BETTY JANE DUGGER FERGUSON
BETTY JANE DUGGER FERGUSON was the oldest living descendant of “Charity’s Children” at age 99.
Betty Jane Dugger was born on December 1, 1919 to Reverend William P. Dugger and Rosalie Higgins. A Dayton native, she was passionate about poetry and language from a young age, winning the Lucia May Wiant award in grammar school for a recitation of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “L’il Gal.”
Betty Jane shared her love of literature with the children in the community and she was known in the Dayton Public Schools as “Mother Goose.” On February 18, 1968, she opened The First American Mother Goose House for preschool and kindergarten children to expose them to poetry and literature. Betty Jane dressed the part as she recited Mother Goose nursery rhymes. To the children in the Dayton Public Schools, she was Mother Goose.
Betty Jane’s service to children and the community was impacted also by her love for the church. Her father was a minister in the First Wesleyan Methodist Church. Her family has been active in the church since its inception. Her Grandmother’s Grandmother, Charity Davis Broady was among its founders in 1841. The church would remain a vital part of their family history and a staple in the community for generations.
Charity was brought to Dayton as an infant in 1802, the daughter of John Davis, a freed slave from Kentucky. Her mother was a Cherokee woman who passed away before the trip and whose identity has yet to be discovered. Charity married John Broady and together they gave the land for the First Wesleyan Methodist Church to be built. The Church and their home located next to it, became integral parts of the Underground Railroad in Dayton.
Betty Jane’s grandmother, Jewelia Higgins continued the tradition of activism that her grandmother had started. She was a suffragist and worked with the Dayton Woman Suffrage Association (DWSA). In an interview a few years ago, Betty Jane recalled her mother telling her about going to the “suffrage booth” on Mondays with Jewelia. She also recalled that “grandmother spoke often of her work with the DWSA.”
Jewelia’s leadership included, among other things, educational activism and founding the Unique Study Club, a women’s club formed for cultural and intellectual enlightenment. Jewelia worked alongside her husband the Reverend Charles D. Higgins, in the community and in First Wesleyan Church. Their daughter, Betty Jane’s Aunt Rita Lee, became an Elder there.
Betty Jane was extremely proud of her heritage. Her contributions to the family history extend far beyond her work as Mother Goose. She was the family historian for many years, keeping record of the impact her kin had on the community.
Her funeral was held at First Wesleyan and as a final gesture, the church bell, which rang for freedom on Emancipation Day in 1862, rang for Betty Jane.