Mother Home-Schooled “Problem” Student: Later Nominated for Nobel Prize in Physics

It was the Great Depression in rural Minnesota. From her small cabin with no utilities, Martha Linsley, a certified teacher, fought school district administrators for the right to home-school her two children. Defending her gifted son, who would eventually be nominated for a Nobel Physics Prize, she was threatened with fines - and even jail time.

When Martha Linsley brought her two children, Ruth and John, to the tiny one-room Vokes School house in District 13, near Park Rapids, Minnesota on September 6, 1932, she was concerned about their young, newly hired teacher. Barely nineteen herself, Miss Edum was not prepared to teach the kindergarten through 12th grade class of 13 children. Anarchy ruled the classroom from the first day – spitballs flew and chalkboard erasers landed in clouds of white dust.  Miss Edum was hopelessly out-maneuvered.

Nine-year-old Ruth and seven-year-old John Linsley were the meek newcomers - city kids in nice outfits, wearing shoes. John was a gifted student who had skipped first grade.  He was an independent voracious reader who devoured adult level books, and just wanted to be left alone. As the school year progressed, John and Miss Edum sparred over the mindless cut-and-paste worksheets she assigned whenever he completed his work early.

At forty years, Martha had been a high school math and physics teacher, with graduate level education in Greek and Latin from the University of Minnesota. The family was beginning a new adventure, living in a tiny cabin without running water or electricity. Her husband, James, drove a streetcar in Minneapolis, mailing letters, cash, groceries, and books, while she and the kids tried to establish their dream of a working family farm.

Martha straddled the rural school system for two years; teaching the kids at home whenever possible, while fighting compulsory attendance laws, along with threats of fines or jail time. Life became simpler once John was kicked out of school. But the events which followed could not have been predicted by anyone…

Miss Edum worked as a sales clerk at the JC Penney’s store in Park Rapids, and never taught school again after that first class in 1932.

Ruth Linsley Forman taught First Grade at Cherry School in Toledo, Ohio, and Washington School in Minneapolis. She changed the young lives of many students, by working with some of the most severe behavior problems, and those with difficulty learning to read.

John D. Linsley became an internationally recognized Astrophysicist, who was nominated for the Nobel Physics Prize in 1981. Besides his teaching and research positions, he worked with an international consortium of more than 50 institutions based out of Palermo, Italy.

Despite - and maybe even because of - the economic turbulence of the era, 1932 was the beginning of a saga which would change the entire family, and many who met those two city kids along the way.


Lucy Jeanne is Ruth Linsley Forman’s daughter. She is full-time writer, mother of two, grandmother of six. For the past year, she has worked with four generations of family members to complete the website DearDaddy.com. Her website chronicles the daily life of her grandparents, mother and uncle during two years of the Great Depression, told in letters, her mother’s journal, photos, drawings, recipes and books they read to each other.

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