History

Harriet Bishop, First Public School Teacher in 1847

I love history and in my one-room schoolhouse and schoolteacher research for my book, I found an article titled Harriet Bishop, Frontier Teacher by Zylpha S. Morton through the Minnesota Historical Society. Harriet traveled by herself to Minnesota in 1847, leaving her family to go live in a community smaller and more rural than anything she’d ever lived in, all to become a teacher.

Blog Title with the words Harriet Bishop , one of the first public school teachers; 1847; History; Writer's Research by Denise M. Colby

Men were teachers of choice in the East, but as the West expanded the opportunity arose for women.

She was sent by a board, that actively sought ought opportunities to bring women teachers to these rural areas. The thought was women would have a greater impact on their students.

This board, National Popular Education, was organized in Cleveland on April 7, 1847. The aim of the board was to “advance the cause of Popular, Christian Education in our country” by encouraging well-qualified “Female teachers” to take positions in the remote West.

Their first class of twenty-six young women, received prep training in New York State before being sent out to parts unknown. This prep training school was led by Catherine Beecher (sister of Harriet Beecher-Stowe)—the teacher whom I reference in my novel (I’ll share more about her in a future post). Harriet Bishop was from the first graduating class of this organization.

Harriet Bishop was also one of the first to volunteer to go to a small settlement outside of what we now know as St. Paul, Minnesota.

A place that had five stores, a dozen families, and about 36 children.

Room and board was furnished by one family who had four children in return for free tuition. She had to bring her own schoolbooks, as the nearest bookstore was over three hundred miles away.

According to Morton, Harriet’s preparation included “a review of the common school subjects, in addition to lectures on domestic economy, health of children, punctuality, truth and honesty in the schoolroom, diet, how to avoid sectarian jealousy, how to deal with party politics, and how to meet petty gossip”.

The last item in the training course was considered necessary because it was said that as soon as a young woman set foot in the new West, some man would promptly woo her from her profession and make her his wife. It seemed to help because by 1858 (10 years later), the board had sent 481 teachers to the West and only 75 had married.

Another tidbit from this article — it turns out the pupils who attended the schools were the ones who entered into matrimony. They made the claim that school and the lessons they learned in running a household helped them find a mate.

I’ve used some of this history in my story.

My heroine, Olivia Carmichael, goes west to teach through one of these organizations. She just happens to go way further west…all the way to California.

She too has to live with families of students for her room and board, and learn how to live in a more remote area.

But more on that later—this post is about Harriet and to acknowledge what she was known for — the first public school teacher in the area.

Old black and white photo of Harriet Bishop one of the first public school teachers in 1847
This photo can be found in the Wikipedia entry on Harriet Bishop

She had a lot of courage to leave her family behind (with the mindset of never seeing them again). In digging around further, I’ve learned she stayed in the St. Paul area for the rest of her life and was instrumental in starting many charities and fundraisers. She married, divorced, and petitioned to get back her legal maiden name successfully. She also wrote a few books, too.

She made an impact on her community and her students.

Like all the teachers I know today.

Writing

It’s The One-Room Schoolhouse’s Fault

Blog Title It's the One-room Schoolhouse's Fault with pick of prairie flowers and a one-room schoolhouse by Denise M. Colby

I have this thing for historical one-room schoolhouses. I don’t know why. They are cute, inviting and have history that is yearning to be told. Ever since I visited the one-room schoolhouse in old town Sacramento during my oldest son’s 4th grade Sacramento trip, I have wanted to write a story about one. 

  • How specific some of the rules were.
  • How students were separated with boys on one side, girls on the other.
  • How each student had to stand at the side of their desk to speak.
  • How lashings were given for the most interesting infringements.
  • How a female teacher had different rules than a male teacher.
  • How for some of these students, it was the only education they would ever receive.
  • How children of all ages were taught in the same room.
  • How one measly stove in the center of the room provided heat.
  • How lunch was carried in a bucket.
Quote from Blog by Denise M. Colby - Maybe it's the influence of Little House on the Prairie, but i find the history of the one-room schoolhouse a little romantic

Maybe it’s the influence of Little House on the Prairie, but I find the history of the one-room schoolhouse a little romantic. And so, when I went on the same trip with my second son two years later, the same curiousness came back, a few characters formed in my head, and a story screamed at me to write it. 

So I did. 

My story is about a town across the river from Sacramento that has a brand new schoolhouse. This schoolhouse seems to want to match-make for its teachers. Their first teacher got married before she set foot in it. The next one, my heroine Olivia, wants to remain a teacher her whole life. But God, the one-room schoolhouse, and Bert the rooster, all have a different plan for her.

It will be interesting to see how long she lasts, and who else might come to teach at this match-making one-room schoolhouse.

Quote from Blog by Denise M. Colby - Who else might come to teach at my match-making one-room schoolhouse

To find out more about the story I’m writing, go to the Going West Series page of my website. Or click on this link if you’d like to see the photos of One-Room Schoolhouses I’ve posted. I’ve also created a Pinterest board about One-Room Schoolhouses  which has been fun to build.