Goldie Van Binner – Pioneer Women of Lane County

Photo of Goldie Van Binner courtesy Siuslaw Pioneer Museum

March 3, 2023 — The title of a 1912 news article read Lane County Teacher Has Worst Job. However, Goldie Van Bibber, Lane County school supervisor, described her work with these words: “I wouldn’t teach in the city for anything. I am country born and bred. My education at the state University was aimed to fit me to carry on this work, which I consider has the biggest future of anything in the educational line in the state.” Her upbringing likely played a significant role in her many accomplishments within the educational system.

Her father moved to Colorado from Kentucky to acquire land as part of the Homestead Act of 1862. He built the family home, made all their furniture and during the winter, worked as a blacksmith and tool sharpener for mining camps. Her mother was the first teacher in Gunnison Valley in 1882. Hard work was simply a way of pioneer life for the Van Bibber family.

Born on February 28, 1885, Goldie and her family moved from Colorado to California, then on to Oregon. In 1903, at 18 years old, Goldie began teaching in eastern Oregon at a rural school in Prairie City. She attended the University of Oregon and as an undergraduate in 1911, was appointed by Lane County as rural school supervisor for the Siuslaw Valley, considered to be the most remote and inaccessible area in the state. Her role was to supervise 31 of the coastal districts, with headquarters in Florence. She was given a salary of $1,000 per year.

Goldie Van Bibber’s commitment to providing education to the rural areas was legendary, in every sense of the word. No matter the distance, at barely 5 feet tall, she traversed trails and roads where there were none. She climbed over slippery logs, fallen trees, through bushes and mud, across swollen creeks and streams to reach one-room schoolhouses. Known as the “school lady on the gray horse (Dandy), she visited schools to examine the conditions of sanitation, libraries, supplies, and repair of buildings, often travelling 25 to 30 miles a day. She rode on horseback to areas where mail arrived less than once a month, discovered no textbooks in many of the schools, and in one area, learned there had been just 3 weeks of school in 4 years. Goldie admitted she specifically chose to be in a rural area because she was convinced her education and experience was best suited to resolve problems of rural schools. She was often the only school officer to have ever visited a district, and left feeling grateful to have made the journey to meet parents and children. She claimed it left her more inspired and determined to improve educational opportunities in the area. Some of the schools she visited were located in Denzer (near Alsea at the mouth of Ten Mile creek), Indian Creek, Mapleton, Riverview, Acme, Portage, Florence, Mercer, Ada, Deadwood and Glenada.

Goldie Van Bibber brought hope, inspiration and courage to her supervisory position. She succeeded in making great strides in the improvement of school buildings and equipment, extended the school term, and obtained better pay and contract extensions for teachers. Teachers’ monthly salaries were raised from $43 to $55. In

1912 she rode 60 miles by stage and over 100 miles by rail to attend a meeting with rural school supervisors. In her first 2 years as supervisor she was instrumental in the building of 6 new schools.


She never failed to let the needs and importance of her schools be known. It is said she once endured a two-day snowstorm on horseback through gushing streams and along windy, steep mountain ridges to attend an annual teachers conference in Pendleton, arriving 3 minutes before the session began.

Her work has been described as ‘revolutionary’. Among her many accomplishments was the creation of a program to teach schoolchildren in Lane County the elementary principles of road building. Approved by the County, the students used a strip of road in front of the schoolhouse to perform a project to replace an existing mud path. A road-building primer for the students was prepared by the County Surveyor, designed to provide map-making skills, acquaint students with construction methods and the value of good roads. At the same time, the project allowed the County to keep abreast of the industrious endeavor. Students used hoes, picks and shovels to complete the project. The success of this ‘roads course’ lead to adoption by other districts and expanded to a statewide ‘Good Roads Day’ to acquaint citizens with road building.

While the stories of Goldie’s achievements are well documented, the backstory of her early years are just as remarkable.

In 1898, she and three younger sisters (Bernice, Eunice and Lola) became ill with Scarlet Fever at the same time. Tragically, her sisters died within 7 days of each other. According to the doctor, there was little hope for Goldie as she lay ill and ‘given up for dead’. It is said a neighbor who had been at her bedside became startled when “Goldie suddenly sat up and began singing a hymn. She then collapsed and slept for a long time.” When Goldie awoke, she claimed she saw her three deceased sisters on the other side of the river, motioning for her to go back. Shortly thereafter, she made a complete recovery from the fever.

In 1905, her sister Delia died of spinal meningitis. Her gravestone inscription reads: ‘fell asleep, 7 years, 10 mos, 2 days’. A younger brother Leslie, died at age 24 from a ruptured appendix.

In April 1914, Goldie Van Bibber resigned from her position as Supervisor in order to return to the University of Oregon for a pre-medical course, which she believed would enable her to become more proficient in teaching hygiene among rural schools and improve general sanitation of school buildings.

Goldie repeated her success with the earlier road-building project when she lived in Monument, Oregon. An article in the 1915 Oregon Teacher’s Monthly states:

“The Putnam school near Monument which is under the able management of Miss Goldie Van Bibber is the first school in Northern Grant County to meet all the state and county standardization requirements and it is one of the very few schools in the county to have gravel walks which were built by volunteer labor.”

In 1916, Goldie married Charles Frederick Putnam in Monument. In 1922 they relocated to Inchelium, Oregon. There, Goldie spent her time researching the area’s history and early ferry systems. She intended to write a book of her research, but passed away before its completion.

Goldie Van Bibber’s achievements and contributions of bringing educational opportunities to the Siuslaw Valley is a story of one woman’s determination and remains an inspiration to all.

The Siuslaw Pioneer Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Their website is or view them on Facebook.