Did you ever hear of a school giving an honorary degree “for achievement as a wife and mother?” At the age of 74, Otelia Compton was awarded a Doctor of Law degree by Western College, where she earned her BA in 1886. The honor was given “for being the wife and mother of the Comptons.” These very special people were educators and scientists and Otelia Compton was named the American Mother of 1939.
Dr. Elias Compton, Otelia’s husband, was Dean of Wooster College in Wooster, Ohio, until his death at the age of 81, having taught philosophy there for 41 years. Their three sons and daughter held over 31 college and university degrees and took up a sizable block of space in Who’s Who in America.
Earl T. Compton, their eldest son was a distinguished physicist, and best known as president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Arthur, professor at the University of Chicago, won the 1927 Nobel Prize for Physics. Another son, Wilson, became president of the State College of Washington. The Compton’s only daughter, Mary, was a Presbyterian missionary and principal of a girls’ school.
When Elias Compton was asked the secret of bringing up children successfully, he quickly replied, “their Mother.” But Otelia denied having a formula for raising great men and women. However, her son Wilson, said, “She depended on the Bible, soap and castor oil.”
Otelia came from a hard working farm family and was often asked if heredity explained her remarkable children. “There is a kind of heredity that is all-important,” she liked to say, “the heredity of training. A child isn’t likely to learn good habits from his parents unless they learned from their parents. It is handed down from generation to generation.”
All her life Otelia Compton kept alert and interested in what was going on. She will long be remembered for her splendid example and her championing of the home. “The tragedy of American life,” she once wrote, “is that the home is becoming incidental at a time when it is needed as never before. Parents forget that neither school nor the world can reform the finished product of a bad home. They forget that their children are their first responsibility.”