History of Brigham Young High School

Julia Alleman Caine
Long-Time BYH History Teacher
1900 ~ 1976

1949 BYH Wildcat Yearbook Photo of Julia A. Caine
Julia Alleman Caine

The Caine Legacy

My name is Preston Bissell, and I graduated from BY High School in 1956. Among my several careers, I taught high school students for twenty-five years. I taught many subjects during my teaching career, but in every year, I taught either American History and/or Western Civilization.

Like most teachers I developed my own particular style, but over the years I realized that the role model I most wished to emulate was that of my BY High School history teacher, Julia Caine.

Julia Caine ("Aunt Julia" as we called her surreptitiously) was of some indeterminate age, between 45 and 105, when she was one of my teachers in the early 1950s.

It would not have occurred to me or any of my contemporaries to call her an attractive woman. Since my own physiognomy can now be described as something between amorphous and lumpy, I dare say that I share similar physical characteristics with Julia Caine.

She typically wore her hair up in braids, with a blue rinse in it. All of her students during those years remember an instance when she once tried a purple rinse, with unforgettable results.

However, her dominant characteristic was an air of unimpeachable authority that frightened all but the strongest of heart among us. In fact, there were some BYH students who would go to any lengths to avoid taking a class from her, including feigning insanity, or moving to Australia.

I do not recall that she ever raised her voice, but she possessed a withering glare that would stop a charging rhino dead in its tracks.

What could stop a charging rhino?

Nevertheless, of all the teachers I had at BY High, nearly all of them quite good, "Aunt Julia" made the greatest overall impression on me.

Julia Caine had very high standards, and expected nothing but the best from her students. Handing in a paper to Julia Caine after the deadline was something that just simply did not happen. No excuse was acceptable.

She would say, "An excuse may satisfy you, but it doesn't change anything."

She gave us lots of writing assignments. That was something I came to appreciate when I began teaching, when I realized how much time it had taken her to grade all of those papers. I suspect that she spent many long hours reading and analyzing those papers.

She was always prepared for every class. She came to work, and she expected us to do the same. As far as she was concerned, school was our job, and she expected us to live up to our responsibilities.

There was never a wasted moment, and there certainly was no fooling around in her classroom. We were uncertain what the consequences might be for inappropriate behavior, but we imagined that a botched root canal, bamboo shoots shoved under our fingernails, or wrestling an enraged grizzly bear would all have been preferable.

Nobody of whom I am aware ever tempted fate by misbehaving in her presence.

At the same time, Julia Caine was eminently fair and helpful. Her thoughtful criticisms of our work were clearly intended to help us improve, and nobody received a grade that was not completely deserved.

I am almost certain that nobody ever failed one of her classes; they would not have dared.

Rumor had it that there was a small room, deep in the bowels of the Education Building, where students failing in her classes were held until their homework was brought up to date. I was never able to confirm that story, but was not willing to tempt the aforementioned fate.

I am pretty certain that she would go to whatever lengths necessary to see that a recalcitrant student did not fail. I cannot say this from personal experience however, because I was far too intimidated by her to do anything other than my best work.

To this day, I have no idea what her personal ideological opinions were. Like most teenagers, we were a highly opinionated bunch, thinking we knew everything with an absolute moral certitude.

Looking back, some of our opinions must have struck her as totally ludicrous, but she allowed us to have them as long as we were willing to defend them. In fact, she sometimes made us defend them by staging debates.

I particularly remember the concern she expressed to me one day, outside of class, when it was apparent to her that I was overly involved emotionally in my own personal feelings. She neither agreed nor disagreed with me, but she wanted to make certain that the disagreement was not having an adverse effect on me.

When I became a teacher, I decided that if I could be half the teacher that Julia Caine was, I could count myself as a success. I'm not certain that I succeeded, but over the years I often thought of her outstanding example, and found myself saying to my students, "An excuse may satisfy you, but it doesn't change anything" on more than one occasion.

I told my own students many stories about "Aunt Julia" by way of letting them know there were once teachers abroad in the land who had high expectations of their students. They were duly impressed, and probably grateful that they had a wimp like me as their teacher.

I last saw Julia Caine about ten years after graduating from high school. I was with another BY High alumnus when we spotted her across the parking lot, at a church where we had just attended a wedding reception. It was apparent that she had suffered a stroke, because she was receiving help just to walk.

We debated briefly as to whether or not we should approach her. For no good reason we decided not to try to talk to her. I regret that decision now.

She has since passed away, and I never had another opportunity to tell her of the positive impact she had on my life.

~~ H. Preston Bissell, Class of 1956

Julia Caine at BYH in 1946 ...

...and in 1947.

Julia Alleman Caine was born February 27, 1900 in Springville, Utah. As a long-term BYH and BYU teacher in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s she taught Social Studies, Religion and History. In the early 1950s she began to focus on melding History and Economic Education. Through her interest and statewide leadership, young people in Utah schools generally were able to receive a better background in the study of economics. She celebrated her 76th birthday just two days before her death in Provo on February 29, 1976, following a long illness. She was survived by her husband, C. Avery Caine.

Julia Caine honored in the 1965 Wildcat Annual

Addendum 1:

Preston, when I read your words about Julia Caine, it brought back similar trepidations that I had when I was a student in her classroom.

But can you imagine this happening in today's politically correct climate -- as one of her students I took my father's Colt single-action pistol and holster and a belt full of ammunition to school, and made a presentation in her class about western U.S. history.

Another time -- with a hard-fought 'B' coming in her class -- I and my cousin, Dan Hullinger, came across Julia Caine and her husband Avery and another ancient -- so it seemed at the time -- couple driving up on the Mount Nebo loop road just after a heavy spring rain storm.
Photo of car stuck in the mud - Utah

The road was just like grease and their car was about to go over the edge as they desperately tried to navigate this treacherous road. We helped them by pushing from the down-hill side of the vehicle and got them safely going again. I just knew that since I had helped to save their lives and car, I would surely get an 'A.'

Nooooo -- I received only my earned 'B'. I learned and never forgot that you get only what you earn in life, and you are expected to help others along the way without any thought of receiving a reward.
~~Chuck Hackley, Class of 1956

Addendum 2:

I attended Joaquin School for my elementary education, then went to Farrer Junior High. I came to BY High in the Tenth Grade.

An experience with my BY High history teacher, Julia A. Caine, gave me a wake-up call. Never before in my life I received anything less than an "A" on a class assignment, but a paper I submitted to Sister Caine came back marked with a "D".
I was just standing there looking at the paper with dismay, and wondering what I was going to tell my father. Just then Sister Caine came, stood beside me and put her arm around me. "I know you are surprised, but I know you are not a 'D' student. You'll never get a 'D' in my class again, because I won't accept it. You've got to decide what you're going to do from now on to make your time count."

From that time on, I became an "A" student. Sister Caine was totally supportive, and later even encouraged me to run for Student Body President -- and I was elected!

What an experience it was to have such good teachers, and also to be elected by the students as their president. I appreciate everyone that I became acquainted with at BY High, but especially Julia Caine.
~~Sue Collins Speed, Class of 1955

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