Irish Immigration to Avon – A Forerunner To An Incidence of Cultural Prejudice at the Pine Grove School House In West Avon, 1876 (Part 2)

Author: Janet M. Conner,  Avon Historical Society     (Part 1 was previously published on March 1.)

History of the Pine Grove School House, Harris Road and West Avon Road, Avon, Connecticut

The little, white painted school house, built in 1865, sits on its original foundation on the corner of Harris Road and West Avon Road in Avon, Connecticut.  The word ‘quaint’ is all-encompassing when looking at this well-preserved historic relic.  Other adjectives come to mind like ‘picturesque’, ‘charming’ and ‘bucolic’ to describe this gingerbread trimmed, one-room school that functioned until 1949.

Fig. 6: Pine Grove School House, map

It is located in the former District #7, one of the divisions Avon was divided into to locate schools depending on population to educate children.  Alice Holmes Thompson wrote that in the May 1865 session of the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut, a resolution was passed as follows: “Upon the petition of O. L. Woodford and others, inhabitants of the towns of Avon and Farmington, in the county of Hartford, praying for the incorporation of a School District from portions of the third and fourth districts of Avon, and of the Unionville school district of Farmington, be it resolved that such a district shall be created.” Since Avon began as a farming community, with three working farms even today, the students were the sons and daughters of local farm families.

The exterior of the building exhibits some Victorian features with its high peaked roof line and hand-cut wood detailing.  There is a single-entry door in the front but, once inside the entryway, there is one door to the right for the boys and one to the left for the girls.  The pupils were also seated on separate sides in the classroom.  There is an original iron sink with a hand pump where children washed their hands.  Potable water was drawn from the neighboring farm’s spring in a bucket and children drank water ladled into a tin cup, according to Thompson.

The interior of the school, though simple, was the newest and most modern of the buildings in the seven school districts with two outhouses.  The original high ceiling is curved and covered with tin painted white.  As the heat from the stove rose, it was reflected back to warm the students.  The wood burning bench stove in the center is an excellent match to the original and is vented to the outside via a large stove pipe.  There are four chalkboards.  One is an original ‘blackboard’ made of boards painted with Japan black.  The others are made of slate and known as slate boards.  There are neat rows of desks that represent changing styles of numerous decades of different sizes.  Some have adjustable legs to accommodate growing children.  At one time the school used double desks and one is on display.  The teacher’s desk is a reproduction of one found in a photograph taken in the school in 1912.  It was built in Riverton, CT by the Hitchcock Chair Factory. Many of the artifacts within the schoolhouse such as books, teacher’s hand bell, and globe vary in time periods.  “The school was constructed and equipped at a cost of $1,538,” according to Frances L. Mackie.

The Pine Grove School House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and is a part of a designated Historic District.  This includes the school house and five neighboring farms that are still extant.  These farms and farmhouses include Sunrise Farm, the former Marcus Thompson farm, the former Ephraim Woodford farmstead, David Rood farm and Isaac Woodford farm.

The Pine Grove School House has withstood the march of time with restoration and preservation undertaken by the Avon Historical Society.  Many former students of the school have very fond memories of attending there and some of the old-timers came for the 150th year birthday celebration of the school house in 2015.  We, at the Society, consider the school house a treasured gem.  The instance of cultural prejudice against the Irish immigrants was a regrettable episode in this school’s complex and remarkable history.  Many one-room school houses have fallen into disrepair and have disappeared from our historic towns. They exist only in the collective memories of their eldest citizens.  We, at the Society, invite you to step back in time to immerse yourself in the bygone days of early education in Avon.  The Pine Grove School House is open for tours from June through early September on Sundays from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. with a Society docent to answer questions.

Sources:

Mackie, Frances L. Avon, Connecticut: An Historical Story. Canaan, NH: Phoenix Publishing, 1988.

Thompson, Alice Holmes. “Pine Grove School, Seventh District, Avon, Conn.,” The Lure of the Litchfield Hills, December 1953.

Recommended for Further Reading:

Howard, Nora O. Avon (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing Co. 2000.

Wright, Peter. Avon (Then and Now). Intro. Nora O.Howard. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

 

Republican Motherhood and Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy

Author: Emily McAdam

Before the American Revolution, New Englanders considered learning to be masculine and education for girls unnecessary. However, women’s contributions to the political revolution as protesters, spies, nurses, camp followers, and household and business managers led to a social revolution that not many anticipated. Americans believed that a republic depended on a virtuous and informed citizenry, which gave mothers new importance in the home and justified the existence of educational institutions for girls. Litchfield, Connecticut embodied this revolution for women in the decades following the American Revolution.

Although women were not voters and had no place in the public sphere, they were tasked with developing the nation politically and intellectually from their homes or in comparable domestic institutions, particularly schools. In order to achieve such lofty outcomes, they demonstrated a new kind of social independence. Daughters who witnessed their mothers handling wartime hardships on their own grew up to choose their own spouses, participate in more egalitarian marriages, or never marry. Sarah Pierce of Litchfield built a career for herself instead of marrying, founding the Litchfield Female Academy in 1792 (See Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Sarah Pierce

Tapping Reeve, founder of the first law school in the United States in Litchfield, indicated that men encouraged a kind of independence for women; he wrote a letter to Maria Tallmadge supporting her decision to break off an engagement with one of his law students. Daughters of the Revolution also grew up to believe that their sphere, though different and separate, was equally important to men’s. Two paintings of Litchfield residents Mary Floyd Tallmadge and Benjamin Tallmadge commissioned simultaneously reflect this perfectly. Benjamin is depicted with an older son in one painting with papers and books, suggesting a public career (See Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Benjamin Tallmadge and son

Mary is shown in another with her younger children, bathed in light, with a church steeple seen through the window, indicating her moral significance to their development (See Figure 3).

Fig. 3: Mary Floyd Tallmadge and her other children

Their children were educated at the Litchfield Law School and Litchfield Female Academy. Motherhood took on a political function after the American Revolution. “Republican Mothers” like Mary Floyd Tallmadge were responsible for raising their sons to be full citizens, future voters, and statesmen and for raising their daughters to be self-reliant, virtuous, domestic professionals who would best serve the nation by raising the next competent generation. In order to be the Republican Mothers that the nation needed, an old-fashioned education for women in basic literacy, work habits, needlework, and dancing would not suffice.

Sarah Pierce was one of the new nation’s pioneers in female education. Prior to the American Revolution, the best education that girls might have received typically involved no more than rudimentary literacy and ornamental crafts. After the Revolution, Pierce and others opened schools – actual institutions – that offered much more in order to develop ideal Republican Mothers. The emphasis on domesticity and behavior kept the institutions from being too radical; Pierce advertised the prospects of suitable marriages to law school students, and she did not eliminate the more traditional subjects that upper class women were still expected to master. Many examples of her students’ artwork survive (See Figure 4).

Fig. 4: Student artwork

However, an expanded curriculum reflected Pierce’s goals of self-improvement and intellectual development for the good of the nation. Benjamin Tallmadge promoted the Litchfield Female Academy in a letter in 1823 to an acquaintance who was considering enrolling his daughter. He shared that tuition was $5 per quarter for “art Geography, Grammar, ancient & modern history, Composition, Philosophy, Chemistry, Logic, reading, writing, spelling and needle work.” Pierce was so much on the cutting edge in offering these subjects of study to girls that she could not find a suitable history textbook; therefore, she wrote one herself. The influential author Harriet Beecher Stowe, a native of Litchfield and former student of Pierce, commended her on this textbook years later and asked to purchase a copy to use to instruct her own children (See Figure 5).

Fig. 5: Letter, Harriet Beecher Stowe

Although societal expectations still kept women and girls from the public sphere, expanded educational opportunities like those offered by Sarah Pierce prepared them to make valued contributions to their families and the nation.

As many as two thousand girls from across the nation and abroad attended the Litchfield Female Academy in its forty years. Some went on to raise their children quietly as good Republican Mothers; some married Litchfield Law School students and supported their husbands’ public careers; and some became educators, authors, and leaders of reform movements, pushing the boundaries of the domestic sphere. Litchfield was one of the catalysts of these large and small revolutions.

Recommended for Further Reading:

Kerber, Linda K. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Vanderpoel, Emily Noyes. Chronicles of a Pioneer School from 1792 to 1833, Being the History of Miss Sarah Pierce and Her Litchfield School. Cambridge, MA: The University Press, 1903.

Miss Sarah Porter: The Beginnings of Women’s Advanced Education in Farmington

Author: Marisa Ferretti

One day in 1843, as Mr. Noah Porter and his daughter pulled away in their carriage from their Farmington home, an idea he had for quite some time found its way into his daughter Sarah’s consideration. Taking on the responsibility of running her own school did not seem too outrageous, given her teaching experience. Their conversation on a casual afternoon was the beginning was what would become Miss Sarah Porter’s legacy.

Miss Sarah Porter was born and raised in Farmington, Connecticut. As the daughter of an affluent reverend, wealth brought her more opportunities than most other women of her time. Though she was primarily self-educated in pedagogy, she studied under Dr. E. A. Andrews of Yale College. Her prior teaching experience came from teaching positions in Springfield, Philadelphia and Buffalo. Despite these excellent opportunities, she always longed to be home in Farmington, with her family and all the things that brought her happiness. Soon enough, Sarah migrated home where she was to be presented with an opportunity that would define her future.

After her father introduced his idea to her, plans for the project were made up and set into action. The school got its start when Miss Porter and her family recruited children from Farmington as well as a few from outside the county to attend her daily classes. Those who lived too far to travel daily resided in Miss Porter’s house under her supervision. Sarah Porter taught her students in a rented upstairs room of the historic “stone store,” at 96 Main Street. She worked there alongside two other historic figures from Farmington: John Hooker, a lawyer, and Joseph Hawley who, so influenced by Hooker, began studying law, passed the bar and went on to serve as a Civil War General, as well as both Governor and Senator of the state of Connecticut.

In 1847, Miss Porter relocated to the schoolhouse that was built by the Farmington Female Seminary Association. Soon enough, the word of Miss Porter’s educational sessions spread throughout the county, and interest in the school grew. She purchased what used to be a hotel for those that were traveling up and down the Farmington River, and transformed it into the main house for her girls. The former hotel still stands today and has continued to be used by Miss Porter’s School. It sits at 60 Main Street, right down the road from the previously used, “stone store.”

Miss Porter's School

Miss Porter’s School

By 1854, the school was all the rage of the region. Families fought to get their girls into Miss Porter’s, as the openings were limited. This was partly due to the amount of housing they had for the girls. At this point girls were residing in the main building with Miss Porter. Though the number of applicants per year was growing rapidly, a second dormitory wouldn’t be acquired until some 40 years later. Her family’s influence throughout New England was what got the ball rolling however, the success of Miss Porter’s pupils were the true reason why her school took off. The curriculum she implemented was intensive, compelling the girls to go above and beyond.

Theodate Pope, Alice Hamilton, and a student believed to be Agnes Hamilton, 1888. Courtesy of Miss Porter’s School.

Theodate Pope, Alice Hamilton, and a student believed to be Agnes Hamilton, 1888. Courtesy of Miss Porter’s School.

The girls at Miss Porter’s School were given a special schedule per day. Each student was given an individual itinerary for classes however the school as a whole allotted time during the day to go on walks and eat lunch. Miss Porter was adamant that her students had a life outside of the classroom. She believed that activities such as athletics and theatre were was in which the girls could gain self-esteem and become more confident. Despite her efforts to get the girls out of the classroom, Miss Porter was still very strict when it came to their studies. Every day, the students were given time for study hall, in order to complete the work that they had received in class. Miss Porter monitored the girls closely at this time as she strived for them to perform to the best of their ability. Every night Miss Porter would lead the girls in prayer as well, as it was an important way to end their day.

As the number of girls at the school increased, so did the importance of learning womanly duties. Porter viewed her school as a stepping-stone toward the girl’s ultimate goal of becoming a wife, taking responsibility of a household including a husband and children. She taught the girls to be wives and mothers as that was their ultimate job in adulthood. Miss Porter’s school was a transition for these girls from their childhood home to running a home of their own.

Miss Porter’s work in Farmington is, to this day, unparalleled. She ran the school up until her death in 1900, when it was put under the supervision of her close family. Upon her passing, the students enrolled in Miss Porter’s School at the time worked to establish a memorial in her honor. The First Church of Christ gratefully allowed the construction of a building in the name of Miss Sarah Porter on their property, a way for the girls to show admiration for their beloved headmistress. The building now sits at 75 Main Street in Farmington, where it can be seen by all the traffic passing through town. Miss Sarah Porter’s legacy will live on in Farmington indefinitely.

Recommended for Further Reading:

Connecticut Historical Commission, Historic Resources Inventory Building and Structures: Site 202, Parsonage, Farmington, CT, 1875. Farmington, CT: State Doc. 1973. http://farmingtonlibraries.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/96-Main-Street.pdf

Howe, J. Olin. “Sarah Porter of Farmington.” Boston Evening Transcript, October 15, 1913. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2249&dat=19131015&id=-RonAAAAIBAJ&sjid=cgMGAAAAIBAJ&pg=5923,3065498&hl=en.

“Sarah Porter Memorial.” First Church 1652: First Church of Christ, Congregational. http://www.firstchurch1652.org/Porter-Memorial-Hall.

Sloane, William M. “Sarah Porter: Her Unique Educational Work.” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906) LX, no. 3 (07, 1900): 344. http://0-search.proquest.com.www.consuls.org/docview/125508798?accountid=9970.

Stevenson, Louise L. “Sarah Porter Educates Useful Ladies, 1847-1900.” Winterthur Portfolio 18, no. 1 (Spring 1983): 39-59. America: History & Life, EBSCOhost (accessed October 28, 2015). http://0-search.ebscohost.com.www.consuls.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ahl&AN=37011224&site=ehost-live&scope=site