From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 44, No. 4, September 2008
Last summer we acquired an important journal for our archives collection, paid for through generous donations from our members. The first half of the journal is an account book from the store in Eagleville, dating from 1854-1859. It belonged to Eliphaz Bolles Hibbard (1808-1880) who was the shopkeeper, postmaster and stationmaster. The second half of the journal contains an unpublished manuscript written by his daughter, Almira Stanley Hibbard (1843-1907), who later married Martin Parker of Coventry.
Following this purchase we received a wonderful gift from the family of E. Elizabeth Parker Avery of seventy diaries written by Almira Hibbard Parker and her husband, Martin Parker. The diaries span from 1862 to 1907. Lisa Ferriere, Nancy Kline and Ann Galonska have been busy transcribing these diaries. They provide a remarkable re-cord of one family’s life and the times in which they lived.
Below is an interesting excerpt from the unpublished manuscript written by Almira Hibbard. The described event takes place in 1860. Almira has just completed the school year at the head of her class and, although only 16 years old, she is examined for a teaching position in one of Mansfield’s district schools. (Note: In this manuscript she changes her family name to Howe and disguises the name of the school district.)
The last week in April. Mr. Dedham comes into our house… Presently he remarks “Almira is quite a scholar” and Mother tells him that I am trying to educate myself for a teacher. Then he puts out words to me to spell and I grow confused but spell more than twenty and he then says “She knows more now than many teachers” and Mother questions his word at which he answers “I never say what I do not mean.” Then he proposes that I come to his house Thursday and go with him to the town house [the Old Town Hall, now part of our museum complex] there to be examined with those who have schools engaged for Mr. Dedham is a veteran teacher and a member of the Board of Education. Then he adds as he rises to go, “Be sure and be at my house by eight o’clock for the Board is to meet at nine and I am going through the City [Mansfield City] to carry my wife to Mr. Storrs where she is to spend the day.”
So Thursday morning I walk to Mr. Dedhams. My way leads through a lonely wood and for more than half a mile there is no house. But I am not afraid. I start by seven, and walk leisurely along. I look at the swelling buds on the trees and stop to pull the long spires of green grass in sheltered places. I look across the river and note the change in color. A week ago the trees were brown but now it seems as if a cloud were resting over them. I listen as I loiter along to the song of birds and all the while my one great thought is, “Is Mr. Dedham right?”
I come in sight of the house… I am fearful I have kept them waiting so I hurry along… I knock at the door and Mrs. Dedham bids me open the door and come in adding that they do not stand on ceremony. As I enter Mrs. Dedham is buttoning a “stand up dickey” round Mr. Dedham’s neck as she stands before him, then she puts a false bosom on him and ties it round his waist. As he proceeds to put on his vest he remarks as he smiles, “People think I am a neat man but it isn’t me, it’s my wife” at which I laugh, then I venture to say “I was afraid I had kept you waiting till I came in” at which Mr. Dedham replies “Not at all, if you had not been here by eight o’clock I should have gone without you, that’s all, for a person who is not punctual is not fit to be a teacher”…
We get into the wagon. As we ride along Mr. Dedham asks me if I know my lesson. I answer, then we ride along in silence till we reach the City, a collection of four houses, as many barns, a slaughter house and a school house which has for years been unused.
Mrs. Dedham leaves us here and as we ride along I ask Mr. Dedham why the place is called the City. He seems lost in thought and I think he has not heard me. Two miles are passed and we are in sight of the town house when he suddenly starts as if from a dream and looking me in the face answers “Because it is so unlike one.”
We are the first ones there, though as I sit in the wagon while Mr. Dedham goes for the key, others come. He returns with the man who has charge of the [town] house and informs those waiting that the key is lost.
Search is made and after about an hour Mr. Seagraves invites us to his house, for the key can not be found. There are five of the Board present, three teachers and myself. When we are all seated Mr. Dedham explains in an unexpected way “I have brought Almira along so that if any of these teachers fail she may take their place so that another regular meeting of the Board will not be necessary.” I blush violently for to me it appears that this long speech were entirely uncalled for.
Deacon Barrows offers prayer and then the work of the day commences. First we read from a book provided by Mrs. Seagraves. The teachers and I read the same verse. Then the question is asked to the first one by Mr. Dedham, “How do you pronounce the word s_a_y_s?+” This teacher answers sez then to the next the same question is asked, she answers sais in the broadest possible manner. I notice a smile on the face of the Officials as the question is propounded to the lady just at my side, she replies that she does not know then I am questioned and reply as did the first. Then we write our names and words are given us to write. We each have a long list and as we are writing I notice that the red haired woman who is number second does not write more than half the words.
Miss Capen sits at the head and seems to write with perfect ease. By my side is Miss Cross whose father is one of the Examining Committee. The words are all written, the lists are given in and as the Committee examine the spelling I study them.
There is Deacon Barrows, a nervous looking man, who has taught in one school house the winters of twenty-five years, by his side sits Dr. Richards, a dark complexioned fleshy man, whose black eyes are sunk in his head and whose cheeks stand out with fatness. At his right is Mr. Cross he looks like a farmer. Next Dr. Salway while Mr. Dedham sits at the extreme right. I feel as if Dr. Richards and Mr. Cross were not going to be very critical for with a hasty glance at each sheet it is passed along and I think that Dr. Richards is too lazy and Mr. Cross no knowledge but the other three I fear for they seem to study each letter. Then Dr. Salway speaks, “Miss Sweet, you have not written half the words” and she answers “they were put out too fast.” “Yes,” he persists, “perhaps that may be, but the others spelled them all, and I notice that only the easy ones are here,” at which Dr. Richards leans forward and says “Don’t be to hard on her,” but the other Doctor says, “Supposing you spell orally and puts out the word “typify” which Miss Sweet spells promptly “tippify” then the word “raisin” is given and spelled “raison” and now Mr. Cross interferes with “I think this shows us she can spell” and as I look at him I wonder if he is ridiculing Miss Sweet but his face tells no tales.
When Arithmetic comes before us Deacon Barrows takes a book from his pocket and asks every question between its covers in their regular order. At noon the gentlemen are invited to dinner while we go to walk beneath the maples. Miss Cross and Miss Sweet go together and Miss Capen and I. We fall back of the rest and she tells me she has taught many years, that her interest increases every year and that she really loves her work. She encourages me by telling me that I am very young, too young to teach, she says though I have greater knowledge of book than many teachers but you must school yourself and each day advance toward the perfect teacher.
Then I ask her if she thinks Miss Sweet will pass and she answers, “Her age is in her favor for she must be over twenty.” We are called back to the room where we are questioned closely in Grammer and History. Miss Sweet fails to conjugate the verb “to be” through the infinitive mode and on questioning find that she has no knowledge whatever of conjugation, then Dr. Richards says “The school that Miss Sweet is engaged to teach has no large scholars, and grammer is of little use anyway” at which I look surprised. In History I do not miss a question and about four o’clock we are invited to withdraw while the Committee confer together. Again we are called back and the Deacon gives each teacher a certificate. To Miss Sweet he says “You greatly need to study to keep in advance of your scholars,” then to the rest of us he speaks, “You have all done first rate and if at any time Miss Howe [Hibbard] obtains a school we shall be happy to give her a certificate, her age only is against her.” I feel as if injustice had been done for my qualifications are pronounced better than those of one who has been approbated, but it is a lesson of real life. Miss Sweet has a position as educator, notwithstanding the Committee have found her deficient in knowledge in even the simplest branches. At each correction she would bite her under lip roll up her eyes in a manner, which, elsewhere would have made me laugh but today I must at least control my risibilities for the others are as “grave as owls” and I too must earn a reputation for dignity.
Mr. Dedham and I go very quickly back to the City where Mr. Storrs meets us with an invitation to tea, as we stop at his gate. I think of my lonely way home and would refuse but I am a passenger and Mr. Dedham speaks “Better get out” so I clamber out without any assistance, then one of Mr. Storrs’ boys takes care of the horse and Mr. Dedham and I go into the house. We are met at the door by Mrs. Dedham and the lady of the house. “Mrs. Storrs this is Almira Howe [Hibbard]” are the words of introduction from Mrs. Dedham, and then she inquires “Captain, did Almira pass?” We expect to see him hesitate but he responds quickly “Pass of course she did, who said she was not going to?” and we all sit for a time in an old fashioned parlor where everything is in frigid order from the chairs covered with hair cloth whose springs are so stiff that it is almost impossible for me to keep from slipping to the floor, to the table where the books are arranged as if by square and compass and the shells on the mantle piece which are in straight rows…
Supper is announced and we go out. Mr. Dedham asks a blessing. His petition is in short sentences and long praises which lengthen out the time so that there may be no show of irreverence. The table is loaded with excellent food for which I have no relish but all the rest eat as if to compliment Mrs. Storrs, whose fame as a housekeeper is throughout the town. The rest converse. Even Mr. Dedham tells jokes of his scholars and he laughs heartily at those of others.
But everything must have an end and so supper is finished. Then Mr. Dedham orders his horse and says “Wife, hurry and be ready by the time it comes round for I must do my barn chores before dark.”
We are waiting as the horse is brought round and as we ride along home Mrs. Dedham inquires, “Pretty smart lot of teachers today?” and he answers with a slow smile “If Almira here, had been a little older she might have had the Merryville [Gurleyville?] school but as Miss Sweet lives in the district and is so much older, we let her pass, for if Almira should have received the position Miss Sweet might make it unpleasant for her.”
It is almost dusk when we reach Mr. Dedhams so I refuse a kind invitation to go in and hurry along home. I have lost my dignity now which I have worn all day as an illfitting garment and I run down the hills and as I go I laugh and I scold. The road is so lonely I know that nobody hears me and it is so great a relief to let off some of the high pressure for I am truly disappointed though there was really nothing to expect.
When I reach home I tell the story in my own way and Father, Mother and Anna all laugh, then Father says “You must not lay it to heart; the time will come when you will see it was for the best; you have taken a step upward though you do not know it; all those men know of you now and you stand a better chance than you did before you went.”