Having been freed from taking care of her sister and young nephew, Laura was ready for other employment.  She was fairly quickly able to find a job teaching, first the summer term at a school district in one near-by place and then the winter school of another near-by district.  She was pleased to do the winter school.  “.. entered upon its duties with more enthusiasm as the more advanced classes were in attendance upon the winter schools and teaching the higher branches was more suited to my taste.”  Laura’s goal was to teach this year to replenish her purse, and then to go back to Oberlin for another year in College.

Laura described the changes she found at the college having been away for two years.  “…some of my acquaintances for former years having graduated and gone out into the theAView_of_the_ladies_boarding_hall_at_Oberlin_College,_by_Platt_Photograph_Co. world to take up their life work while others, in the last year of their course, would soon depart, some as missionaries, others as teachers, and all with some definite idea in view of being useful citizens.”  Laura boarded in the Ladies’ Boarding Hall for this year.

Likewise she found “many changes have taken place in the boarding hall during the past two years.  Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild who had charge fore several years had been excused from further labors in that line on account of advanced age and their places filled by Mr. and Mrs. Wright; while the baker who make the bread and pies for the boarders, including the ladies who roomed in the hall and the young men who roomed in the dormitories and came there for their meals, had left and his place was filled by a young man from New York City by the name of J. Dolson Cox.”  Laura went on to describe the career of this young man, who married the College president’s daughter, studied law, went into the army in the Civil War and became a prominent general.  He then had a long career in government, serving as a Governor of Ohio, and Secretary of the Interior among other positions.  Laura concludes: “This incident is related to show that a young man of high ideals and ambitions may attain the height of his ambition altho hampered by want of means to carry out his educational desires.”    Her third year at college ended, Laura went home and spent her winter vacation nursing family members who were down with typhoid fever.  She was more than ready to return to college in the spring, concluding that nursing would not be her choice for her life work.

She boarded this last year at the home of Mr. Wyatt, rooming with his “lovely daughter Ann”.  This young lady was described as “one whose virtue might well be imitated and woven into the character of any young person.  Being slightly deaf she declined the marriage relation and in later life accompanied her niece and husband to China.  They were missionaries and were there just before the Boxer troubles.  She returned to Ohio where her last days were spent.”  The specific names and details of this young woman’s life made me curious.  I did a bit of research and discovered that the Wyatts were from England, having migrated to Ohio fairly recently when Laura boarded with them.  Anna Wyatt was a teacher for a number of years before going to China, showing up in the 1880 federal census as a dancing teacher, living in a household with a younger couple who may have been the niece and her husband.  The Boxer “troubles” were a rebellion against foreign influences which began about 1899 so Miss Wyatt  and her niece and husband probably returned home to Ohio shortly thereafter.  I found her death in 1902 indexed on familysearch.org, and sure enough she was listed as a missionary.  I have not yet found her entry (or the niece and husband) back into the United States and she doesn’t seem to be enumerated in the 1900 federal census.

Oberlin 1853 SeniorsBut I have digressed.  Laura went on describing her last year as a student:   “…wishing to make the most of my time, I took up as many studies as I felt able to carry thru. …The usual routine of study, recitation, chapel exercises, and so forth occupied the time of this year until near its close the task of writing the commencement essay loomed heavily over the horizon.  The idea of reading an essay before the thousands of people who congregate in the the great Tabernacle Church at Oberlin on commencement day was terrifying in the extreme, but it must be done!”  Laura described struggling to come up with a topic for her essay and then struggling to write an acceptable product.  Her advisor/mentor, Dr. Monrow*, was a strict taskmaster by her description but she finally met with success in producing an essay.  I wish she had noted the subject of her essay but she did not.

“Soon the eventful commencement day rolled round and the class of 1853, consisting of ten members†,Graduates_Ladies_Course_1853_3 was called upon to read those essays, so laboriously prepared, before the assembled multitude who had gathered to listen to the efforts of this class.” …”One of our number being an ardent women’s rights person (as the suffragists were called at that time) requested the privilege of delivering her essay in oratorical style, but was denied the privilege as being an infraction of the rules of the college.  So she quietly yielded, but on commencement day, but lo! when called upon to read, she rose and with paper in hand delivered an oration (occasionally glancing at the paper) which for originality and depth of thot had not been equalled by any of the masculine orators for years.  Coeducation, it must be remembered, was in its infancy and it took time to work out the new ideals pertaining to such a change.”

And with that, and commencement days over, Laura returned once more to her home “there to await a call to teach.”.

**********

*Note that Laura spelled his name Monrow but the listing in the Oberlin Annual Catalogue 1820-1862 spelled it Monroe.

† Note that Laura said there were 10 students who graduated, and the composite picture, kindly provided by the Oberlin Archives, shows 10 young ladies along with Dr. Finney the College president and Mrs. Dascomb, the Principal of the Female Department.  However, the listing of the 4th year students in the Oberlin Annual Catalogue 1850-1862 for 1852-1853 shows 9 young women.  A mystery to be solved in the future, I hope.

As Laura described herself: “At home it was my one delight to get hold of a book or paper, both of which were limited in our family library.  … A bachelor uncle lived in our family and took great interest in the education of the children and he had noticed my eagerness for books and said to my father one day ‘John, you ought to get some books for Laura to read.  Don’t you see how she likes to read?’ [And her father replied] ‘Why, Thomas, there is “The Book of Martyrs” and “Josephus”.  She has never read them.  If she likes to read there is plenty of good reading in the Bible.’  The books at home slowly grew little by little and added fuel to Laura’s desire for learning.

Then, a new college was located a few miles distant from the Denman place and the “financial agents invaded the neighborhood in quest of signers for scholarships” which John Denman was persuaded to do.  This was the Oberlin Collegiate Institute which actually opened in late 1833, with 29 men and 15 women beginning classes.  These early students were expected to help build the institution with their own labor.  Despite this, the Institute was in financial straits and fund-raising went on as Laura described.

The scholarship arrangement meant that John Denman could send his older children for further education.  In 1907 Oberlin College made a concerted effort to locate all alumni so that accurate and compete inforDenman, Laura - Oberlin listingmation about them could be published in the about-to-be issued General Catalogue and Alumni Registry of Oberlin College 1833-1908.  In that publication there were 23 Denmans listed; 11 of them were John and Marinda Denman’s children (all but the two oldest sons, Edward and William, and son Charles who had died at age ten).

As Laura wrote: “My eldest sister was the first to receive the benefit of this arrangement and after spending one year there she gave place to the next sister who, after spending one year in the college, decided to go another year.  Then she with myself entered the college the next year.”  Laura’s ambitions were being gratified.  Laura and her sister “entered upon this year of study with great zest hoping to be able to complete the course and fit ourselves for the work of teaching school, which in those days, aside from housework, was the only occupation open to women.  But, alas! after five months of study we were both stricken down with typhoid fever and sent home to be cared for by our family.”  “This new school was of necessity very primitive in all its appointments.  The buildings were of the cheapest material, the furnishings limited to the merest necessities and the board supplied nutrition, tho severely plain in all its details…”

In those early days of the college, the vacations were the three winter months, as Laura explained: “This was planned in the interest of the students who spent their vacations in teaching in neighborhoods of the surrounding country.  Many young men who thus spent their vacations returned in the spring to resume their studies full of enthusiasm and well supplied with incidents of their experiences in their various locations.”  The students also brought back amusing stories from their boarding around with the various families of the pupils they taught.  Laura herself wrote of the differing treatment she got in boarding around, from bad and minimal food to “hospitality itself, nothing was too good and no effort too great that would add to the comfort and happiness to the weary one returning from the arduous duties of the schoolroom.”

Her older “sister having decided to enter the school of matrimony” Laura completed another year but then decided to leave school for a year or two and spend the time teaching.   “Teachers, be it known, were not as numerous in those days as at the present writing and yet the salaries of teachers were not commensurate with the demands, six dollars a month being considered the limit, and even then, such unheard of extravagance being admissible only upon the recommendation of one of the school board”.  Laura ended up taking a school for the winter that had been engaged for another who had become so discouraged that she gave it up after a few weeks.  Although with misgivings, Laura took the school on and soon found the source of the trouble.

“On entering the school room the first day, I was surrounded by an eager group of youngsters each anxious to inform me of the faults and failings of others, and all insisting it would be my imperative duty to whip Almeron McKinney, Miss Linton did, he wouldn’t mind her and she had to whip him.  And there, sitting quietly in his sear, this bad boy listened to the reports of his school mates, undoubtedly sizing up the new school teacher and deciding what course to pursue.”  Laura described that his boy was abused and neglected at home by a mother who idolized her daughter, and the last teacher “resorted to the rod to enforce her rules.”  She decided to try an entirely opposite course of action: to try to interest him in his studies, encouraging him to do his best.  “To the surprise of the whole school Almeron became  a faithful student and even surpassed some of the brighter ones in the final examinations.”  Laura’s conclusion to this story was that in future years she heard of this boy as having become an energetic and useful citizen in the town where he resided, and she from that time forward “always had a warm place in my heart for boys, and even boys whose early lives are so unpromising it seems useless to attempt the making of true men and desirable citizens of them.  The possibilities wrapped up in these youths are very great and only require right leading and right influences to cause them to develop into true genuine manhood.”

Laura was clearly very happy to head home to the farm at the end of that school year in the spring of 1850.  She described her pleasures in all the delights that awaited her: maple trees tapped for sugar making; early vegetables and flower beds being prepared; the orchard trees already budded and full of promise.  After spending a few months at home, Laura was the sister who was available to travel to southwestern Ohio where her sister Ann had a new son, was in ill-health, and her husband had gone to the gold mines of California.  It was during this time that Laura’s letter writing created a very favorable impression on the man she later married.  And that will introduce the next chapter of this memoir.

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