The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At a Glance
Born: February 23, 1879
Died: January 8, 1961
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Primary City and County of Residence and Work: Reno, Washoe County
Major Fields of Study: Education
Descendant of pioneers taught first grade in Reno classroom for 29 years
Nevada school districts frequently name their schools after beloved educators. In 1958, Jessie Beck Elementary School was opened and named after the native Nevada educator of 43 years.
Jessie Parker Beck was born in Reno on February 23, 1879. Her parents, Henry Hudson Beck and Merreh Parker Beck were pioneer settlers in Nevada (Utah Territory). Her father arrived in Carson City in 1861 and was an important factor in the early development of Washoe County and of Reno. He was a miller connected with the founding of the Reno Flour mill and was a newspaper writer of much influence. In 1863, H.H. Beck was elected as a Washoe County commissioner and was also an elected member of the first territorial legislature.
Jessie Beck had three siblings, Henry L. Beck, Annie A. Beck, and younger brother Wayne Beck.
Jessie Beck graduated from Reno High School in 1895 and continued her education at Nevada State Normal School (University of Nevada) and graduated in 1897. She began her teaching career in Lovelock, Nevada, when she was 18 years old. She taught in Lovelock from 1897 to 1900 and then transferred to teach in Reno in 1900 at the Riverside School. When the new Southside School was built in 1904, Beck transferred and taught first grade at the Southside School for 29 years in the same classroom until her retirement in June 1941.
“In fact,” she said, “I guess some of my students must have secretly thought the school belonged to me. I spent 29 years teaching first grade in one room.” Some of Reno’s most prominent citizens sat at a desk in the first grade at the old school. Among them were Congressman Walter S. Baring, Attorney Sam Francovich, Dr. Dwight Hood, Dr. H.E. Cafferata, and Civil Engineer Edward L. Pine.
In 1956, Washoe County School Trustees honored Beck by naming a new elementary school for her, the Jessie Beck Elementary School located on the corner of Sharon Way and Plumb Lane. The school was built on the former site of a small 15-acre ranch – The Melillo Ranch – owned in 1942 by Mrs. J.E. Horgan, owner of Commercial Hardware.
One of Beck’s greatest joys, she once said, was to watch her students grow up, progress in the world and add to the growth of the state. In 1958, the spry 79-year-old teacher visited the building site of the school named in her honor. As she watched the Hardesty and Son Construction Co. crew working on the forms for the reinforced concrete foundation, she said, “I’m overcome. It certainly is a wonderful feeling to be alive to appreciate the gesture. In fact, I feel like going right back into the classroom again to teach first grade.”
On September 10, 1958, Jessie Beck Elementary School opened its doors with 271 students, 12 teachers and Principal James (Bud) Puryear. There were only two classroom buildings and the school office.
On December 10, 1958, the Jessie Beck Parent-Teacher Association held its first “Jessie Beck Night.” She received the first PTA membership card for the new school and was given a lifetime membership in the National Congress of PTA. Beck was also a charter member of the National Retired Teachers Association.
Beck studied at the Charles Fillmore’s Unity School of Christianity in Kansas City and later became a founding member of the Unity Church in Reno.
Jessie Beck died Sunday, January 8, 1961, at the age of 81 in a Reno hospital.
Researched by Patti Bernard and written by Sue H. Davis