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Gertrude Chrisman

The Not Forgotten Sister of Jennie Eva Hughes

Series: Wonder Women

When delving into the historic record, sometimes you find that things that you thought to be true, are in fact not. In some cases, trusted sources can be wrong, like us. For example, previously we have made the claim that Jennie Eva Hughes was the first Black graduate at the University of Idaho. This is true. We have also made claim that her son, Berthold Smith, was the second Black student to attend the university. This, as it turns out, is not true.

This error is of no fault to previous researchers. As more materials become available digitally and other avenues of research are explored new information can come to light. Over the last few months, our staff has been delving into the historic record in their research for an exhibit about Black History at the University of Idaho. In that research, we discovered another Black student before Berthold, and that was Jennie’s sister Gertrude (Edna) Chrisman, also spelled Chriseman.

1903 Girls Glee Club
1903 Girls Glee Club
1903 Mandolin Club
1903 Mandolin Club

Gertrude was born in 1884 in Pennsylvania. Her family moved out to Idaho in a few years later. In the 1899-1903 University of Idaho Catalogue, we find that Gertrude was a University of Idaho Preparatory School student and a part of the Mandolin Club and the Girls Glee Club. By 1908, she is listed as a part of the Freshman Class at the University of Idaho. We know, that Gertrude did not graduate from the University of Idaho, which is likely a part of the reason she has been missed in the telling of university history until now. We’ve been able to learn a bit more about Gertrude’s life after she left the university and Idaho.

We don’t know exactly what prompted her to leave the University, but we do know that she went on to attend the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. After graduating from the University of Puget Sound she homesteaded for two years. She sold her land to a lumber company and moved to California, putting that money into building an apartment building for which she and her mother were landlord. She then went on to attend the California State Normal School, from which she graduated in 1916. She was a teacher and later a principal of the Booker T. Washington school at El Centro, Imperial Valley for a few years. During her summers she continued her studies at the University of California, where she studied Spanish and other subjects. By 1919, Chrisman was teaching Spanish in a school with eight white teachers. This is where our knowledge of Gertrude’s story ends. We did discover that she died in Los Angeles, California in 1966.

When documenting larger topics, such as the history of Black students as the University of Idaho, it is not uncommon for smaller stories to be overlooked. Gertrude was not the first Black student at the preparatory school or the university, and she did not graduate from the University of Idaho. However, she went on to lead an interesting and impactful life in California. We are just glad we now have an opportunity to talk about her part in the University of Idaho and Moscow history.


University of Idaho Catalogue. North Idaho Star, 1899. p. 112.

Gem of the Mountains. University of Idaho, 1908. p. 49. Web.

Beasley, Delilah Leontium. The Negro Trail Blazers of California. Times Mirror Printing and Binding House, 1919. p. 236. Web.

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