Study Guide

Thelma Mothershed in Executive Order 10730: Little Rock Nine

By Dwight D. Eisenhower

Thelma Mothershed

"You want to go where?" Thelma Mothershed's mom asked her about her decision to go to Central High School. "Are you crazy?" (source).

Mrs. Mothershed's immediate concern wasn't integration. It was her daughter's health. Thelma had a congenital heart condition, and her mother worried she might not be able to physically make it around the big school.

But Mothershed had made up her mind, and after her parents discussed it, they agreed. Mothershed wanted to be a teacher and she figured going to Central could help her get into college.

Small and frail, Mothershed didn't face as much physical abuse as the other members of the Little Rock Nine. But there were other forms of resistance. She recalled a teacher who wouldn't touch anything she had touched. To get the teacher's signature on a pass, Mothershed had to lay the paper on the desk. "Then she would move it with her pencil, sign it, and let me pick it back up" (source).

We're gonna let that sink in for a minute.

Mothershed is a Central graduate, although she received her diploma by mail after taking correspondence courses. She fulfilled her childhood dream, teaching home economics for 28 years in East St. Louis, Illinois. In the classroom, she was determined to treat all her students equally.

Mothershed, who was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bill Clinton, also knows everyone needs a hand sometimes. She's worked with troubled kids at a juvenile detention center and, through the American Red Cross, taught survival skills to homeless women.