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Mary to Sophia Yellow Springs, May 18th, 1858

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The roots that Antioch College has in Massachusetts run deep. Its famous first president, Horace Mann and his wife Mary, both came from Boston area, as did several of the first students to attend. To the Mary Tyler Peabody MannManns, most prized among those students was Ada Shepard of Dorchester, MA, who would graduate in Antioch’s very first class in 1857. A month and a week after finishing college, she booked passage on the steamship Ariel bound for France, where she would meet her new employers, the family of author Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Hawthornes had been abroad since 1853 while Nathaniel served as US Consul to England, a post conferred by then President of the United States, Franklin Pierce, Hawthorne’s old Bowdoin College classmate.

Her appointment to teach Hawthorne’s children and look after them was facilitated by Mary Mann, whose sister Sophia had married Nathaniel in 1842. In July, he wrote that he had “engaged Miss Ada Shepard (a graduate of Mr. Mann's College at Antioch) to take charge of my children while we remain on the Continent. She is recommended to me in the highest way, as respects acquirements and character .... I have tried English governesses, and find them ignorant and inefficient.” Ada would receive no pay for this engagement (the Hawthornes at least covered her expenses) but she saw it as a rare opportunity to gain experience as an educator and linguist that would serve her well for her return to Antioch as Professor of Modern Languages the following year.

The following letter between the two Peabody sisters (reprinted from Antiochiana’s Straker Collection of Peabody Letters) discusses Ada in some detail. As is the case with so much of our historic correspondence collections, personal health and the weather are covered first. The family was always especially concerned with Sophia’s well-being as she had suffered from debilitating migraine headaches since childhood. The flooding Mary describes in nearby Springfield rings familiar considering the waters of Southwest Ohio were as high in February 2018 as they have been in over 20 years. The College’s health in 1858 is also in some question -- the “final decision” she refers to being the assignment and auction of the College’s assets that summer.

Sophia expressed concern to Mary about Ada’s attitude in a letter from Rome dated 13 January: “She is a very hard-headed young lady, with a will of iron, and not quite comprehensiveness enough of intellect to be wise with such pertinacity.” Sophia may have blamed a radical feminist atmosphere at the College for its undue influence on Ada, which would account for Mary’s lengthy explanation and thorough defense of Antioch’s culpability in the matter of rights for women.

Mary’s long, newsy letter will be continued in the next Songs From The Stacks.


Yellow Springs, May 18th 1858

Dear Sophia,

    It was truly cheering to me to see your hand-writing again — but your note contained not a word about yourself or your health for which I have been very anxious. Probably you have expatiated upon that theme in your letter to E. which I shall get after a time but she is visiting friends this spring & it will be some time before it gets to me. Meanwhile I will remember that silence gives assent, the spirit of which is, in this case, that you are better. I have had the most terrible cough myself this winter that I ever had, & at one time I thought I never should be any better of it — but by dint of the greatest care & Bell. & Bry. taken alternately I have got nearly rid of it, & am recovering My previous vigor. I use homeopathic tinctures wholly. I had a very ill turn of fever in the early winter, & was left weak by it, & susceptible to every change of weather. We have had a soaking spring — weeks & weeks of almost unmitigated rain — tropical in its violence — with occasionally a bright, sunshiny day. The farmers are in despair — they cannot get a chance to plant their corn — & there seems to be danger that N. Orleans will go under this time, for the Mississippi is overflowing tremendously & there have been several crevasses in that region. In Springfield, close bye us, where it is low, the gardens are overflowed by the creeks, & horses & cows washed out of the barns. We are too high here for any such catastrophes — but the sudden tempestuous gusts often remind me of Cuba.

    Touching our affairs here — We are rapidly approaching the final decision, which must be made before our next Commencement. We see no relief about the debt, but friends in various quarters are endeavouring to concert measures to save the College to woman & to religious freedom — this being the only Institution in the country that ensures those two principles — the education of woman & the inculcation of religion irrespective of creeds.

    And now, dear, in regard to Ada. It was natural, perhaps, that you should think she obtained her ideas upon woman’s rights here — but on the contrary the fact is that her coming here has saved her from being a furious woman's rights woman. She was so much modified by the influences here — that of Mr. Mann, Mrs. Dean & Mr. Badger (the three most powerful influences that can be exerted upon her) that I did not know as you would see that vein in her. Mr. Mann says it is in her nature, & can never be wholly eradicated, but her loveliness & general justness of mind will probably save her from extremes. She is utterly conscientious, & she once told me that her conscience was much excited upon this subject, & she had felt since she had been with us how liable she had been to go into all the extravagances of the movement, but she was glad she had been saved from it. All the influence exerted here is adverse to the thing. But as this is a college where women can be fully educated, it brings among others that very class of women, greatly to Mr. Mann's annoyance. He makes them inexpressibly uncomfortable here, & does not care how soon they go away, but he tries to modify them. There was a time when Ada and another young lady from Mass. were about to have all their dresses made up in bloomer fashion. Ada had gone home for a vacation, & the other one had engaged her dress maker here, but one day I saw her & begged her if she intended to do so to have them made in true Turkish style, with great elegance of material, &c, &c, so as to look as lady like as possible, for it was a very offensive dress in Mr. Mann's eyes, & he would be very sorry to see them dress in it in the usual vulgar style — & I begged her to write to Ada about it. Ada's friends remonstrated with her, & my talk changed the purposes of the other, & the result was that they each had only a walking dress made in that style. There are lovely girls here from whom the dew of modesty never has been brushed, and I should not be afraid to put a womanly nature in this College — there are coarse grained & evil disposed girls who do not do well here and they do not stay long — for Mr. Mann’s eye is upon every one, and he makes “the way of the transgressor hard.” We have had some droll ebullitions of the woman's rights spirit here, & there are two lecturing women, a Mrs. Gage & a Mrs. Coe who have had children in the College, who have been a great torment to Mr. Mann — they have exerted a very bad influence during their visits & have both become very angry with him because he will not invite them to lecture before the students. He is very willing to offend them thus, hoping they & their partisans will conclude that this is not the place for them. These women have some plausibility in their complaints about woman's wrongs, but Mr. Mann tells them true culture will redress them all. They are specially bitter against him because he does so much that they are angry with him for not doing it on their ground & going all lengths with them. Mrs. Gage said to him in her last visit here that it was her lecturing which had resulted in this College! & seemed to think it her right to say what its administration should be. Ada's theory about intercourse with gentlemen will never lead her into a serious impropriety, & with Badger in the opposition I have no fears for her — he tells her that while she will show her head she may talk as she pleases about woman's rights because her head will contradict her. I never saw her otherwise than modest, & think with you that it is her artless faith in human kind that makes her trust every one. She was profoundly respected here, and never over stepped a limit of propriety. The day after Commencement, on which she read a little essay, she said to me, “Mrs. Mann, how did you feel about it? O! womanly?” I told her yes, it was perfectly womanly, but it would not have been if she had stood there & recited it like a man. The beautifying effect upon the manners of the young men of having these charming girls reciting in the classes, & dining with them every day is cheering to behold, & the most lady-like of them exert a very high influence. My prejudice is not against the two being educated together — it is against parents sending wild girls & boys away from home alone. Many parents come here to reside & put their sons & daughters into the School, & that is the sane way. But after all many come here rude & romping & go away ladies. The rules are very rigid — they do not ride together, walk alone together or even in companies without a teacher (I mean long expeditions like walks to Clifton & in the glen) — they frequent the glen on alternate days — & are hemmed round with every precaution against imprudence, & Mr. Mann is the final arbiter for all matters of privilege. Rebecca has a wonderful faculty of transmuting rude girls into ladies — there is no end to her labors & my husband’s among those who have not been well trained at home. Those who have are the aids of the faculty, & the fraternal relation is a very beautiful one here. Mr. Mann has spared no pains to inculcate the principle that If they cannot influence each other, they should call in his help, & it is understood by a student very soon after entering here that the police force is only in their companions & that they are soon put under the President’s guardianship if they resist the public opinion concerning good order & good habits. This is what differences this College from all others — here the good scholars rule — generally in colleges & great schools the bad ones rule & the false code of honor about protecting each other gives the power into the hands of the bad ones. Several students have been sent away from here for lying. Mr. Mann never calls up any one for a rebuke till he has proved the case against him & then he enquires of them about the case. The contumacious ones will tell him processions of lies — the pretty good ones will own their misdemeanours, & of them he is hopeful, but persistent liars he will not allow among the students. It is now three terms since a student has been publicly reprimanded, & for three years there have been but three or four instances!