After she published Griffin: Ghost Town in the Adirondacks, many people recognized the name of Ouida Girard. However, you may not know Ms. Girard is a native of the Adirondacks. Born in Griffin, a small town about 7 miles north of Wells, going towards Wevertown, Ouida is someone that definitely sticks out as one of the most badass women in Hamilton County.
Griffin was first known for its farming families. A couple families settled there around 1835. The first sawmill during the Civil War was built in Griffin, and the industry began in 1872. Henry and Nellie Girard moved to Griffin in 1882, were married and started a family. In 1896, their fifth child, Ouida was born. She attended a one-room school in Griffin, and graduated from the Wells school. After school, she became a schoolteacher in a similar one-room school between Griffin and Oregon. After that she taught in Raquette Lake, and then moved herself to Newark, NJ where she taught, and summered in Griffin.
Spreading her wings
It was in 1940 that Ouida took flying lessons from pilot Phillip Ellsworth. After Ellsworth left, Ouida went to Utica to continue her flying lessons in 1941; it's not clear from her writing if she obtained her license in the end: "I passed all the tests but I never had a chance to solo" (p.182). Aside from her teaching, her learning to fly was one of her greatest accomplishments. This tends to surprise people, but it shouldn't seeing as Ms. Girard was a woman of so many accomplishments.
Travelling the country
Ouida loved to travel. As a teacher, she had her summers off, and was everywhere. Ouida travelled with her friend (and fellow teacher) Viola Hewett out west in the early 1920s with the idea of writing a book about their adventures. They stayed at a ranch in Colorado, and then hitchhiked across Wyoming! After this, Ouida travelled on to California, where she had an aunt, briefly attending UCLA and UC San Diego for further teaching qualifications. While in California she also visited Mexico. Ouida seems to have worked her way through these travels, sometimes teaching, but also in other jobs - once, an oatmeal factory in Oakland. She was back home by 1927 and went back to teaching in Raquette Lake. She was there for the great fire of 20 February 1927, which destroyed much of Raquette Lake village. In 1929 she bought her first car for $550 and drove to Quebec. In 1935 she travelled to Alaska. In 1930 she (again with Viola) travelled to South Dakota, where they were in a bad car accident, which both survived. The two travelled to Europe together in 1937, taking sabbaticals from their teaching jobs (Ouida was back teaching at Raquette by this point). They started in London, then went to Vienna, Salzburg, Budapest, Venice, Naples, Rome, Geneva, Paris, back to London, and then visited Scotland and Ireland. After their year in Europe, they returned home and took up their jobs as teachers again - Ouida again in Raquette. In 1949 she flew west again with Viola, visiting Texas, Mexico and New Mexico, California again and Seattle.
Ouida retired from teaching in 1960. She had taught for forty-three years, in the east, as well as in Wyoming and California. Viola died of cancer in 1965. After retirement Ouida began working as the Cancer Society Chairman for the Town of Wells in 1950, and in 1951 became co-executive director for Hamilton County Cancer Society along with Margaret Danis of Long Lake, serving for 19 years. Ouida became director of the Hamilton County Retired Teacher's Association in 1960, where she served for 8 years.
"At the time I am writing this, our homestead in Griffin is being lived in the year around, and I am happy about that. As long as it is being lived in, to me, Griffin isn't a ghost town" (p. 194).
I would have loved to have the opportunity to sit down with Ouida and chat with her about her life. Many questions have popped into my head while doing the research and typing this story about her. I guess reading her book will have to do!