project of the Coordinating Council. According to Betty Sandford, who was the Committee’s Secretary, Ms. Romney was ‘the first and only Chair’. “The Committee attempted to identify problems faced by Monrovia’s minority residents, and to seek better racial understanding in the community. Sandford remembers that Monrovia’s young people of color were afraid to come to committee meetings to tell of their problems, so Romney taped their responses, which center on their difficulties in finding local employment and the indignity of not being allowed to try on clothes in local stores. The Monrovia News-Post gave little coverage to the committee’s efforts.” (De Facto Segregation in Monrovia, California Mary Ellen Romney MacArthur, 1993) Ms. Romney served as the President of the Coordinating Council in 1951 and on the Board of Santa Anita Family Service of Monrovia, a new organization that resulted from her work and others’ to create a community welfare bureau. She was a charter member of the Monrovia League, a group of influential women organized ‘to take an active part in community welfare work, rendering service where needed.’ During the time that Huntington was a segregated school, Ms. Romney used her mighty talents and energy to ensure that the children received the education they deserved. When she retired, the school was closed and the district was finally integrated in 1970 -- the result of pressure from many, especially Almera Romney. Her daughter’s brilliant and fascinating doctoral dissertation on her mother’s role at Huntington details the incredible odds she faced, the state of bigotry in Monrovia at the time, and her powerful accomplishments. It is available in the Monrovia Public Library and well worth reading. The above material is excerpted from De Facto Segregation in Monrovia, California. Almera A Romney and Huntington Elementary School, Mary Ellen Romney MacArthur Aug. 1993. Ph.D. Dissertation.