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Letha (Spencer) Selby
July 27, 1890 - July 4, 1973

Letha Spencer Selby, the daughter of Thomas and Lucy Spencer, was born July 27, 1890, in Hyde County, where she attended grade school. In spite of financial hardships and poor transportation (it took days to complete a short trip on a steamboat), Mrs. Selby traveled at an early age to Elizabeth City to continue her education. Since no dormitories were available for students, Mrs. Selby lived with friends and walked each day to State Normal School where she studied to become a teacher.

After returning home, she married Dennis W. Selby and began to work as a teacher in Hyde County schools and as a leader in the community. School sessions were split into three months so that students could work and attend school. Teachers were paid fifteen to twenty dollars per month, sometimes not being paid until the end of the session. Mrs. Selby devoted about forty years of her life to educating Hyde County children. She was noted for punctuality. It has been said that farmers could set their clocks by her as she traveled to her school each morning by horse and buggy over rough and rugged roads.

Mrs. Letha Selby was the first black woman to vote in Hyde County. She stated that though she had retired from teaching, she at last felt a full citizen. Mrs. Selby was one of the founders of the Woman's Home Mission of the Disciple Church in Hyde County; she was a Grand Lodge officer and member of the Order of Love and Charity in North Carolina; she was a member of the Order of Eastern Star, a deaconess of St. Mary's Church of Christ (Disciple of Christ), and was Mother of the Year for three consecutive years for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mrs. Selby planned her family as carefully as she planned her work. It may be that she planned for only three birth months in her family. She chose a husband who had the same birthday (July 27) as she. Her daughter Marjorie Selby was born October 4, and Verniece Selby Collins (deceased), October 7. Her son Seward E. Selby was born March 12. All three children became teachers. Marjorie teaches at 0.A. Peay School and Seward teaches in Farmville. Mrs. Collins was teaching at Mattamuskeet School when she retired because of illness. Mrs. Selby's often repeated advice to her children was, "Follow my footsteps under the guidance of God, and I won't worry about you." Through the years Mrs. Selby kept the young, for her home was a refuge for many children without homes or whose parents were unable to care for them. "God keeps the aged; he keeps them as a shepherd guards his sheep, till in his fold, they gently fall asleep." God took Mrs. Letha Spencer Selby into his fold on July 4, 1973.

(Photo and information from Hyde County History published by the Hyde County Historical Society in 1976.)

Copyright 1999
McGowan / Sheppard