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The Bullitt County History Museum

Beulah Lee Fontaine - A Remarkable Lady

The following article by Charles Hartley was published on 11 Sep 2016.

Beulah Lee Fontaine

I came across Beulah Lee Fontaine quite by accident recently while researching someone else for a future article, and became fascinated with her remarkable life.

Minnie Beulah Lee was born in 1903 on her parent's farm near Belmont, and along the Wooldridge Ferry Road, in Bullitt County.

W. Jeff Lee

Her grandfather was W. Jeff Lee, a prosperous farmer in the area, and a man greatly interested in civic service. He served as state representative for Bullitt and Spencer counties in the mid 1870's, and was superintendent of Bullitt County schools from 1897-1902.

It seems likely that Jeff Lee's interest in education rubbed off on his granddaughter.

The Pioneer News first mentioned Beulah Lee in 1916, reporting that she was boarding with Mrs. Fannie Purcell at Belmont while she attended school there, a common practice for students who lived too far from the schoolhouse to travel there daily.

Her education was briefly interrupted in January 1917 when she became seriously ill with pneumonia, and she didn't receive her Common School Diploma until the following September.

She attended the high school in Shepherdsville where she was successful and popular with her classmates. She was elected vice-president of her sophomore class, was consistently on the school honor roll, and joined the school basketball team where she again showed her talents.

She graduated from high school in the Spring of 1921, and that Fall left to attend Western State Normal School in Bowling Green, where she played guard on the girls' basketball team.

Teachers in those days, particularly in rural schools, often began teaching with little or no college education. Those with two years of college could get a state certificate to teach, but many taught without it.

After Beulah completed a year at Western, she returned to Bullitt County and taught at the Pitts Point school that Fall.

She and a number of other young teachers and former pupils of the Shepherdsville school organized a basketball team that included Martha Lee, Janice Harned, Willie Mae Ridgway, Mary Blanche Hill and Rosetta Woods. They scheduled to play the local team as well as teams in Louisville.

In 1923 she taught at the Hays school, closer to her home. Then in 1924 she was coaching the girls' basketball team at Shepherdsville. They won the Fifth District Basketball Tournament that year.

That summer she returned to Bowling Green to continue her education, and then began teaching and coaching basketball in Mt. Washington in the Fall.

She spent a year there, and then moved to the Kennedy School in Jefferson County in the Fall of 1925.

Beulah Lee married Dr. E. Lamar Fontaine, Jr. in February 1927. Dr. Fontaine, a dentist, was a member of the faculty of the University of Louisville. They would share 33 years of marriage until Dr. Fontaine's death in 1960. They had no children, but Beulah claimed all those who passed through her classrooms as her own.

She continued to work toward her degree in the summers, and received her Bachelor of Science degree from Nazareth College (now Spalding University) in August 1944. Not stopping there, she earned her master's degree at University of Louisville in 1950.

Beulah was elected president of the Jefferson County Classroom Teachers organization in October 1948, and was named a delegate to the National Education Association convention in November.

She had moved to the Prestonia School by 1950. While there she was named general chairman of the Southeast Regional Classroom Teachers Convention held in December. By now she had become involved in state and national education circles.

By 1955 she was chairman of the Kentucky Commission on Teacher Education and Professional Standards. She had also moved to Waggener Junior High School to teach.

Then, in August 1957, she was named to a two-year term as consultant for professional services by the Kentucky Education Association.

She became the first woman to be chairman of the nine-member National Commission on Teacher Education and Professional Standards, created by the NEA. She also served on the standards committee of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which judged the caliber of teachers' colleges.

She was also a member of the committee on education of the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women in 1965.

Prior to her retirement in 1972, she was coordinator of the UniServ program in Kentucky that provided professional staff personnel to local education associations, the only woman in the country holding that post.

Martha Dell Sanders, a former president of KEA, said of Beulah Fontaine, "She was the first leader in the country in the TEPS (Teacher Education Professional Standards) movement. She helped get through the legislature the first Professional Practices Commission in the country. She's the teacher advocate of the years. I can't even think of KEA without Beulah."

Beulah Lee Fontaine and Horace W. Netherton

But Beulah was not finished with life. After retirement, she traveled, tutored students, volunteered at the library, and so much more.

In 1990, she established the Sister Clara Francis Bamberger Scholarship at Spalding University which is awarded annually to students majoring in education.

In 1994, at 90 she was honored once more; but this time in a very personal way. Horace W. Netherton, Jr., who was her student for four years in the late 1930's, returned from his Texas ranch to honor the teacher who had made such a difference in his life.

As a boy during the depression, Horace often couldn't afford to buy his school lunch, but Mrs. Fontaine always made sure he had lunch, usually paying for it herself. She didn't remember it, but he sure did. So he came back to town to take her to dinner, and Beverly Bartlett, a staff writer for The Courier-Journal wrote about it.

Beulah Lee Fontaine lived another decade, celebrating her 100th birthday in 2003. Her life finally ended the following June. The brief obituary noted that hers would be a private burial, likely the quietest event in her long life of accomplishments.

Copyright 2016 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 13 Jan 2024 . Page URL: