Branch Wesley Rickey (December 20, 1881 – December 9, 1965) was born on a farm at Stockdale, Ohio, the second of three sons – Orla E. (1875-1944), Branch (1881-1965), and Frank W. (1888-1953) – to Jacob Franklin and Emily Rickey.
In 1883, the family moved to Duck Run, where the family had a farm. There, Rickey attended his first elementary classes in a one-room schoolhouse.
The Lucasville Connection
In 1892, the family moved to Lucasville. Part of the reason for the move was that the family believed Branch was especially bright, and the one-room schoolhouse had given him all it could. Lucasville had a better school with more than one overworked teacher and with a more complex curriculum. His father stayed to work his farm through Saturday and come into Lucasville on Sunday for church.
The Rickeys moved into Squire Crain's house on Valley Pike across from Chandler Moulton's store. Here, they rented three rooms on each of two floors with separate entries on the front and rear.
Branch's brother Orla finished high school (looking for a citation that confirms which school) and received his teaching certificate from Scioto County. He moved away to take up a teaching job, leaving Branch to attend school and the fifth grade alone.
Lucasville's school was contained in a two-story wooden building with bustling halls and three large classrooms. It was a dramatic change from Duck Run. And whatever its physical and scholastic limitations, the school was blessed successively with two spirited and successful superintendents, both still students at Ohio Wesleyan University. These men chose teaching, as did many rural young men of the time, as a stepping-stone to professional careers elsewhere.
The first was twenty-three-year-old Frank Appel; his successor was James H. Finney, a vigorous, talented, and athletic farm boy. Rickey recognized Finney later in life with great admiration. Of Finney, Branch said: “He was a pace setter, a man who understood boys, who could win their confidence and merit it. He was a big man.”
At first, his classmates made fun of Branch. He was rather diminutive in stature, and he came from a farm while they came from a village, however small it was. He started stuttering and only in retrospect did he understand that his peers' taunts had forced him either to retreat into fearfulness or else to develop strong defenses.
By force of will and discipline, and aided immeasurably by Finney (Together each afternoon the pupil and patient teacher spent time correcting his defect.), Branch's words soon came pouring out in a torrent that overwhelmed many of his classmates and teachers. By the end of the first school year, the other students were increasingly respectful of the small, good-looking boy.
Rickey even changed his name. Two cousins living in Harrisonville were both named “Wesley,” so Branch dropped it. By the age of twelve, he was “Branch Rickey.”
In 1895, Branch decided he had had sufficient schooling. In an era of early departures from school when relatively few children of the working and farming classes completed elementary school's eight grades, classroom work seemed unimportant to the young Rickey. The world outside, his father's harsh workaday labors, the give and take of daily affairs – all of these seemed more manly and appropriate.
Biographers conclude Rickey must also have fretted about the ceaseless efforts of his parents and their bitter struggle to see him through school as they tried to cope with the sharply plummeting prices in corn and sorghum. He decided to return to the farm “where he belonged.”
In April school closed for a week for the planting season. Branch returned to the farm and worked with his father and brother Frank for four days. Then, his father (with great encouragement) allowed Branch to make up his own mind about returning to school. Branch said this was a “great out” for him, and with apparent regret and a show of contrite hesitation, he consented to go back to school. Branch knew this was what his “wonderful father” had planned all along.
In the summer, the Rickeys played baseball. By the end of the summer, Orla was Lucasville's best pitcher while Branch shared catching duties with someone else.
It is reported by one biographer that Branch finished his course of study offered in Lucasville at the age of seventeen (perhaps 18?). The Lucasville school offered instruction in twelve grades but granted no diploma.
Since the state of the family farm was more precarious than ever, Branch felt an obligation to stay home. He wanted to help his parents with chores because his younger brother, Frank was scarcely ten. And, temperamentally Branch was not cut out to be a farmer, preferring to read and talk and argue. His mother, Emily Brown Rickey liked to say with a twinkle in her eye, “He could sit down on a hoe faster than anyone I ever knew.”
Branch's most immediate problem after finishing school was finding a job. After trying a job selling books as a door-to-door salesman, James Finney came to his rescue. If Branch would agree to take the upcoming summer exam for Scioto Country primary school teachers, Finney would tutor him without charge. And, the pay of $35 a week in a teaching position was a great enticement for the young man because it would greatly contribute to the family household.
So, Branch played no baseball in the spring of 1899. He studied instead. Professor Finney helped him bone up on the requirements to be a teacher. And, when June ended the school year, Rickey was ready for the County Board.
In July, Branch went to the county courthouse and took the exam. Two weeks later he received a two-year teaching certificate to teach “Orthography, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Geography, English Grammar, U.S. History, Physiology, and Hygiene.” In addition, he was instructed to report in two weeks to a one-room school on Turkey Creek in the Friendship, Ohio postal district.
Frank Appel and James Finney had seen Branch Rickey as a diamond in the rough, an especially passionate and intelligent young man who had college potential. They were aware of his limited resources, but they hoped that the Turkey Creek teaching job would ultimately provide enough money to afford him his college tuition.
In addition to having the total support of his mother Emily, Branch Rickey had another reason to aspire to college and beyond. While he was teaching in Turkey Creek, Jane Moulton, his sweetheart had entered Western College for Women at Oxford, Ohio, and would shortly transfer to Ohio Wesleyan. Jame (born Jenne but often called “Jen” or “Jennie” until she adopted “Jane” after her marriage) was from the “better side of the tracks” of Lucasville.
Jane was the fourth of six children of Chandler and Mary Ceciila Smith Moulton. Chan Moulton was one of the pillars of the the Lucasville community. He was the grandson of a Revolutionary Was veteran from Vermont, a prominent merchant who ran the Lucasville General Store, and would b instrumental in bringing the Ohio State Fair to the town in 1904. Blessed with “a serene temperament, Moulton also served for years as a Republican member of the Ohio state legislature.
It was expected that all the Moulton children would go to college and marry respectably. And though the Moultons appreciated Jane was smitten with Branch, they “had grave doubts whether he could support her in the manner expected.” After all, Rickey was a man of limited means who lived across the street from the Moulton store.
Yet, so much in love, Branch and Jane knew better. Branch always said from the day he first saw Jane Moulton, she was “the only pebble on the beach.” Jane was pretty, intelligent, and athletic. She was also a talented painter – as a teenager, she drew portraits of family members that have remained treasured heirlooms. Jane was everything to Branch Rickey.
Jane even encouraged Branch to take both the West Point and Annapolis military service academy exams in the late 1890s. He scored well on both tests but not well enough to receive an appointment. Though disappointed by his failure to enter a prestigious military academy, Branch vowed to make something of himself in education. Naturally, he wanted to win the hand of Jane Moulton.
With determination and purpose, Rickey began teaching and commuting seventeen miles each way to Turkey Creek from Lucasville. The sons of Turkey Creek's loggers, farmers, and moonshiners had spat upon, physically attacked, and run the last two teachers out of town. On Rickey's first day on the job, one of them with corn liquor on his breath spat at Rickey's feet. He ordered the student out of the class to settle the issue physically. As the entire class eagerly watched, Rickey beat him in a bloody fistfight, proving education was “worth fighting about.”
He spent two years there, and before the second year, Branch had an invitation to move to a less physically intimidating school in nearby Pike County at nearly double the salary. However, the Turkey Creek parents wanted to retain him and circulated a petition in his behalf while offering him a slight increase in salary. Rickey felt obliged to stay on “with those poor people who wanted their children taught.” Years later, Jacob Franklin Rickey said that he considered the invitation to return to Turkey Creek for a second year of teaching his now-famous son's greatest achievement.
In March 1901, Turkey Creek's school closed for the year and Branch went to Delaware, Ohio, to begin his college studies at Ohio Wesleyan. Branch Rickey made the journey to college as a probationary student. In the spring of 1902, he was the starting catcher on the college baseball team, and he continued to be much, much more as a man with a transformative impact on both American sports and on American society.
In a tribute to Rickey many years later in 2006, Ohio Wesleyan would reminisce ...
“Over 100 years ago, catcher’s mitt and Latin grammar textbook in hand, a young Branch Rickey walked away from his small farming community in southern Ohio, stepped onto a northbound train, and headed for college at Ohio Wesleyan University.
“The year was 1901, just a few years prior to bloody race riots in Atlanta, the founding of the Niagara Movement (forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP) by W.E.B. DuBois, and, ironically, shortly before the first flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, the first real demonstration of humanity’s ability to soar toward the heavens.
“The time was right—the stage was set—for someone to step forward and grab hold of the heart, mind, and conscience of the American people—someone who would choose compassion for others over personal and professional glory, and show commitment to advancing equality and human rights for all people—and never look back. That person was Wesley Branch Rickey, a 1904 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University.
“Stepping off that train long ago to join the student ranks at OWU, Branch Rickey found a welcoming community of scholars and friends who were there to help—with odd jobs and loans—the almost penniless student from Portsmouth, Ohio (correct to Lucasville). That legacy of caring and giving exists today through our long overdue recognition of Wesley Branch Rickey...
“Stepping off that train long ago to join the student ranks at OWU, Branch Rickey found a welcoming community of scholars and friends who were there to help—with odd jobs and loans—the almost penniless student from Portsmouth, Ohio. That legacy of caring and giving exists today through our long overdue recognition of Wesley Branch Rickey.”
(David Lipman. Mr. Baseball: The Story of Branch Rickey. 1966.)
(Lee Lowenfish. Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman. 2007.)
(Arthur Mann. Branch Rickey: American In Action. 1957)
(Murray Polner. Branch Rickey: A Biography. McFarland and Company. 2007.)
(“Branch Rickey: The Legacy" Ohio Wesleyan Magazine, Volume 84. Winter 2006.)
“He was like a piece of mobile armor, and he would throw himself and his advice in the way of anything likely to hurt me.”