For 17 years, Ednah Rich was president of the Santa Barbara educational institution of higher learning that ultimately became UCSB. She became the first woman president of a state manual-training school in the country. She coauthored groundbreaking educational legislation at the state level. She received a doctorate of law degree late in life. She accomplished all this and more and yet never officially graduated from high school.
Born in 1871, the Santa Barbara native was an excellent student, a hard worker, and often was ranked number-one in her class. Perhaps she worked too hard in her desire to achieve excellence. On the verge of high school graduation, as she later wrote, “Nature extracts a toll for too much work and no play, so one day I was led home from high school quite blind. … I held the record for the longest sustained highest ‘high marks’ but I lost the game.” She was in almost total darkness for four months before beginning a slow recovery. Her class graduated without her.
Before this setback, at the behest of some of her teachers, she had taken the county teachers’ examination and earned the highest score for that year. On her 18th birthday, she received her teaching certificate and began her career in education. In one class, she taught students ranging in age from 7 to 16, which she found “most difficult.”
One of Rich’s neighbors was a cooking teacher at the Anna S.C. Blake Manual Training School. Blake had opened the first sloyd school on the West Coast here in Santa Barbara in 1891. The sloyd method, originally developed in Sweden, emphasized hands-on education in manual arts such as woodworking, metal work, and home economics, with an eye to training the student physically, mentally, and morally. Rich was intrigued by these ideas, and, in turn, this young teacher caught Blake’s eye.
Blake arranged an itinerary of study for Rich: first Boston, then Sweden to study with one of the originators of the sloyd method. Rich’s capacity for hard work remained undiminished; she completed a course in Leipzig, Germany, two weeks before the rest of the class.
Upon her return toward the end of 1892, Rich began to tread a rapidly rising career path. By 1896 she was the principal of the Blake school, and then took it over upon Blake’s death in 1899. In 1901, she became supervisor of manual training for the Santa Barbara public schools.
Determined to secure proper funding for her ever-growing school, Rich worked with prominent state educators and legislators to ensure financial support from Sacramento. In 1909, the passage of Assembly Bill 1234 established the Santa Barbara State Normal School of Manual Arts and Home Economics. Ednah Rich was president. The school provided professional training in manual arts for careers in teaching. Rich was appointed to the State Board of Education, the first woman to hold such a post.
Under her guidance, the school flourished. In 1913, a new campus was built, now the complex where the Riviera Theatre is located. Rich also found time to engage in community work, primarily with Neighborhood House, which provided enrichment, social, and athletic activities for youth. Her own experiences had taught her that education should not be restricted to the classroom.
Upon her marriage to Lewis Morse in 1916, she left Santa Barbara. In 1934, Ednah Rich Morse returned here to receive an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from the State of California. In her acceptance speech, she spoke of how she always had tried to “live to the truth.”