Revisiting the Flowing Wells “Witch Trial” of 1971by Cherlyn Gardner Strong on Jan. 16, 2010, under General Paranormal, Life
In 1970, Tucson’s Flowing Wells School District was the focus of some not-so-welcome national attention. It was reported that one of the district’s tenured teachers disregarded the established curriculum, in favor teaching a course in witchcraft. The teacher’s job and reputation were literally at stake. The Flowing Wells “Witch Trial” concluded with a guilty verdict, and the teacher faced being burned at the stake. Well, she wasn’t literally burned at the stake, she was just fired. However, this is Tucson. The story can’t be that simple, and like many Tucson tales, it does contain an unusual twist.
The teacher’s name was Ann Stewart. Stewart taught English for 11 years in the Flowing Wells School District. When the allegations of teaching witchcraft arose against Mrs. Stewart, she stated that she only said that her physical characteristics were witch-like. Stewart’s students gave a differing account. One student, in particular, said that Mrs. Stewart did educate students about witchcraft, but she “did not try to influence or convince students of the reality of witchcraft.”
Charges were brought against Stewart. The first charge included the teaching of witchcraft, including making statements about being a witch in such a way that affected students psychologically. The remaining charges included: insubordination; causing mental stress for many teachers; being a poor influence on students; and finally, discussing things outside the curriculum to the detriment of curriculum materials. The Flowing Wells Education Association voted unanimously that Mrs. Stewart not be rehired. The decision was backed by nearly every faculty member with a signed petition.
On November 27, 1970, Stewart was suspended from her job. Four months later, on March 23, 1971, a formal hearing determined that Stewart’s contract would not be renewed for the fall semester. She was fired.
A fortunate magical spell of luck was bestowed upon Mrs. Stewart in the months ahead – conjured up in the form of a good lawyer and a legal technicality in her favor. Arizona law requires that a tenured teacher must be given notice and a formal hearing before March 15th. Stewart received notice prior to that date, but the hearing did not take place until March 23rd.
Superior Court Judge John Collins ordered the reinstatement of Mrs. Stewart.
After that, it appears that Mrs. Stewart disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Due to a lack of after-the-fact documentation, coupled with a lack of witnesses to account for what happened to Mrs. Stewart, her story ends here.
All that’s left of the saga of Mrs. Stewart is burned into archived newspapers and magazines of the time, as well as The American School Board Journal of 1971.
“Those who stood against Mrs. Stewart may be relieved to know that if she does call down a plague, it will probably only be a financial one. Her attorney said that the court decision ‘definitely means that she will have to be paid from the first of the school year.’ “ – The American School Board Journal, Volume 159, 1971.
Flowing Wells students and faculty from 40 years ago are invited to share their memories of this strange event in Tucson’s history via the comments section.