Dartmouth educator and author Kathleen Ryan Comiskey Roberts (1914-2017) made sure that Dartmouth students would know their town’s history. Kathleen’s career in education spanned 47 years, as a classroom teacher and then as a teaching principal, but her authorship of a history of Dartmouth for children is her most enduring achievement. Born in Dartmouth, Kathleen was the daughter of Thomas J. Ryan and Ann Whelan Ryan. She received a bachelor’s degree in education from Framingham Teachers College in 1937 and a Master of Education from Boston University in 1954. In 1939, she began working in the Dartmouth Public Schools, where she would remain for the next 24 years as a classroom teacher in grades four through seven. In 1963, Kathleen moved to Raynham to become a teaching principal at Raynham’s North School until her retirement in 1984.
While teaching in Dartmouth, Kathleen wrote two histories of the town of Dartmouth. One was a master’s thesis on the history of education in the town and the other a local history for Dartmouth’s students. Her 1954 thesis “The History of Education in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, from 1702 to 1954” was written as a requirement for her graduate work at Boston University. Within its 86 pages, Kathleen showed that Dartmouth’s earliest settlers recognized the value of education and made sacrifices to establish schools. As part of her thesis introduction, Kathleen wrote, “History has shown that a community grows and prospers as its educational system develops.” She then provided details on the progress and expansion of Dartmouth Public Schools through well-documented research that covers over 250 years of education in the town. Both townspeople and educators would find this thesis helpful in understanding and appreciating the progress made by Dartmouth schools.
In 1959, Kathleen wrote a history of Dartmouth for children so that students could learn more about their town. This local story, Secrets of Old Dartmouth, was illustrated by 11 of Kathleen’s seventh-grade students at the Mary A. Crapo School. Those illustrations include sketches of Dartmouth’s first schoolhouse, Apponegansett Meeting House, Padanaram’s Akin House and salt works, and the Old Grist Mill at Russells Mills. Through engaging text that asks questions and supports critical thinking, the book discusses Dartmouth’s first Native American inhabitants; Captain Gosnold, its first white visitor; Henry Perkins, Dartmouth native who participated in the Boston Tea Party; shipbuilding; the town’s old mills; its salt industry; and much more. She draws her students into their town’s history by asking, “Have you always lived in Dartmouth or did you move here recently? If you moved here recently, do you know why your parents moved here? Would you like to know why the early white settlers came to Dartmouth?” Through such timeless inquiry, Secrets of Old Dartmouth, revised in 1976 and again in 2010, continues to be used in Dartmouth schools today.
During her teaching career, Kathleen was a leader in local, state and national educator associations. She served as president of the Dartmouth Educators Association, the Raynham Educators Association, the Bristol County Educators Association, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Education Association.
In her retirement in Raynham, Kathleen continued to give back to her community. She was a founder of the Raynham Food Basket, where she volunteered for 27 years. She was the president of the Raynham Historical Society for over 25 years. Kathleen also served as board member for the Raynham Library, the Raynham Council on Aging, and the Raynham Association of Volunteers for Education. She was the first statewide chair of the National Education Association’s “Read Across America” program. Kathleen was named Raynham’s 2003 Citizen of the Year and the 2012 Senior Hero for Massachusetts.
Kathleen, wife of the late James Comiskey and the late Sydney C. Roberts, passed away on September 23, 2017 at the age of 103. The Kathleen Ryan Comiskey Roberts Scholarship was established in her memory at Framingham State University.
Cline, Sara. “Saying Goodbye to Raynham’s Kathleen Roberts.” The Enterprise, 26 Sept. 2017, http://www.enterprisenews.com/news/20170926/saying-goodbye-to-raynhams-kathleen-roberts.
Comiskey, Kathleen Ryan. “The History of Education in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, from 1702 to 1954.” Boston University, 1954.
Comiskey, Kathleen Ryan. Secrets of Old Dartmouth. Reynolds-DeWalt Printing, 1976.
“Kathleen (Ryan) Comiskey Roberts.” The Boston Globe, 26 Sept. 2017, http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bostonglobe/obituary.aspx?pid=186758629.
Styan, Christina. “Plans Underway to Reprint Old Dartmouth History Book.” SouthCoast Today, 28 July 2010, http://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20100728/PUB02/7280439.