Click Here for Story on Helen D. Williams, Director of Verse Choir, Hickman High School

Picture of Mrs. Williams dedicated
at David H. Hickman High School
November 14, 2003

Speech Book of the Verse Choir

Helen D's daughter

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***Stories about Helen D and Verse Choir***

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In the summer of 1990 I spent a day visiting with Helen D. Williams as I had done through the years, but this time was very special.  She told me she was going to start work on a book and she wanted me to write the introduction.  I thought only things she had said had stuck with me, but some things I had said had also stuck with her.  On her 95th Birthday, July 17, 1990 I put a picture and article in The Columbia Daily Tribune and I guess it generated quite a few phone calls and letters.  Helen D. was very taken by the amount of people that contacted her after the article appeared on her birthday.  I went by and saw her a couple weeks after her birthday and then I got too busy again with my life and the next thing I knew, Mrs. Williams had died.

We are her Class and we must carry on as she would want us to do by coming together for her.  She loved all of us and always said we weren't just her last class (by retiring the year we graduated), but her best class and that is quite a title to live up to. Anyway that is how she remembered us.  She was one of the last high school teachers we had, and in my book, she was the best, of the best.  I thought of her for a long time before I started working on this reunion.  I hope you will be thinking of her on your way to this reunion, I'm sure she will be thinking about us, we are "The Class of 1963."

Written in June of 1998, while putting things in order for our 35th Class Reunion.
Charley Blackmore, HP (Class of '63)


This is the article I put in The Columbia Daily Tribune on July 17, 1990.
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This page is dedicated to the memory of Helen D. Williams
(July 17, 1895 - January 17, 1991)


Helen Williams

  Helen Williams, 95, of Columbia died Monday Jan. 7, 1991, at Boone Hospital Center.
    Services will be at 1:30 p.m., Saturday at First Baptist Church with the Rev. Dan Day officiating.  Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Parker Funeral Service.  Burial will be in Columbia Cemetery.
    Mrs. Williams was born July 17, 1895, in Marble Hill, to the Rev. and Mrs. William Davault.  She was a graduate of Southeast Missouri State Teachers College, and she earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri and a master's degree from Washington University.  She taught American history for eight years at Hickman High School and served as a principal for 15 years and director of speech activities for 25 years.  It was during her time as director of speech activities that the verse speaking choir became a major activity at the high school.  She was nationally known for her speech programs, especially in Chicago and in Oklahoma, and toured through the New York state universities demonstrating those programs for two years.  She wrote many magazine articles, mainly concerning verse choir choric training.  She was a member of the First Baptist Church, the FA Chapter of PEO, Phi Beta Kappa, Quota Club and Gamma Phi Beta.
    She is survived by a daughter, Emily Peirce of Baltimore.

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Biography of Helen D. Williams

Helen Davault Williams was the third child of Rev. William A. and Margaret Emma Williford Davault.  She lived in Columbia, Missouri where she taught at Columbia High School and David H. Hickman High School from 1924-1963.  There she was director of speech activities and was vice-principal for 15 years.  In 1917 she was married to Charles H. Williams.  Their daughter, Helen Emily, now Mrs. Brooke Peirce, was head of the English Department of Baltimore University and her husband was head of English at Gaucher College.  Mrs. Williams graduated from Will Mayfield College and Southeast Missouri State Teachers College, then received her A. B. degree from Missouri University and a Master's degree from Washington University at St. Louis.  She was elected to the honor organizations of Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Lambda Theta and Delta Kappa Gamma.  Her social sorority is Gamma Phi Beta an she was active in P. E. O. and Quota Club.  She was a member of the First Baptist Church of Columbia where she wrote and helped present a pageant on the history of the church for its sesqui-centennial.  While at Hickman High School, Mrs. Williams directed the senior plays, the assemblies and, for several years, coached the debate team.  She was most dedicated to the speech choir work because of the influence of beautiful poetry on her students and the joy it brought to audiences.  The following paragraphs from a program folder, used when the choir performed for a Summer Arts Festival in 1960 at the State University in Brockport, New York, tells of that achievement.  It said, "A combination of dancing, dramatics and narration is the basic make-up of the 115-member nationally known Hickman Verse Speaking Choir.  It has performed at the National Convention of Oral Reading Arts in Chicago and appeared before the National Insurance Convention at the Jefferson Hotel in St. Louis.  In New York State they presented programs at three branches of the State University, the Nazareth College at Rochester and Cornell University at Ithaca.  Mrs. Helen D. Williams, a teacher by vocation, is the originator, producer and director of the choir.  One of the highlights of her career was when she was commissioned by the Missouri State Teachers Association to write and present a choric drama for their centennial before 16,000 people."
Class of 1963
Thanks, Charley Blackmore

Stories shared about Helen D. Williams and her Verse Choir

As I was browsing the Web Site I noted a request for any “Verse Choir” stories that we might have.  I also noted a reference to National Convention of Oral Reading Arts held at the University of Chicago.

That Convention was held in June of 1955.  The Choir presented “Johnnie Appleseed” and Mrs. Williams asked a number of us who had graduated, but had been a two year member of the Choir, to be part of the Cast.  We took two Busloads of new Juniors, Seniors and a few of us Alums.  We left very early one morning, arrived at the University of Chicago, performed, and returned to Columbia very early the next morning.

“Johnnie Appleseed” was performed brilliantly as all of Mrs. Williams' productions were.  As we were leaving the stage, Mrs. Williams came up to Matt Flynn and me and told us that some of the teachers were interested in some of the other poems that we performed.  Matt and I had been the soloist on “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and performed it often.  Matt was the most naturally funny person I have ever been around.  We of course said, “Sure.”

We went to an upstairs classroom and when we walked in, the room was full.  Every seat was occupied and teachers were standing along both walls and in the back.  If the Fire Marshall had been there the room would have been evacuated.

Matt and I did “Sam Magee” and the teachers asked if we could do any more.  We started going through most of the Poems that we had done over the previous two years.  We did, “The Congo,”  “Bonnie Cravat”, “Forgiven”, “High Flight”, Vespers” and finished up with “Go Down Death.”

Someone came up to Mrs. Williams and said that we had to leave if we expected to get back to Columbia at a decent time.  I looked at my watch on my way down to the Bus and Matt and I had been doing poems for over an hour in that classroom and they would have kept us longer if they could.

I have always been amazed someone didn’t pick up on the idea and create a Verse Speaking Choir for their school.  There were certainly enough interested people in that room in Chicago.

Robert Martin, Class of 1955
Thursday June 16, 2016