Thursday, November 6, 2008

A day off hurts, 6958--- well short of goal

Brie, who’s self appointed task of late has been to mind everyone else’s business, announces that Jennie’s turn was up.

Jennie makes an unpleasant face. “I have a…” She frowns more. “I have a part of a person,” she concludes dubiously.

“Person, place, or thing,” cuts in Brie. “If you say a part of a person, you’ve already given it away.”

“That’s fine by me,” counters Jennie a little frostily.

“Is it a head?” pipes in Maggie.

Brie looks at Amelia pleadingly. Amelia responds by making a soothing movement with her hand.
“It’s not a head,” says Jennie.

After a moment of thought, Clara asks, “Is it on someone’s head?”

“No,” says Jennie.

A new voice pipes up, “Is it a hand or a foot?”


Wide-eyed, Maggie asks, “Can we guess two things at once?”

You can’t,” stresses Brie.

“It has to be a heart, then,” claims Ida.

Jennie nods and stands up, but looks to Amelia for permission before she begins to recite her words in quick succession with neither tone nor pause between words, “ ‘Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.’ Psalm 27 verse 14.” She bobs slightly as she starts to retake her seat, but then catches herself and waits for her teacher’s response.

Amelia believes Jennie participates only because there is little other alternative on a Sunday. But, she is participating, and she had selected and memorized a verse. Her oration still left much to be desired. Amelia is certain Jennie has gleaned no meaning or significance from the exercise. On top of this concern, all the girls are well familiar with Amelia’s standards when it came to oral recitation. Jennie has clearly disregared those standards and Amelia is bound to gently correct her.

“Gertie?” Amelia requests, “Could you verify the verse?”

Gertie holds the large Bible on its spine, parting the pages in half and then letting each half of the book fall gently open. Since Psalms was in the center of the Bible, this method almost always opened the Bible to the Book of Psalms. Amelia had taught all the girls this trick, since the younger girls were instructed to look in Psalms for a memory verse for Sunday afternoons. For the next few minutes, there is the quiet turning of pages while Gertie finds Psalm 27. “Perhaps you should recite the verse for Gertie again, Jennie. This time, speak a little more slowly. Gertie, when you see a stop on the page, hold up a hand and Jennie will pause. The pauses help the listener absorb the words, and learning and practicing them ensures that the speaker has reflected on the meaning of what she is to recite. Mind Gertie’s signal as you speak, Jennie. I expect the verse to be delivered with the appropriate pauses.”

“Yes, Miss Hall,” replies Jennie. To her credit, she takes the correction without letting sourness taint her voice or manners. This in itself is great progress for the young girl who had been full of nothing but sullen bitterness all of last year. Jennie recites again, speaking the words slowly, and pausing when Gertie raises her hand. Of course, the two girls were not completely in synch, yet the effort was made and Amelia was satisfied.

“Well done, Jennie,” Amelia offers sincerely. “It is a mark of maturity to attempt a task a second time with the earnest will to improve upon one’s first efforts. You may copy your verse in the record book, being careful of the spelling and the markings.”

“I think it’s my turn,” says Clara. A few soft sighs fill the room. Clara is well noted for choosing words from verses that met all requirements, and yet prove very difficult to guess. Brie looks as if she is contemplating sitting on Maggie during the next round of questions. “Mine is a thought.”
Someone mutters about being at this until Monday. “Tuesday,” comes the soft correction from another corner of the room.

“A thought?” clarifies Amelia. “Do you mean a concept or an idea?”

“Yes, Miss Hall. I thought classifying that as a thing would be misleading.”

Hoping to encourage some of the long faces around the room, Amelia says, “The Bible is full of many noble ideas. I’m sure the ladies can think of a few of those morals with a little reflection.”

A few of the girls do pause to think; a few look like they have already given up. Many eyes dart from peer to peer, to see if anyone else was coming up with an idea.

“Like honesty?” asks Olivia, who always waited before speaking, only volunteering when it seemed no one else was likely to.

“Honesty is a moral,” confirms Amelia, glad that someone might have started the ball rolling, and hoping that her interventions hadn’t led the girls astray. She checks the verses of girls who are younger, or who are new to Lancaster, but Clara certainly didn’t need supervision. “Is it honesty, Clara?”

“No, Miss Hall,” answers Clara dutifully.

“Have we interpreted your category correctly?” asks Amelia next.

“Yes, Miss Hall.”

Nodding, Amelia holds up two fingers for the two questions she had asked.

“Faith?” asks Maggie. “Faith is in the Bible a lot, right? What?” she demands of Brie. “Miss Hall guessed!”

“Shhh!” comes from several lips at once as Maggie’s excitement translates into volume once again.

“It isn’t faith,” answers Clara.

Another long pause follows.

“Honor,” says another girl. “ ‘Honor thy father and thy mother.’ “

“It isn’t honor.”

“Covet,” is the next guess, as the second girl mentally skips ahead a few commandments.


Seeing a glimmer of hope, Brie asks, “Is it found in the Ten Commandments?”

Clara takes a moment to think, doing her best to remember the Ten Commandments. “ I don’t think so….”

Brie’s eyes narrow with the challenge. “Is it something that the Lord…Is it something that the Lord tells us to do?”

Clara thinks again. “No, I’m pretty sure it isn’t.”

“Is it,” asks Ida, “something that Jesus says?” To Brie, she asks, “Is that the same sort of question?”

“It isn’t something Jesus says,” responds Clara as Brie shrugs.

Mollie glances to Amelia to see how many fingers she is holding up. “Only seven?” she says in disbelief. “I think Maggie should just start guessing. We’re never going to get this one anyway.” Murmurs of agreement met this suggestion.

“Patience,” guesses Maggie. “I know patience has to be in the Bible. I’m pretty sure I had to memorize a verse with patience in it, but I don’t remember it now.”

“Not patience,” says Clara while the room fills with muffled giggles.

“Tame the tongue,” spouts Maggie. “I think I had to memorize that one too.”

“Remember, memory,” another guess is called out.

“No,” answers Clara to both questions and looks for herself to see the question tally. Nearly all other eyes follow Clara’s glance. Amelia holds up both hands with all her fingers splayed open.

”Follow?” comes a random guess.

“That isn’t a moral,” objects another.

“At this point, who cares,” defends a third. “It counts as a question.”

Amelia smiles. The girls complained about Clara’s choices, but yet it was Clara’s impossible picks that always livened up the conversation and pulled in the most participants.

“Not following,” states Clara.

“Love,” chimes in another guesser. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.”

“No,” says Clara.

“Clara would never have picked a verse so easy even you know it,” teases another.

Amelia calls the room back to order with a single word. “Ladies,” she calmly reminds them.

After another frustrated pause, Brie asks the room, “It’s a moral. What moral’s are we always hearing Mrs. Becker lecture us on?” She quickly instructs Clara, “these don’t count as guesses yet, we’re just thinking out loud.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

more research

I'll write when I get home. First, research.

wiki on McGuffey

1836 edition with samples


samples of the 1870 edition

very brief overview of 19th century education, links at bottom of page broken. boo hoo.

wiki on Charlotte Mason, who looks like she published after the decade of my story. boo hoo.


victorian names

Monday, November 3, 2008

COSI is closed on Mondays. Boo hoo. 5623

“It’s my turn, Miss Hall,” says a thin young woman of fifteen.

Amelia waits, glancing around the room for sign of dissent. She notes that several of the girls nod their heads in agreement. Giving the girls the authority and responsibility to keep track of who should get turns each week, and in what order gave them some ownership of the activity. So much of their lives was regimented and decided for them, too much, in Amelia’s opinion. How were they going to learn to make good choices, to work things out, if they were never given a chance to do so? “Very well then, Ida,” she says satisfied, “you may begin.”

“I am thinking of a person,” Ida tells the room, and the questions begin.

“Is he in the Old Testement?” asks a girl sitting across from Ida. Amelia ticks off one question on her fingers.

“Yes,” replies Ida.

“Is it David?” Maggie asks eagerly. This question is met with murmurs and complaints from some of the more experienced players. Amelia says nothing, but ticks off a second finger. “Well,” defends the questioner. “It could have been David, and then we would have gotten it on the second question.”

“Is it a ‘he’?” asks Brie, shooting a scornful glance towards the defender of David. Amelia’s third finger goes up.

“Yes,” concedes Ida.

“Is it—“ but this time the excitable Maggie is hushed.

“You can’t just start guessing names,” explains Brie, as she did nearly every week. “Do you know how many ‘he’s are in the Old Testement? It could be any one of them. We’ll use up all our questions if we have to guess every name. We have to narrow it down. You ask questions like ‘Is he a prophet?’ or ‘Was he a king of Israel?’ And anyway, you just asked a question. You should let other people have a turn.”

“I did let other people have a turn,” defends Maggie, her voice rising in volume. “I let you have a turn.”

“Quiet voices please,” reminds Amelia. “Today is Sunday, remember.” She leaves unspoken the fact that they do not want Mrs Becker, the housemother, to hear from her room upstairs. That would put an immediate end to their activity. A couple of girls shoot nervous glances towards the ceiling anyway.

“Was he a king of Israel?” asks Mollie. As always, a few wisps of red hair have pulled loose from her pins and frame her highly freckled face. Though Amelia puts her foot down firmly against teasing, she knows that the other girls have often said Mollie’s freckles were the most prominent feature on her face.

“Yes,” says Ida, trying to keep her voice and features plain.

“Is it King Solomon?” blurts out Maggie. Brie shoots her a look full of daggers.

“Yes,” groans Ida in defeat.

“Those are the only two kings I know, anyway,” Mollie tells Brie. “So it weren’t no use me asking any other questions anyway. So you can just save your breath on that score, and anyhow, I guessed it right.”

“Correctly,” corrects Amelia. “You guessed it correctly. And wasn’t. You should say, ‘it wasn’t any use,’ not ‘it weren’t no use.’ Very well, that was four questions. Ida, do you have your verse?”

“I do,” says Ida as she stands to her feet to deliver a stoic recitation. “Then sat Solomon upon the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was established greatly. First Kings, Chapter Two, Verse Twelve.” A moment of silence follows this delivery while the girl chosen as referee finds the scripture in question and nods to verify Ida’s recitation.

Then the thoughtful Clara asks, “Does that count as a memory verse? Or is it more a verse of history?”

“It doesn’t have any ‘begats’,” defends Ida. Early on in the activity, it was decided that the ‘begat’ verses, and their long list of obscure names, were prohibited. Amelia had stressed the importance of choosing a verse that held some meaning. If, she had told the girls, they were going to the effort of memorizing a scripture verse, it should be one that would help guide them, comfort them, or encouraging them. And thus the distinction between a “memory verse” and a “history verse.” Amelia shifts slightly in her seat. Her first year of teaching, she would have immediately taken over the discussion, eager to impart her insight and knowledge to her pupils. But now, with a bit of effort, she waits to see what the girls can work out on their own. They had so many people already making every decision in their lives, that, like allowing them to work out the order of turns, Amelia felt they benefited from discussing and deciding some issues on their own. It was not standard pedagogical practice for instructing girls, especially troubled girls who were destined for simple futures. Amelia is certain that the superintendent would not approve of her improvisations, and so Ameila has a divided conscious on how she is handling these discussions. Tonight, during her quiet time, she’ll have to search through the scriptures. She is certain that there is a scripture about obeying those in authority. But there is also scriptures about meditating on God’s word, and meditation surely meant thoughtful consideration. And, thoughtful consideration needed the ablilty to exercise reason, which needed practice.

“But,” continues Clara, “how does that verse help you?”

All scripture, thinks Amelia, is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. Was she leading them astray? Teaching them that some scriptures have more value than others? Or worse, teaching them that they can shift through and pick and choose which parts of God’s word are important to them, and shich parts they discard?

Ida was a very dependable girl, but not very imaginative. In short, she was exactl the sort of character Lancaster was hoping to produce. She was certain to do well in practically any placement they gave her next year. But at Clara’s question, Ida is at a loss.

“You did very well with your recitation, Ida,” Amelia steps in. “I think we would like to know why you chose that particular scripture?”

Stork-like the tall girl tilts her head quizickly at Amelia. “I wanted to find a verse about King Solomon. This one didn’t have any begats, and it sounded important.”

“Well done, Ida. You may copy your verse in our record book. Please be sure to check your spelling from the Bible as you write.” On impulse, and taking a small risk, she asks the recorder, “Gertie, could you read for us the scriptures right before and after Ida’s verse?” Amelia has no idea what those Scriptures are, and hope she hasn’t just muddied the waters completely.

Gertie’s finger runs over the page, trying to find the verse again. With another chapter and verse prompt from Ida, she is eventually successful, and reads haltlingly, “ ‘And the days that David reigned over Israel were forty years: seven years reigned he in Heb—heb-- Hebron, and thirty and three years reigned he in Jerusalem. Then sat Solomon upon the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was established greatly. And Adon--Adonijah the son of Hag--Haggith came to Bath--sheba the mother of Solomon. And she said, Comest thou peaceably? And he said, Peaceably.’ ” Gertie looks up from her reading as one who has just completed a mechanical task.

Clara’s eyebrows raise. Every line of her face seems to say, ‘I told you so.’

Amelia, hoping to medicate some of the damage she might have done says, “Just because something is a history, does not make it any less a part of God’s word. Surely the Father has a reason for each verse he has men include in His holy book, and we shouldn’t completely skip over those passages. Ida was right, the fact that Solomon’s kingdom was greatly established is important. And who are we to say that this verse, and this conversation, might not be a lamp to Ida to help direct her feet on her path. Or a lamp to someone else in this room some time later in life? Recite with me, ‘Thy word is a lamp…”

And several girl voices chorus in, “…unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

Amelia nods, “And, this one….’Thy word have I hid…’ “

“…in my heart,’ “ intone the girls, “ ‘that I might not sin against thee.’ “

Amelia feels immediately mollified. The rote recitation was much more in keeping with Lancaster’s methodology. And yet… “You are right as well, Clara. Normally it is not the straight history verses that we hide in our heart. Remember, our purpose is to find, no,” she corrects herself, “to keep in our heart verses that instruct us and direct us in life. But, neither can we discard the importance of the history the Bible holds.” Amelia pauses, weighing the words she has just spoken. They seemed right, yet she wishes she had one other trusted person to confide in and seek counsel from. Was the fact that she couldn’t discuss this with anyone else a sign that she was truly and utterly mistaken?

“Who is next?” she asks abruptly, tired of the self-doubt that has been plaguing her since Christmas.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Eleven o'clock and 4,064

Amelia’s smile touches only the corners of her mouth. Betsy is one of the newest, and by far the most sensitive, of the cottage girls. Amelia had spent the better part of the fall drawing Betsy out of the protective shell she had been so deeply nestled in. Then had followed a month of silent tears when all the hurts of life seemed to leak continuously from the young one’s eyes. Finally Betsy seemed ready to participate in their regular Sunday activity. The girls knew not to call it a game, not on Sunday especially. Instead it was a memory verse activity. Amelia leans over Betsy’s small frame to read the page Betsy has open. “Hmmm,” she says thoughtfully, stalling for time while she thinks of a gentle way to redirect Betsy. Since the beginning of the year, it had been all Amelia could do to coax Betsy even to sit in the room. With a great deal of prayer and encouragement, Amelia had finally got Betsy to simply sit next to her while the rest of the girls participated. Knowing the least bit of discouragement now could very well set Betsy back, Amelia crouches next to the young girl. She keeps one arm curled around the high back of Betsy’s chair. “Genesis,” she says softly. “Did you start here?” Her fingers twitched with the desire to stroke the tawny, tightly braided hair, but she keeps her hand still. Sometimes Betsy welcomes such touches, but sometimes she flinches from unexpected contact.

Betsy nods, “I started at the beginning.” Her tone makes it evident that this was, to her, the obvious place to start. “But everyone already knows ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ I want something new and different. I want something the others will like.”

This side of Betsy always confused Amelia. Even now, the girl would barely speak above a whisper, and she was far to shy and withdrawn to make friends with any of the other, tougher, girls. Yet Betsy lived in perpetual desire for the other girls to like her, a desire she had kept well hidden from everyone for the many months since her arrival last August. Amelia herself had only guessed at this strange, incongruent aspect of Betsy a few weeks ago. “What do you like?” she gently prompts.

As usual, Betsy’s pale blue eyes turn to her teacher full of questions and with worry already beginning to crease her forehead. Betsy only answered questions like that when she could make a reasonable guess as to what the other expected or hoped to hear. Mumbling and nearly inaudible, she answers, “I don’t know….”

“Well,” Amelia says quickly, trying to salvage the fragile situation, “tell me what you’ve read. Not all of it, of course, there’s far too much for that. Just tell me one or two things that you remember.”

When this produces only a silent shaking of the head, Amelia tries again. “ ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. What things in heaven and earth did God make?”

As close as she is, Amelia still has to lean closer, and nearly misses the whispered answer when it comes. “The sun,” breathes Betsy.

Amelia smiles, “We could use a little more of that today, couldn’t we? What else did God make?”

“All the birds that fly in the air,” comes the soft response.

“Very good,” Amelia beams, “what else?”

“Man,” says Betsy. A frown flickers so quickly on the girl’s face Amelia isn’t sure it had been there at all. “God made man. And Eve. God said it wasn’t good for the man to be alone.”

“That’s true,” Amelia agrees softly, her earlier pensiveness threatening to descend again. “God did say that. No one,” she adds slowly, “wants to be lonely. It is one thing to be alone, but it is something else to be lonely.”

Amelia falls silent as the truth of this statement speaks to both Betsy and to herself as well.

“Miss Hall?” the hesitant question brings her eyes from the page where they had drifted back to the adolescent beside her. “Should I use that verse then?”

Here, it is Amelia who hesitates. How comfortable would Betsy be if the word the others were trying to guess was ‘man’? “You could use help meet,” she whispers. “No one will guess that.”

Immediately Betsy shakes her head. Amelia realizes her mistake. Of course, Betsy, who only speaks when absolutely necessary and then only says what she hopes will pleases could never pick a word that no one would guess. And before she can back pedal, Betsy is asking, “Is it all right if I just sit by you?”

“Of course, dear,” Amelia answers in the only way she can. She tries to tell herself that at least Betsy had worked up the courage to decline a suggestion teacher made. Surely that counted for some progress.

Now though, it is Amelia’s turn to bite her lip in thought. Should she let Betsy use Amelia’s word and Amelia’s verse? But no, the other girls already envied some of the extra attention they perceived Betsy receiving. There was no need to risk alienating Betsy from them by what they would only think was undue favoritism.

Amelia uses the chair back to steady herself as she rises to her feet and stretches her back and legs from the strain of crouching so long beside Betsy’s chair. “Are we ready, ladies?” she asks by way of calling the room to order. Amelia settles herself back in her chair by the drafty window, and waits for Betsy to shift herself to a footstool near teacher. Though she knows the answer, she asks the girls, “Whose turn is it to go first this week?”


(My cool update widgets aren't showing for me. I think I'll keep a total word count in each of my title posts.)

Amelia isn’t sure how things have seemed to go so, so off from her dream. She was head to a port, but row however she might, the current has caused her to slowly drift aside. The first year ws much as she expected. Things were an adjustment, to be sure, but it was an adjustment that she was making. And while some of her students did make incredible progress, many made only moderate progress, and there were a few she just couln’d seem to reach no matter how hard she tried. It was almost as if they had decided that they did not want to be reached. Amelia had to face the fact that she could either cry, become frustrated, become bitter, or give up on those students. Or at least, that was the only options she could find mid-winter of her first year. By her second year, the year she thought things would begin to really pick up for her, she found that the small annoyances were even more frustrating. As she strove for greatness, she had little patience for medicracy and the mundane of the everyday was not want she wanted to triffle her time on. Her attempts to impress the superintendent were rewarded with a distracted pat on the head. Her suggestions for improvement were meant with patronizing lectures of how she needed to trust the judgement of those in a better place than she to make these decisions. Feeling like the system had turned her back on her, she was tempted to turn her back on the system, and she did, in a sense. Without board approval, she made subtle changes in her lessons and her teaching strategies. And so began several weeks of passive rebellion. Some of the changes, she still felt, would have made a difference, but they were carried off in a spirit of bitterness and secrecy, and somehow left her even more stressed. Neither did they have the benefit she thought they should for her students.

By the spring of her second year, Amelia was seriously considering whether she had made a mistake coming to Lancaster. Not that she was ready to throw in the towel, not by a long shot. But it was not becoming evident that Lancaster was not the position by which she would prosper on a personal level. More and more, Amelia, who had always prided herself on her independence, keenly felt the need for a listening sympathetic ear. She began to realize that as much as she thought she was independent, she had needed her Mammaw to be her emotional support, she had needed her Grandmere to be her financial support through college, she had needed her instructors to give her guidance and encouragement. The dark voice of doubt began to whisper that perhaps it was not Lancaster that was the problem. Perhaps the problem was Amelia. Perhaps she was only just realizing that she was far less capable than she thought herself to be. Now that she had a chance to try her wings, perhaps she was learning that she couldn’t fly after all, and that she should be content to hop along the ground.

That second spring, she thought she had found the answer. In her heart of hearts, she believes it is the answer. It must be. And surely that next summer and the following school year had been the most satisfying, most fulfilling period of her life. So now her perpetual question was not, what was she doing wrong, but, how had she lost the joy of her salvation? It had slipped through her fingers like the finest of sand, and the tighter she made her fist, the quicker it was squeezed away.
By force of will, she turns her thoughts away from her own self-reflection, and begins to pray. Letting her eyes drift around the room, she prays briefly for each of the girls confined to their rooms before she prays for each of the eighteen girls present in turn. The parlor where they gathered was modestly furnished. Its pieces were functional and practical and somehow fell short of being inviting. A few samplers adorned the walls and fewer doilies graced the tables and shelves, but these items were dearer than any ornate d├ęcor could ever be, for they had been handstiched, knitted, and crocheted by the girls of the cottage and were displayed with pride. The girls themselves were even more simply dressed than the room, for all that they wore the best of their two dresses. The sameness of the plain brown wool of their dresses made Amelia’s navy blue look positively vibrant. And while Amelia’s cuffs and collar was trimmed with a narrow, pleated white ruffle, no such adornment was afforded the girls. Being a Sunday, they did not even have their white aprons to brighten their attire. Oblivious to Amelia’s gaze, they clustered together, heads bent towards each other as they whispered. Several clutched their slates in a hand, careful to keep its written face down, hidden from the eyes of friends. One group was gathered around a journal spread open upon the coffee table and speculations and disagreements flew in quiet hushes around its members. One girl chewed her lip as she huddled alone over the pages of a Bible, the slate beside her empty.

Rising at last from her chilly seat, Amelia puts a finger to her lips at the glances she drew from around the room. By that signal, the girls turned back to their conversations, yet the already subdued voices became even quieter. Amelia lightly touches one crouched shoulder as she leans in to her frustrated pupil. “How is it going, Betsy?” she asks just as quietly as the other girls are whispering.
“Miss Hall,” answers the upturned, slightly freckled face, “I can’t find anything that I like.”

Amelia’s smile touches only the corners of her mouth. Betsy is by far the most sensitive of the cottage girls. Amelia had spent the better part of the fall drawing Betsy out of the protective shell she had been so deeply nestled in. Then had followed a month of silent tears when all the hurts of life seemed to leak continuously from the young one’s eyes. Finally Betsy seemed ready to participate in their weekly activity, which all the

354 Words before Church

The night before she was to board the train to Lancaster, she had laid down full of delighted hopes for the future. She had barely slept, so full of excitement was she. In her mind, she painted a compelling picture of what her new position would be like, of how she would inspire and encourage the girls who would so desperately need her and be so grateful that she was ther. Of the relationships, the bonds she would forge with them. Of the growth in them that she would nurture. Of the significance she would make. Oh, certainly there would be difficulties, but in her eagerness, she looked forward to the challenges, knowing she could meet them, and confident of how rewarding working through the obsticles would be. She dreamed up entire conversations, she dissected her lesson plans, tweaking and adjusting her presentations to make them more meaningful. She reworked all she knew of what difficulties her students would need to overcome to be the bright young ladies she knew she could draw out. She imagined herself becoming a key confidant of the superintendent. She wooed the board with her insights and her understanding and became a regular attendant of their meetings. Oh, not right away of course, but in time, as the result of her labors spoke for themselves, as she made an impression when the superintendent sat in on her lessons, when she humbly, but confidently went to the superintendent, and then to the board, with a well-thought idea of a minor change that might be made in the running of the cottage. Oh, and of course the first year would be an adjustment period for everyone. No one, she included, expected her brilliance to shine forth in that first year. But by the second year, that would be when the ideas would come. And of course, the spring reviews would have already revealed the progress her students had made. In time, in a short amount of time, her enterprises would begin to pay their dividends. And these were the thoughts that filled her head the night before she boarded her train.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

First Day! (without a spell check, obviously)

Amelia sat watching the rain slither its way down the cold glass pane. Its pattering was normally soothing, yet this afternoon it droned dully. Beyond the smears the rain made, she could see little of the well kept grounds. The first day of February was bitterly cold and grey. Despite the stout wool of her dark blue dress, Amelia shivers in her seat by the window. She still feels damp and cold from their walk from the brick house to the school chapel and back. The sky had showered freezing sleet down upon them, and there had been no hurrying along the trim path. Not, she thinks with a frown, that hurrying would have been excused in any circumstance. Any breach of decorum, no matter how slight, if detected by the stern housemother, was met with a firm consequence. So, they had all sat, trying not to shiver, miserable through the mornings service. Amelia doubted what good it had done the girls. Worship, she knew, was not something to be engaged in solely for personal gain…and yet, she cannot help but feel, and feel keenly, the lack between the rigid services in the little chapel and the loving exaltation proclaimed in the Psalms. It feels, she thinks sourly, like so many other things in her life, lacking for some element she cannot quite identify. She reflects for a moment, wondering if the day has dictated her bleak mood, or if the weather simply coincidentally reflects it.
I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. Silently, she recites the verse she has been clinging to this past winter. Rationally, she knows there are many things which have worn her down. To begin with, today had been her Mammaw’s birthday. And Amelia cannot help but to remember her Mammaw, and to miss the dear woman who had been like a second mother to her. It was appropriate that even the skies should mourn her lack upon the earth below. Sometimes still in her dreams Amelia is back home in Virginia talking with her Mammaw in the tiny kitchen of their little house. And sometimes, Mammaw was strangely inserted into Amelia’s current life in Lancaster. Amelia would find herself walking along the school grounds, telling Mammaw all her concerns for her students. At first, Amelia had awakened from those dreams somewhat confused. It would take her a moment to remember the truth. Mammaw wasn’t here anymore to be the ear Amelia could confide in or to be the shoulder Amelia could cry on, or to be the companion Amelia could laugh with. And yet, while such sharp remembering always awakened the grief, it never brought her a sense of despair. The dreams comforted her, reminded her that there would be a day when every tear shall be wiped away and she would again someday walk beside her Mammaw in peaceful companionship. Still, it had been a long time since Amelia had had such a dream. They wer not, Amelia was certain, merely dreams, but surely they were brief periods when Amelia was permitted to visit with her dear grandmother. Many times this winter Amelia had asked God to allow her some dream time with her Mammaw, for Amelia needed her so. Each time, she had tempered the prayer by asking for forgiveness if such a request was displeasing to the Lord. Either way, Amelia told no one else of her dreams. And, whether or not the request was improper, Amelia never was able to reckon. What she did know was that all January, the request when unanswered. Perhaps, she hopes, tonight would be different. She so sorely needed the sweet, loving presence of her Mammaw.
And if Amelia was so desperate for love, than how much more so were the girls she lived with?
This question brings Amelia’s attention from her contemplation and her study of the precipitation back to the room of hushed voices. She rubs her fingers together, trying to bring some warmth back into the digits. The concept for the school was a noble one. The girls sent here had all been spared a much harsher fate. Some had been caught in petty crimes, arrested as vagrants when they had no home to return to and some shopkeeper had complained about the waif always huddled on his stoop trying to steal some warmth from the jam of his door and thereby, says he, constantly impeding the path of his customers. Some were arrested for excessive panhandling, when desperation had driving them across the line from polite begging to an unconsciable nuisance that was far more convenient to remove than to aid. A few were caught out in more serious crimes of theft when need and hunger had driven them to stealing food, picking pockets, or lifting items from shops to be handed over to a fence for a night of shelter and a skimply meal. A few others had become wards of the state when both parents had been incarcerated. They were here, rather than in an orphanage or a poor house, as an experiment.
All the girls were placed here with the best of intentions. Surely, the reasoning went, these young ones could be saved from the cycle of poverty and crime that they had the misfortune to be born into. With the right environment, could they not be redeemed from repeating the mistakes of their parents? With the proper guidance, could they not be taught right and wrong? Could they not be retrained as contributing members and workers in society? Could virtuous qualities not yet be instilled in their characters? Were they not yet still paleable? If they were thrown into incarceration with hardened adult criminals, would not depravity take its final hold instead? And then, would they not become adults who would be lost in their wickedness to prey upon and disrupt the progress of morality? Was there not another, a better, solution that could be found by educated men committed to the betterment of society?
There was indeed, many believed, a better solution. And the Lancaster Industrial School for Girls was one of the first of its kind on American soil. Here, girls whose feet were already on a path of destruction could be turned aside from desolation and led down a path of reeducation. Convinced that a lack of wholesome family was a premeditating element in the girls’ demise, the school was intended to replicate a respectable family environment. Rather than one massive building of locked and barred dormitories, the school was comprised of several smaller structures, called cottages, each of which was to simulate a home and family. The girls of each cottage had a tiny room to call their own. A housemother living in each cottage was to oversee the moral conduct of the girls and supervise their domestic duties. One, sometimes two, teachers also lived in each house who were to provide not only the necessary academic instruction believed to discipline and structure the mind, but also to serve as older role models in proper conduct and behavior.
In such an environment, the girls would learn and become all that nature intended a young woman to be. Decorous, gentle, hard-working, domestic, pure. At sixteen, the girls were carefully released on probation into positions carefully chosen for them. Many were placed out domestic servants. Some were released as laborers to milners, tailors, bakeries. Others were given over to mills and factories which maintained boarding houses for some of their female employees. The school appointed supervisors which were to meet regularly with the girls and with their custodians to monitor the girls’ progress and ensure both the good behavior of the girl as well as protect against abuse. Such a system surely would produce women who were competent workers of good character who would either make contributions to overall society through the faithful work of their own hands or who would be a suitable wife and mother for a working man.
Amelia had known all these things about the school before she had ever thought of applying as a teacher. Indeed, the application and interview process was a very strenuous one. Amelia had to demonstrate herself not only as an excellent student who could be a capable teacher, but she had also had to prove her moral character and her own upbringing was one that would benefit the girls. She had humbly requested letters of recommendation from her own instructors. She had carefully worded and reworked her own essays and application letters, careful that she must outline her own virtues, but doing so in a fashion that did not in any way present her as vain, a braggart, or overly ambitious. She had subtly highlighted those details of her family and background that she felt the school would approve of. She had thoughtfully concealed, omitted, or ofsscusalated details that she was certain the school board would hold against her. She had written to her Grandmere and Grandpere in France, pleaded for advice and any aid they might be able to provide. (Especially, she had asked for a letter if at all possible, from a board member of one of the French reform schools, upon which Lancastor had been modeled after.) In short, she had striven to obtain this teaching position. She had put all her talents, all her efforts, all her focus on becoming a teacher at the fabled Lancaster Industrial School for Girls. It became the sole focus of her life, the end of all her ambitions, the pot of gold at the end of her rainbow. Surely, in becoming a Lancaster teacher, Amelia would find a place of fulfillment and a way to make a lasting difference in the world.
And she had succeeded. The competition, not that she as a young woman was supposed to be competing, but the competition had been fierce. Teachers with more experience than she had thrown their hats into the mix. Women with better pedigrees than she had friends and family members who could bend the ears of board members at the latest social function. But in the end, it was Amelia who was chosen for the position. She accepted the congradultaions of her instructors with the proper humility, but inside she had wanted to shout and cheer. She had written a effusive letter of thanks to her grandparents. She had packed her trunks gleefully, and talked a few of her classmates into joining her in a short celebratory excursion to the park and a rare treat of ice cream.