Elizabeth “Bess” Pearson was born Elizabeth Theresa Smythe on 15 March 1911 in Newark, New Jersey to Ellen “Nellie” Doran and Thomas Smythe. She led a remarkable, full life, dying at the age of 85. While we never met her, we are fortunate to have finally come to know her sister Peg Ruthazer’s children. They thought the world of their Aunt Bess. The Ruthazer family have graciously shared some of her writings, other papers and photos. It is with their permission that we publish her story here.
Bess’s father, Thomas Smythe passed away in November 1911. Her mother, Nellie Doran Smith, who had studied in Brooklyn to become a practical nurse, went to work for a widower, Amos Moffatt Pearson, taking care of his young children, one of whom was quite ill at the time. Nellie found a new doctor for the boy and he recovered. A few years later Amos and Nellie were married and had children together. Bess started using the Pearson name when she went to grammar school and continued to use the Pearson name from then on.
After her step-father died in 1931 and her mother the following year. Bess took over the care and education of her 3 younger siblings, all while holding down a job and attending college herself.
Education and career
Bess Pearson graduated from Montclair State College (NJ). This “bio” is a snippet from the school’s 1933 yearbook.
Bess earned Bachelor of Arts at Montclair State College and after graduation taught school in South Plainfield, Burlington, and Mount Holly, New Jersey.
Bess became a Teacher and Science Club Advisor at St. Mary’s Hall, now called Doane Academy, so that she could be with her sisters Peggy and Ellen, whom she had placed in this boarding school.
Bess placed her younger brother Amos Moffatt “Jack” Pearson at the Masonic Home in Burlington so she could be near him too. Unfortunately, Amos died suddenly in 1946 while he was attending Trenton State Teachers College. He was a senior and past president of Phi Alpha Delta.
During the war years (1942 – 1946) Bess worked for the Y.W.C.A. as a U.S.O. director.
She later decided to continue her higher education, earning a Master’s Degree in Public Health in 1949 at the University of California at Berkeley, She then went to work as a public health educator working for the state governments of California, New New York and Hawaii. Her listing in the “Who’s Who in American Women” provides a list of all of her many career accomplishments.
Excerpts of “Bess” in her own words by Elizabeth T. Pearson. Copyright 2021 Louis and Wendy Ruthazer.
Bess settled in Belen, New Mexico after her retirement. She liked it there, was of course very active in the community, and she had many good friends there and across the country. As you can read in her own words, she decided to move to Maine when she became sick to be closer to her sister Peggy’s children and grandchildren. She died January 8, 1997 in Gorham, Maine. She was buried in Belen, New Mexico. She is missed.