Review: A Desk for Billie

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A Desk for Billie. Film produced by the National Education Association, 1956. Rereleased on DVD, 2007. Dr. Billie Davis, one of the best-known educators in the Assemblies of God, started life in the hopyards of Oregon. She spent her childhood during the Great Depression of the 1930s traversing across America with her parents, who were migrant farm workers. They were “homeless” before the term became fashionable. They lived and traveled in a battered Model A Ford with a makeshift wooden frame constructed on the back to provide shelter. She describes herself as a child as “a small ragged hobo” who would “[sit] on the ground beside a campfire, hungrily licking the fishy oil from the lid of a sardine can” while studying her school lessons. How was Billie Davis able to rise from her impoverished surroundings? She attributes her success to the discovery, as a young girl, of three ways to better herself: 1) Sunday school; 2) libraries; and 3) public school. Billie Davis came to work for the Gospel Publishing House in Springfield, Missouri in 1942, serving as the first editor of the Sunday School Counselor magazine. After the Saturday Evening Post featured her story, “I was a Hobo Kid” (published December 13, 1952), Reader’s Digest picked it up. Then, in 1956, the National Education Association produced a film about her life, “A Desk for Billie.” This film, a tribute to the value of education, was widely distributed across America and viewed by generations of teachers and schoolchildren. “A Desk for Billie” encourages viewers to appreciate Sunday school, libraries, and public schools. Billie Davis went on to earn her Ed.D. from the University of Miami and served as a professor at Evangel University, as an Assemblies of God missionary, and in numerous leadership roles in education, church, and government. UPDATE: As of January 28, 2021, “A Desk for Billie” is accessible online: DVD, color, 57 minutes.  


Filed under Education

46 responses to “Review: A Desk for Billie

  1. Shalon Maral

    I am so thrilled! I have been searching forever for this film. I saw it as a child and it had such an impact on my life. I never ever forgot that movie and I have always wanted to share it with my kids. They are older now, but I still want them to see this as it was the most inspirational film I have ever seen,I cannot wait to see it again! I am the Director of Outreach for Girl Scouts and I know this was my very first sense of empathy and compassion that has lasted a lifetime. I am so excited, you just do not know!!!!

    • Donna

      Sounds liek the same exact words I used when I found the DVD. I saw this when my sister was in Jr. High or High School. I never forgot this movie either. The only difference in wording is: Im not the Director of Outreach for Girl Scouts. :o) I watch this movie over and over again til this day.

  2. Kerstin Sisco

    My mother, Dr. Reese Danley Kilgo, saw this movied early in her Education career, showed it to her countless university classes, and is going to be amazed when I give her a copy for her 80th birthday next month. Thank you so much for making this available on DVD. I look forward to seeing it for the first time.

  3. Sally H.

    My niece interviewed me today to find out what school was like in the “old days” ( I am only 60!!). Anyway, as I was thinking back, I remember that when I was in third grade in Wadsworth, Ohio, the entire school was marched to the auditorium to watch “A Desk for Billie.” That was the start of my desire to help little kids. Eventually, I taught school on the Navajo Reservation and Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico. Later I was a librarian in Los Alamos, New Mexico. I was going through all the files when I started the job and a previous librarian had saved the Saturday Evening Post article about you! I was so happy, because, although I had remembered the words “A Desk for Billie” I really didn’t know who you were or anything else.

    I just want to thank you so much for your character and wisdom and for how your life affected mine.

    I hope you are in the best of health. I see now that you are affiliated with the Assembly of God. My aunt – from Crosby, ND and Seattle – was Assembly of God. She sent me the most interesting books “He Talked with Angles” and others. One of her classmates, if I have this story right, was one of the members of the Buck family – of Buck knives.

    You are part of my life and I thank you.

  4. Ray Fowler

    Wow! I grew up in California’s Central Valley and saw this movie 45 years ago. I never forgot it.

    I began teaching in 2007 and thought about “A Desk for Billie” as I prepared for my first day of school. I thought it would be a great film to show my students, but could not locate it through the NEA website. I’m ecstatic to learn it is now available to show students and other teachers.

    The lessons run deep and touch each viewer in a unique way.

    • Robert Carrasco

      I grew up in Shafter Cal. and saw this film around the late fifties. I graduated in sixty four from Shafter High. Your name sounds very familiar.
      Are you from Shafter?

    • Robert Carrasco

      Did you know Shirley Flower, she was dating a my neighbor Tommy Neal

  5. Teeny Allen

    Many years ago, you spoke to the teachers in the Modesto City School District. It was the most inspirational speeches I heard in the many years of attending beginning of the year meetings. As a teacher of low-income children, I told them about you and encouraged them to make the most of their lives, that being poor or having less than perfect parents was no excuse for their not being able to make the most of their lives. When “A Desk for Billie” was released, it was shown to my classes. Having heard your story as you told it, I could add inspiring vignettes as you told them. What a blessing you have been to many, many teachers and groups of children through the years. Thank you for your honest and candid account of your early years and making the most of your adult life!

  6. James Gillum

    I saw this movie some 20 years ago at a children’s event, and have often used it as an example as I serve my clients in drug treatment. At the time I last saw the video, copies were not available, I am glad to hear they now are.

    As a side note: Ms. Davis’ story was again brought to mind again when I attended an event where a friend of mine was honored by the Mayor’s Human Rights Commission. She, a member of the commission, honored my wife and I by sitting next to us at the event. It is comforting to know that she is still carrying out the work she is called to do.

  7. I too was very excited at being able to order this DVD. I first saw it as a student at SUNY New Paltz in 1960, and have thought about it many times throughout the years. I knew, after seeing it, that I would spend the rest of my life as a teacher. I have done just that. While I retired twice, I am still searching for a way to serve students in education, after moving from NY to TX and now to North Carolina. At 67 years old, I’m not sure what opportunites there will be. However, I am looking forward to viewing this film once again, and sharing it with my daughter who is also an educator.

  8. I worked with Dr. Davis at the Unversity of Miami in the middle 1970s in a program to educate migrant works to ge their GED. She was a role model for me and change my philosophy of education. I would love to be able to contact her. Is that possible?

    • Sylvia Lee

      Dr. Franta, I just now found your comment and hope you find this response. Billie now makes her home with me and I am sure would love to hear from you. Let me know how to contact you.

  9. Andy Garcia

    I need to purchase this DVD. I have never forgotten this movie. I watched when I was in grade school, it made such an impact in my life. I have searched and searched for this movie.

  10. Diane

    I, too, saw the film “A Desk for Billie” in about 1957, when in grade school. I remember it well. We also were shown a movie about teenagers driving, particularly warning about railroad crossings. It haunted me for a long time. Can anyone recall this title? Thank you.

  11. Diane D. Daniels

    Hi my name is Diane and I have been looking for this movie for a long time. My sister and I was just talking about this particular movie, as we seen it in elementary school. Where can I go to purchase this movie. My e-mail address is Thanks, Diane

    • Ginny Merrill

      Please let me know how i can get a DVD of “A Desk for Billie”. I have written a comment above, but subsequently couldn’t figure out how to order the film, My email address is Thanks, Ginny Merrill

  12. Victoria

    After many years of looking for this movie I am beside myself with joy that it is finally available and in DVD format to boot. As a child touched by poverty I fell in love with Billie and her family, and in my heart they were friends just like the people my family worked the fields with. How strange to see just how much this movie has impacted and inspired so many others I’m proud to be among them. I am also pleased to learn of Dr. Davis’s success, she remains as a friend to all she has touched and is appreciated. May God continue to bless her time on earth.

    There is still nothing like a new pair of shoes.

  13. Virginia

    A Desk for Billie” was probably on of the most influential films of my childhood. My father was raised during the depression by a widowed mother and was the first in his family’s history to make it past 8th grade, and finish high school. Thanks to determination, hard work, and the GI bill from WWII he went on to finish college, a teachers degree, his masters, and finally his doctors. As a public school teacher he showed “A Desk for Billie” in his classroom and in our home every year from kindergarten through high school.

    He felt the film showed his life as much as Billie’s. More importantly, the lessons it taught we priceless. He wanted to make sure the lessons of Billie sunk in to all 3 of his children, as well as his many classrooms of students. It did. Thank you for helping me find this incredible film.

  14. Shirla

    I too, saw ‘A desk for Billie’, in school, and was so moved, I’ve never forgotten it. Is there a way to obtain a copy?

  15. Graciela Ybarra

    This is amazing. Like most of the replies, I too was deeply influenced by this film. I was in second grade in the early 1970s when I first viewed this film. My parents were migrant farm workers and we traveled often following the seasonal crops in the central valley of California. The film did not only touch my heart but my soul, inspiring me to continue my education. Despite the many obtacles that my family endured economically, I became a teacher. Education was the key to my heart and I hope in my 25 years of teaching I was able to inspire every child that was in my class in the same way that this film inspired me 40 years ago.

  16. Susan

    I viewed this film in 2nd or 3rd grade about 50+ yrs. ago. I never forgot it. I have been looking all over for it, but had the name wrong A Desk for Becky and so new found it til now. Thank you for much. I did not know there was a real actual person that it was about.

  17. Penny Paul

    I am so excited to find this movie! I have looked for it since I was in the aecond grade! I cannot tell you of the impact this movie has had on me. I cannot wait to show it to my art classes when we talk abount Dorothea Lange’s photo “The Migrant Mother.” There is so much more I could say, but I am crying! Thank you for making this available!

  18. George Caton

    I saw the movie today in Havana ,Illinois and I’m interested in obtaining a copy. I thought it was fabulous.

  19. Jennifer

    How do I purchase the Desk for Billie DVD?

  20. Jesus

    It’s fascinating to see how deeply this film impacts everyone. I too watched this film as a kid in the 1970s and never forgot it. Throughout all these years I’ve looked for this film and more information on Billie Davis. I came across this site about 1 1/2 years ago and bought the DVD then. I have not stopped watching it and sharing it with others since. I would also love to know what became of Billie’s siblings? The film only briefly mentions them and I’d love to know what they went on to do with their lives. I can honestly say I will never forget this film. What a perfect example of the strength of the human spirit.

  21. I tried to call the number and can not get through. I hope to find a copy of this impacting movie from my childhood. Our son, Aidan Thomas is a 10 year old giver with a big heart for the poor. I want him to see it. If any of you see this, please contact me re: a copy. I will send a check to the fund for a copy. Thank you!

  22. Susan

    A Desk for Billie has haunted me since I saw it as a child in Minneapolis in 1956 or 1957. I am overwhelmed to learn how Billie’s life has turned out. I too am an educator, grateful for the opportunities I have had to educate young people. I can’t wait to watch the film again, over 50 years after the first time. Thank you.

  23. TRACY

    How can I see this movie of my childhood again, I loved it and still remember it, I wonder how the life of Billie ended.

  24. Mary Anna (Harrelson) Riley

    I’ve been searching for Billie The Hobo Kid for a long time. When I was a small child Billie and her husband I believe his name was George, pastor our church First Assembly Of God in Little Rock, Arkansas. I had younger brothers and sisters and Billie would come over every Sunday and help my mother get them ready for church. They were good friends with my parents and after we moved to Texas the Davis’ s would always stay at my parents home when they came to Texas. When my younger sister Debbie was in grade school she read Billie The Hobo kid. She told the teacher I know This Lady. In fact They were just at my house. The teacher told her, Oh Debbie, quit making up such a story. I did see Billie after I was married she just happen to be sitting behind me at First Assembly Rock Wood Church in Fort Worth. I turned around and spoke to Billie and ask do you know who I am? She said Yes. I could’nt believe it. I love this Lady, and have always known she was a special anointed person. Is she still living? Mary (Harrelson) Riley

  25. Gail

    I have been looking for this movie “A Desk For Billie” for some time. Billie was my father’s cousin. I memember my father telling me that he went to Denver, CO for the first time with “Uncle John”. I will order the CD and let my children and grandchildren watch it.

  26. Maria Boado

    I watched “A Desk for Billie” at Lamont School in the third grade, and I showed it to my seventh-grade history class in 2003 and they loved the movie! These students are now young adults, and without any doubt, I know this movie inspired them and motivated many to finish high school.

  27. Allen Wrench

    Oh Man, I’ve been looking for this FOR EVER!!!! I’m from Southern California also. I probably saw it in School during the 70s. It’s totally interesting that so many people from So Cal remember this movie from grade school! hahahah

    Hopefully it’s still possible to get a copy of this!

    • Robert Carrasco

      Google the title of the book to ind the organization that sells the book and provides the historical references.
      I will never forget it because it mirrored my own life in so many ways, I can still remember looking around the school room and seeing the little blond kids of the “Okies” who would come and go every school year. They usually did not have shoes and were in need of a bath, but as kids it did not matter, and for a brief moment on the playground we were all children of God. Their escape was fleeting, but i am sure it provided the much needed escape from the alcoholic father or the one room shanties that made up their lives. We had long since stop following the crops but we did not live much better in the early fifties……very fond memories all returned to us by this little precious story book.

    • Allen,
      You may contact Billie Davis for copies of the DVD:

  28. A chance discussion on old 8mm movies led me to google “A Desk For Billie” as it was shown to us several times in elementary school (nearly 60 years ago), and remains as a wonderful memory for me. I will be ordering a copy of the DVD to share with my children, grandchildren and local AG church.

  29. James Fahringer

    I saw this 16 mm film in my 12th grade Problems of Democracy class back in 1965. When the film was shown – every student was totally quiet and focused. Many of us were truly touched by this film. Many shared a tear as we watched the life of young Billie Davis unfold before us. We were also touched by the compassion and feeling of her teachers. Actually seeing this film was one of the ways that God called me to be a teacher of 41 years. During the early part of my teaching career, I used to be to order this 16 mm film through our Educational Film Library and I often showed it to my 4th Grade students. After retiring, how neat it was to discover that the girl in the film was an actual person and that she was a fellow Penntecostal believer and teacher at Evangel. I really need to get a copy of this DVD, but I am having trouble finding out how to order it.

  30. Rebecca Brown

    Are the DVD’s still available?

  31. I am so excited to learn that “A Desk for Billie” is available to purchase on DVD and that it was based on an actual person. This movie was the most influential of my life, in that it inspired me to become a teacher, a profession i enjoyed for 34 years. Please advise how to purchase this film. Thank you!

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