Leading the Way: Prague, Pioneer of Women’s Education in Gonzaga | News

Being the only woman in a room was never a concern for Patricia Louise Prague.

Starting at Gonzaga University in 1950, two years after women were admitted to university, Prague worked hard to earn the equivalent of a degree in education and a teaching certificate.

“I wasn’t scared,” Prague said of his first day.

Coming from a lower-class family background, Prague worked her way up to the teaching degree she initially didn’t want. Her original goal was to pursue a business degree, but family pressures led her to follow an educational path.

During her freshman year at GU, she began working at the Sears Roebuck in downtown Spokane, where the library is located today, in the publicity department. Prague found support for her education in her boss, who worked around her class schedule to ensure she could manage both.

Three days a week, she also worked at the Monterey Ice Rink, across from Deaconess Hospital. She walked the 1.5 miles to the rink for $1.50 a day.

Prague lived in her family’s home on Sharp Avenue and Ash Street while she was a student, making the daily 1.5 mile walk from her house to meet a friend on Division Street who would pick her up and drive her the rest of the day. path.

It was this dedication that allowed him to continue his studies at GU. She covered the tuition herself, making weekly payments of $2, which meant she had to take an extra semester to graduate.

“The most exciting part was that I could go to a school that I could afford and they let me pay tuition every week,” Prague said.

GU wasn’t their first choice university, but it was the only option they could afford. Since she never imagined herself at GU, she had to learn to love it.

Things have changed since Prague was a student. At that time, a 30-minute conversation with three priests was required, where students were asked about religion. Despite this, Prague reminds us that the university is very open to all religions.

In addition, all students had to take physical education classes. However, since she was in one of the first classes for women, GU did not yet have a physical education class for women. Instead of class at GU, Prague and her classmates had to walk 10 blocks to Holy Names Academy Spokane for PE class.

She graduated from GU alongside seven other women in 1954, according to GU Special Collections Librarian Stephanie Plowman.

After graduating, Prague married Floyd Thomas after dating for seven years. She then adopted her surname before moving to a teaching position in Four Mound Prairie.

The job was as a teacher for a one-room school converted into a barn, serving 14 students between first and eighth grade.

“Most of their dads worked in Spokane, so I would stop and pick them up in my car on the way to class,” Thomas said.

She picked up 13 children on their way to school, with one girl refusing to enroll – preferring her horse as transport to Thomas’ car. While she enjoyed the children, it was the teaching she couldn’t stand.

Much to Thomas’ relief, the work was completed two years later when the barn owner needed it.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher, and after that I never wanted to teach again,” Thomas said.

After Four Mound Prairie, Thomas and her husband returned to Spokane, where she found employment with what is now the Department of Health and Human Services. She gave birth to her son, Kirk Thomas, in 1960.

She served the department for 30 years, working as a volunteer coordinator for 20 years. It is of his work at Our Place Community Outreach, which served primarily as a food and clothing bank at the time, that his son is most proud.

There, she asked the county extension officer to come to the food bank a few hours before it officially opened to give cooking lessons using the bank’s ingredients.

“People, [but] mostly women, would come to the food bank and get that cooking lesson, and then come home with a week of things they now know how to use to feed their families,” Kirk said. “I like to brag about it, because [she] put that together.

Thomas was also active in the American Association of University Women (AAUW), a grassroots organization at the time that still exists today. For AAUW, she chaired their annual scholarship fundraiser, a book drive that took up an entire floor of a department store.

She made lifelong friends through the organization, including Carol Wendel, one of Washington’s first female lawyers.

“Helping people is my favorite thing,” Thomas said.

This value is reflected in his involvement at Mukigawa Fort Wright, Spokane. A spin-off campus of Mukigawa University, a women’s school in Japan, Thomas and his family lived across the river from the Spokane campus and found themselves building a relationship with the school.

Mukigawa offered outreach services to Spokane students, allowing them to spend the weekend at homestays with local families. The Thomases signed up for a weekend, but would end up hosting girls for the entire semester — building relationships with their friends they would bring and working to make Spokane feel like a home away from home.

Although he expected nothing in return, Thomas’ generosity paid off. Host families were sometimes invited to travel to Japan to stay with student families, and the Thomases made this trip twice. On one trip, 32 of their former students hosted a picnic for her and her husband, surprising them as a thank you for their kindness.

After a lifetime of adventures, Thomas has traveled to all 50 states and over 20 countries and territories. A trip was a gift from a deceased friend that Thomas cared for after learning she could no longer drive, taking her to her business every day without expecting pay in return.

Having spent most of his 91-year life in Spokane, Thomas has seen the city change through some of its major moments in history.

“It’s grown with a lot more businesses, especially since that big fair,” she said, referring to Expo ’74. “Spokane has always been my home, but it’s getting bigger and bigger.”

Now Thomas still lives in Spokane, finding pleasure in reading the Spokesman’s Review and long novels. Although her husband is deceased, her son visits her frequently and her life is one she plans to continue to enjoy.

“I know no one lives forever, but I hope to live to be 100 anyway,” Thomas said.

Berta D. Wells