Edith Martin: Of a clique that clicked
Alumna encapsulates chunks of Chico State history
As I sit in my afternoon ethics class in Tehama Hall on the Chico State campus, the floor often rumbles beneath my feet, and the ceiling shakes like the 1989 San Francisco quake. The 30 or so students roll their eyes and glance at one another, as they acknowledge the construction right outside our door.
Some days, the noise and distraction is unbearable. Last year, it was our brand new student center and now the new dorm complex.
I wonder what the students of Chico State’s past thought while they sat in their classrooms listening to the sounds of Ayres, Butte and even Tehama Hall being constructed.
Edith Martin remembers.
In 1938, when the bell chimes in the tall tower of the administration building were purchased, she was in her second year as a math major at Chico State. The then-19-year-old was one woman among 80 men in the department.
“They used to let me go on field trips with them,” she reminisced. One field trip was to Shasta Dam. She had been anticipating this trip, and even opted to skip her important Salvation Army youth group meeting so she could attend.
When a professor walked up to the table where she was sitting, surrounded by young men, and told her she was no longer allowed to attend, she was disappointed, especially because she had no transportation to Oroville for her meeting.
“He’ll drive you,” she remembers a young man saying, pointing to her physics lab partner, with whom she was reluctantly paired. His name was Mac Martin.
Mac drove Edith to her meeting, and on the way back, pulled over at Hooker Oak to kiss her.
“I slapped his face,” she said. “My mother told me never to kiss a man I wasn’t going to marry.”
On their third date, Mac and Edith found themselves again driving by Hooker Oak.
Edith demanded Mac pull the car over immediately.
She took the proverbial reins, leaned in, and kissed him.
Roughly two weeks before their wedding, Mac and Edith shared a dramatic moment in the lobby of a hotel downtown on Main Street. They were a ring toss away from a broken engagement.
Martin was visiting her then fiancé, and asked him to come to her hotel. She told him they should get married, right then and there. He refused, telling her he could never marry someone so bossy. She tearfully threw her engagement ring across the lobby and fled back to Grass Valley, where she had grown up and was currently teaching.
They reconciled, and did elope, despite her apparent bossy nature. They barreled over the snow-capped mountains of Donner Pass to Reno.
Mac Martin and Edith Berriman married on Dec. 20, 1941. Pearl Harbor had been attacked two weeks earlier, and Mac was off to the Navy. After the war, she and her husband moved around the country but ended up back in Chico, where their love story began, and, where it seemed, they were the happiest.
By 1945, the Martins were the proud new owners of a house on West Sixth Street. After four years, the small yard and cranky neighbors were enough to make Martin and her husband flee that neighborhood and, after settling into a few houses around town, they finally found the house where they would spent more than 40 years.
In 1960, the Martins moved into their house on Vallombrosa. Edith Martin fondly recalls that she could look out the kitchen window and into the almond orchard across the way.
“I could just see the scenery outside the window,” she said. “I looked out and saw the tree house the kids had built.”
Those were the days before Sycamore Pool at One Mile officially was established. Martin notes that her kids would swim in the “water hole” that had been created there during those hot summer days the Sacramento Valley knows so well.
Mac Martin worked for Chico State for many years. He was responsible for starting and being the first adviser of the Associated Students, and along with that starting the dining services.
He also was assistant coach for the men’s basketball team in the years that Art Acker was head coach. While Acker Gym commemorates the commitment of Coach Acker, the Wildcats have not forgotten Mac Martin. There is a basketball tournament held every December in that bears his name.
Did she know anyone else famous on the campus I walk every day?
“Oh yeah,” she said. “Ayres, Acker, Ted Meriam—I knew all of them. Mac used to have coffee with Ted. We ran with a cliquish group.”
Hugh Bell, the former professor and dean for whom the Bell Memorial Union was named, personally recruited Edith Martin to Chico State. Bell helped her with her math and physics classes, and she assisted him in the work that gained him a psychology doctorate from Stanford.
“I felt really special getting to help write all this information about it,” Martin said, “It was a treat for me; I was so lucky.”
On my second visit to Sycamore Glen, where Martin resides now, I nearly trip over a huge framed document sitting on the carpet of the front room of her one-bedroom apartment. It is Mac’s diploma from Chico State and looks to be nearly the same format as my diploma will be next year.
My years at Chico State feel far less dramatic than Martin’s. I haven’t thrown a wedding ring across a hotel lobby, or sent a man I love off to the islands of the South Pacific.
But, I have my own Hooker Oak kiss stories, my own favorite professors, and my heart will always beat for the tree-lined Esplanade, with its pastel-colored mansions.
Those things, along with the campus on which I have spent the past few years, have a special place in my heart.
Many years ago, Martin wandered the same campus at the same time in her life. She was thinking about school, homework, boys and extracurricular activities.
So am I.
The trees that grow on the grounds probably shaded each of us as we walked to our classes on those crisp mornings and sunny afternoons—68 years apart.