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.
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.
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.