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Mary to Sophia in Yellow Springs, May 18th 1858 -- Part II

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Last month’s Stacks was preempted by a visit to Concord Free Public Library in Massachusetts, where an exhibit of Ada Shepard’s marvelous sketches of Florence, Italy opened on April 6th. Many a friend of Antiochiana attended, 

Concord Free Public Library Program About Ada Shepard in Florence

including several descendants of this most distinguished member of the first graduating class of Antioch College. CFPL and Antiochiana also go way back, sharing collections and research with each other for decades. The star of the occasion, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Megan Marshall, lectured on Shepard’s year in Europe with the Hawthornes, comparing her own photographs of Florence with Ada’s remarkable illustrations, made all the more remarkable by the fact that she drew them in a tiny 2x4-inch notepad with a pencil that looks too small to draw anything so exquisite.

Here Stacks concludes Mary Mann’s “huge letter” as she describes it to her sister Sophia, Ada Shepard’s employer at the time. Having explained and practically defended Shepard’s views on women (attitudes Sophia appears not to have shared), Mary provides a detailed report on the overall state of Antioch College. Apart from financial concerns that evoke Mark Twain’s comment, “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes,” at the time her husband was facing an ever bigger problem: a virtual counterrevolution fomented by of a faction of Board members and faculty who thought the College should be a seminary.


In regard to the religious condition of the College, it is the universal testimony that it is in advance of any other known college, & there is good testimony as well as abundant, for there are many here who have been in other colleges, & the experience of all who have been & are members of the Faculty concurs. We have no revivals as in Yale & Amherst and even Brown & Bowdoin, and when Mr. Mann discourses to them in his Sabbath School which includes all the older members of the College & prep school, he prepares himself to give a clear view of all opinions upon all points, withholding his own special, but the discussions he has with students in private (of their seeking) are very interesting & vital, and Mr. Craig has a voluntary party varying from thirty to seventy, every Sunday evening in the College parlor to which he reads beautiful religious books — & such an attentive hushed audience as ours in chapel you never saw. Mr. Mann says in other colleges that he has visited here, and in some of which he has preached, the Presidents have had to exercise authority all the time to ensure sufficient order to get a hearing at morning prayers or Sunday services! At Oxford, which ranks next to this for literary merit, & has a learned Faculty, one of the Professors wrote him a little while ago to ask him to furnish him statistics from this College in regard to temperance — whether the brightest or the dullest scholars were most addicted to intemperance. Mr. Mann replied that he could not give him any information as there was not an instance of intemperance here!! He enjoyed the pleasure of reading the letter & his answer to the students one morning after prayers — & they enjoyed it too hugely.

My regret in having the College go down will be in having my children adrift for an education & driven to go to any Institution conducted in the common way, & Rebecca has already begun to weep over the disappointed girls who cannot get elsewhere what they can find here. There is no doubt that a generous private education under competent parents & well— chosen teachers in some cases is preferable for girls — but where can they get it? Yours may, & mine might, for our culture & experience might command the circumstances, but how many girls in the best society grow up without real learning or any thorough culture. The training is so thorough here, that no lesson is allowed to slip. Every lesson must be made up, if omitted even from illness & this ensures a thoroughness that is unexampled. The natural consequence of delinquency is to be put back in the course, for rigid examinations are made at the end of every term, and those who cannot be held up to the mark go home to escape the disgrace. This winnowing has elevated the character of the School very much. I will venture to say that even you will never be able to do that for your children elsewhere that you could do here if you should come & keep them here through a college course.

To good literary instruction & training, which latter is rarely found in colleges, Mr. Mann has bent his energies to secure a good moral atmosphere. The students are an ornament to the place instead of a nuisance, as usual — & at our last election their vote turned the scale & brought in a temperance mayor. In point of character they rank high above the citizens. Those who understand this position of the Institution would move heaven & earth to prevent it from going down, & we hope it may yet be done, but the truth is people at a distance cannot be made to believe it any more easily than they could the fact we learned in Europe that the deaf & dumb are taught actually to speak. What Mr. Mann has done in these five years for five hundred or more young people is worth all the toils & labors of his life. It is very easy to say that God will bring all things round right at last — but God does not do it without instruments — & he waits till those instruments have by alternate thinking & acting found out the work that is to be done, before he brings things out right. It will be a grief to us to see so much lost that has been gained. The devil, manifested (?) in the persons of Messrs. Allen, Doherty & McKinney, is doing his best to stave off success, till succor is too late but Mr. M. has a hope deep down in his heart that the thing will be done, though he does not see exactly how. Mr. Quincy wrote him word the other day that there were thousands looking on with the deepest interest — & he & others are doing their part. In these days of public corruption, the great & the good see that the only salvation for man is in true education. Mr. Mann is not afraid to grant complete education to women — it is her security against extravagance & all unwomanliness. The girls here, as everywhere, where there is true womanhood, respond first when high principles are presented, & it is the womanly element that has been Mr. Mann’s greatest aid in effecting the college reforms that he undertook. After presenting & discussing the subject for two years at the State Associations of College Faculties & other teachers (& he says they are of a higher average here than even in Massachusetts) they have unanimously adopted his principles of honor as the rule of conduct in public Institutions. They will not live up to it yet, but it is a great step to make them see and assent to it. Pecuniarily the College is a small matter, & will continue to be so to Mr. Mann. If rescued, it is likely to be poor for a long time. Some noble women in N. Y. are trying to get women to come to the rescue, & perhaps they will do something. It would be most appropriate.

Have you any idea of going to Germany? I believe Ada has. If she goes without you, she must let us know, for we can send her letters to Dr. Vogel & others who will give her facilities there. I hope we shall need her here. She writes to Mr. Badger that Mrs. Hawthorne comes nearest to her ideas of a perfect woman than any woman she has ever known, so I hope your influence will help on the good work commenced here — the only reform that Ada needs. I think the error grows out of a misled conscience upon the subject. Mr. Mann thinks there is an element of masculinity in her, which he says may invariably be found in what are called the “strong minded.” He is pretty ‘cute, but Ada is so lovely & sensible that I can more easily believe it to grow out of her sympathies. There is no doubt that women are very much wronged, but whether woman is upon the whole more than man, is a question to be decided by the wise-acres. I am inclined to think she can vindicate herself by cultivating herself properly, & that no man will stand in the way. What the Faculty & teachers of this College have gone through in the contest with prejudice, bigotry & diabolical selfishness will probably never be recorded, & will be known only to themselves. Not one of them except those who have left the field, have ever yet been fully paid — Mr. Mann not half. Perhaps they never will be. Mr. M. has spent a thousand dollars out of pocket in attending conventions for the benefit of the College & sending others when he could not go, publishing circulars, &c. He has persevered for the sake of the young, who have responded nobly, while the old codgers have mistrusted, suspected, maligned & insulted him — watched him as if he were a traitor, & imagined in him the basest & most selfish motives — but eyes are getting open & if there was only a little more time there is no doubt we should be safe. But the College can never be assembled again upon an uncertainty or a hope. He awaits the result very quietly. We shall lose nothing by the change, except facilities for the children’s education under his own eye & administration —  & that will indeed be an irreparable loss. We have made no plans for such a contingency.

This is a huge letter, but perhaps it will share the fate of others I have written you which you have never got. I shall not make a practice of sending you such long ones, but hope it will not cost you any thing. I shall send it to Mr. Fields for transportation, better to secure its safe direction. I long to see your journal & its experiences. I had much rather see Rome thro’ your eyes than to take the trouble of carrying my own there. You will see beauties that would probably escape my eye, & I should see all the woes & miseries of which there is no end, I presume. I grieve that Orsini did not succeed, but “tho’ dead, he yet speaketh.” I watch the papers with the deepest interest, hoping for changes. I am prepared for revolutions there & here, & count human lives as nothing in comparison with liberty.

The children are doing finely in school — studying the modern Chronological Chart in connection with some sketches of history, botany (the natural order), algebra, & practising grammatical exercises. Georgie is teaching algebra to me & to Benjie & does it admirably. He is growing wonderfully beautiful again. I know how yours must enjoy Ada’s fine teaching. Give my love to her. I often hear from Mr. Badger who finds great consolation in writing to us. He is desirous that Ada should do exactly what she wishes to do & thinks best for her own improvement. How does Mr. Hawthorne enjoy Rome? How long do you project staying abroad? I was rejoiced to hear that you thought of selling the Wayside, for I do not believe you could ever be well there in such a damp place. Mr. Mann sends you his blessing.

Yours most lovingly,