Our school may be young, but it is rooted in history, beginning with the birth of Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden on November 12 in 1905.
In 2016, shortly after we decided to name our school in her honor, Louise’s only surviving child, Pat Thaden Webb, sent me a recording of her mother’s broadcast remarks upon receiving the Harmon Trophy, aviation’s highest honor, in 1937. Her humility, wit, and charm come to life as you listen to her voice “ON THE AIR,” floating across America from an art deco skyscraper in New York City. In this moment, three soaring technologies – radio, architecture, and aviation – elevate the figure of a pioneering woman from Arkansas, her feet planted firmly on the ground.
Later that year, we learned that our namesake’s childhood home on West Central Avenue was slated for demolition. Just as her pioneering achievements in aviation had faded into obscurity, the old Victorian on West Central Avenue where she first dreamed of flying had fallen into disrepair. We worked quickly to dismantle and remove the house for safe keeping on a parcel of county land until we could amend an ordinance prohibiting the relocation of houses within the Bentonville city limits.
Today, McPhetridge House serves as our Office of Admissions, a runway for Thaden journeys. We have also enhanced its grounds with an iris garden honoring Louise and her daughter Pat. The heritage irises in this memorial garden were brought to campus from the house’s original site on West Central and other historic homes in downtown Bentonville. This spring Willard Keirn and John Marshall will offer an Intensive that gives our students the opportunity to create an exhibit about Louise for the interior.
The honored place of McPhetridge House on our campus invites community connection to a past rendered increasingly obscure by the rapid development of Bentonville. Indeed, schools play an essential role in preserving history and in understanding its complexity and richness. In that spirit, we also took the lead in advancing the nomination for Louise Thaden’s posthumous induction into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame. You will appreciate this video prepared on the occasion of that long overdue honor.
Happy Birthday, Louise! Together, we celebrate your life and legacy.
Clayton K. Marsh
Founding Head of School