Emily Gilmore Alden.

Harriet Newell Haskell : January 14th, 1835, Waldoboro, Me. May 6th, 1907, Godfrey, Ill. ; A span of sunshine gold online

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Online LibraryEmily Gilmore AldenHarriet Newell Haskell : January 14th, 1835, Waldoboro, Me. May 6th, 1907, Godfrey, Ill. ; A span of sunshine gold → online text (page 3 of 5)
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outlook, as matters were then conducted. She turned
her back resolutely upon any project for her ultimate
transfer from extreme east to what then seemed ex-
treme west, and returned to Castleton, as she thought,
a saner and wiser woman, much to the delight of her
admirers there — parents, pupils, and teachers.
Everybody considered the matter settled, except the
Trustees of Monticello, who, having seen on their
side, were determined to conquer this woman of
steel and sunshine ; unanimously elected her as per-
manent Principal over and above her refusal to serve,
sending her an official notification of this rather un-
usual action, which made her pause and for the first
time waver!

It was a broader field, and a wider opportunity.
She would miss her boys, but girls would become
mothers who should train the men of the Middle
West. The idea grew by what it was made to feed
upon in more and more urgent letters from the Mis-
sissippi Valley. She not only paused, but pondered.
It was now become clear that she had found her 'Vo-
cation", that of teaching and training other women's
children. It was strange, but it grew more and more
melodious — the music of that name Monticello —
Mount of Heaven — by the bank of that great western


water way ! Illinois College was graduating stal-
wart young men — country girls, unlettered, though
never so sweet and charming, would not make suit-
able brides. Capt. Benjamin Godfrey, founder of the
Seminary, was right, and its prosperous existence for
then nearly thirty years proved the wisdom of his
forethought. Bereft of its first talented leader by her
resignation, there was an imperative demand for a
secorfd. She had been chosen, and confirmed in the
most positive manner. It was not now should she,
but ought she to resist obstinately what might be a
Providential indication? It was a struggle, but the
west was to win against the east. She accepted the
position, but with the definite proviso that she was
to choose her own teachers, be left entirely unhamp-
ered in the management of internal affairs, and be
judged by results only after a fair trial of her
''methods", which she foresaw would difter materially
from those of the former regime, not necessarily be-
cause they were so much better, for though confident,
she was not overwnst in her own conceit, but because
they were different, and therefore might prove stimu-

Her conditions were accepted, but it was not with-
out "qualms" that in the late summer she appeared
upon the ground. It was vacation — the big stone
house was desolate and empty save for the matron
and her few assistant caretakers. The climate was
debilitating for a woman New England breeze-blown.
The weather was exhaustingly hot, the roads dust-
buried, the broad Father of Waters narrowed to a


rivulet of what might have been muddy coffee — not
Hke the rock-bound rills of Maine or the singing cas-
cades of the Green Mountain State. The lay-out of
both work and landscape was most dispiriting and
depressing to anybody who did not generate her own
oxygen. She groaned but once. On retiring the first
evening after her arrival, hearing the shrill whistle of
the eastern-bound express, she exclaimed : ''Go on,
old train !" Then she resolutely set her face to her
task and never faltered once again.

The school, owing to no fault of interregnum
management, which was as sagacious as possible, but
to the inevitable vicissitudes of any transition period,
was somewhat unsettled as to its future ongoing.
Traditions of "disorders" floated in the air, very
much exaggerated, no doubt! The ''Alton boys"
were reported, not in the saddle, but in buggies galore,
as the Monticello girls went across the road to church
on Sundays. With handkerchiefs tied to whip
handles, these gallants saluted the fair procession,
making a lane for its passage through their valorous
and self-appointed ranks. What would the new
Principal do in such extraordinary premises? She
ow/lined or rather mlined her policy at once, the ani-
mus of which was, making "Chevalier Bayards" of
the Alton boys ; persuade to her way of thinking, the
Monticello girls. To formulate was with her to act
briskly, fearlessly, but with caution, unseen at the til-
ler. She therefore arranged a weekly afternoon "re-
ception" for the hoys, threw open the parlors, played
the role of hostess herself, introducing the girls and


making all go merry during the appointed hour.
Many elders shook their heads and looked askance,
but they had promised not to interfere.

The "new departure" next organized a large
young men's Bible Class to be holden in the gallery
of the church, with herself as instructor. Both
schemes worked even beyond expectation. The ''re-
ceptions" being an allowed pleasure and having no
subtle charm of the dis-aWowedy gradually dwindled
by their own default, until they were discontinued be-
cause so few availed themselves of such a simple and
stated privilege. On the other hand, the Bible Class
increased in numbers and vivid interest ; as there are
those living at present who will thus testify. The in-
structor was young, and interesting moreover. She
handled religious themes in a new way, finding many
opportunities of presenting more lofty ideals of be-
havior than had before been considered, even had
they been taught both in home and pulpit. Her per-
fectly familiar and yet sufficiently dignified manner
was like a *'sea-turn" in a sultry afternoon. She
encouraged but controlled discussion, allowed free
expression, but insisted that it be refined and reverent.
A novel method this, choking "wild oats" by a young
man's Bible Class.

In the meantime she was making herself mistress
of the family and school household. Some teachers
who had been held over from the earlier regime were
a little in doubt as to her free and easy manner in
dealing with both major and minor transgressions,
but the issues thereof were so sound, so sane, so


wholesome, that her decisions became finalities with
no further question. Things settled into orderly
though liberal courses, and very soon the vigor and
wisdom as well as the sweetness of the new adminis-
tration were generously recognized, even by those at
first most quizzical. The goodness in her face, the
evident sincerity and elevated purity of her purpose,
disarmed criticism, which she ever met with such
good-humored argument that she generally proved
her way the best under the circumstances of the par-
ticular situation under discussion. She was slow,
very slow, almost "impossibV to wrath, even under
extreme provocation ; allowed other persons the free-
dom of their opinions, which she regarded, but she
could not be blown about by every wind of doctrine.
She held that the "ultimatum" must rest with her, as
she shouldered and was prepared to meet the responsi-
bihty of her acts. All this time, in her young
womanhood of the thirties, she was inaugurating and
establishing her splendid administration which was
to render Monticello a "loveliness", the spell of which
was never broken by the complex inrush of after

Hers was ideal living, so pure, so winsome wise,
It seemed a wonder-study, continuous in surprise ;
Her very touch was tonic — exhilarant as wine —
With magnetism richer than blood of royal line.
She carried wealth of sunshine in every word and

Her heart read like the pages of an illumined book;


Her loz'C was sure as roses beneath the skies of June ;
Her counsels were as mellow as measures of a tune.
Her faith was steady beacon o'er life's tumultuous

Or steadfast as the needles of any mountain pine;
Her hope glowed like a ruby 'neath blaze of morning

Or as an emerald flashes 'mid tapers of the night.
She was at one with pleasure, yet in accord with grief.
She saw in each soul-model both low and high relief;
As buoyant as a paean, but serious as a prayer,
She knew related values and gave to each its share.
As generous as sea-foam — her "mine'' was always

She "sealed" no private treasures with cabalistic sign I
The fires were ever burning upon her vestal shrine
That made her liberal giving seem privilege divine.


To some, life in a retired educational institution
is a boring monotony; to others, "green pasture" be-
side ''still waters". Neither can be adequately de-
scribed except for those who, having experienced, can
read between as well as behind the lines. For some
there is in school life a haunting charm; the quiet
atmospheres, the regular hours, the musical clamor of
bells calling to appointed duties, the "sweet security
of books", the crowding young and eager faces, the
communion with refined and cultivated teachers, the
morning chapel, the even song, all invite to reposeful
but not inactive living, which has a character of its
own; yet does not lend itself to dramatic treatment.

To delineate the home-school animus prevailing at
Monticello in its entirety, or even in its half-tones,
seems a sort of sacrilegious endeavor. A water-color-
ist rather than a cartoonist should undertake it, and
even then, the result might be only a smattered daub
of smudgy dyes. Though so secluded, it was a world-
wide life, with poets, philosophers, scientists and
saints. It was "Hamlet played a hundred nights", but
a new Hamlet every time, and to a fresh audience each
year, but never a Hamlet "left out" ! Monotonous ?
— oh no ; never ! with such a versatile woman at the
fore. Never "flat, stale or unprofitable", she was now
a larger classic, not only of the wwexpected, but a "de


luxe" edition of the assured. She knezv her force, and
was built to ride rough as well as shining seas, as
future events will testify. She was not only the pre-
siding genius, she was the permeating presence of the
house. Platform and parlor knew her presence, but
also kitchen and door-yard ; the spreading campus in
front and the out-lying farm behind were equally fa-
miliar to her keen and busy oversight. Xot only
teachers and scholars, but helpers **of every sort and
condition" masculine or feminine, had the freest ac-
cess to her ready ear and her genuine heart-interest.
She never forgot petty but after all most significant
attentions to those ''below stairs", and made every "at-
tachee" of the establishment feel jealous of its honor
and her sagacious supervision.

There was no frigid or torrid in her consistent be-
havior, no trap-doors (crotchets) in her disposition, no
sulky days in her calendar, for she dwelt always in
temperate zones. It was all "Queen's weather". Irri-
tants found no place in her pharmacoepia. Her morn-
ing greeting to the school both in dining-room and at
chapel swept frowns from every brow, and cobwebs
from every brain, and set the "tempo" for the day.
She never dismissed the girls from opening exercise
without some tonic note of moral uplift, either by
story or poem, or witty suggestion of her own.

She was a "raconteur royale" ! But her tales
were not hackneyed repetitions, because she rarely
told them twice alike, but (like Browning's Ring and
Book) from so many varied points of view, as wit-
ness her tragi-comedy of the "Burning Bed" from


which she was so miraculously rescued by her heroic
pater when an infant twelve hours old. Every
Monticello girl remembers that story, for bemg re-
lated from the different observation-point of every
actor in the drama — father, mother, nurse, and all
touched up by her own mature reflections, so humor-
ously set forth, it was often presented in the Monti-
cello Drury Lane as Tragedy, Comedy, Epic, Lyric,
Fable and Real Life founded on fact! But though
a brilliant Arabian Nights Scheherezade, there was
underlying every tale a sound substructure of moral
granitoide, while "Haec Fabula Docet" was never
forgotten. The most salutary lessons of honor, cour-
age, good cheer, teachableness, filtered into the minds
of the listeners as mountain rivulets percolate the
sands of arid plains by scientific irrigation, and the
young audience departed, unaware that they
had been ''preached to" or listening to a "sermon"
with variegated text. Such sub-conscious ethics be-
came strong strata in many a character, saving it
from disintegration even in later years.

Though this usual serenity of life was sometimes
stirred by eddies and currents of minor disaster, they
disturbed but for a moment, because so thoroughly
understood to be but bubbles on the overflow. Two
very serious calamities, however, did overtake and
almost paralyze for the time being ; viz. : trials by
fire; the first the perilous and nearly fatal accident
of her own burning while impersonating Santa Claus
one Christmas; the second, total destruction by flame
of what is now called the old building, which had



been repaired and renovated to the limit of
possibility. The personal agony of the first test of
faith and patience she met with all the fortitude
which might have been expected from a person of
her equable temperament, but the second was a much
severer ordeal. To stand helplessly by, and see the
fruits of toilsome years vanish in smoke between ten
P. M. and ten A. M. the next morning, could not but
make her stout heart quiver to the core. The new
library cases, the new stairways from top to bottom
of the house, and all just completed, swept to ashes
in the quiet beauty of a November night. She did
steal behind a tree and drop a solitary tear, and that
was the sole unit-measure of her grief.

Then she set her splendid self toward rescue and
rehabilitation, with such magnificent resolve that no
opposition could daunt, or discouragement "down"
her. She now proved herself equal to a crisis. The
steady running of the school heretofore seemed al-
most a matter of its own inertia, but now came a
jolt that was to try to the uttermost the nerve of
the hand at the helm ! A woman's hand at that !
The insurance not by any means covering the loss,
the usual troop of disconcerting questions pressed
into the foreground. Was it zvorth while to rebuild?
Would patronage continue and pupils be returned
after such an overwhelming calamity? Could the
chasm be bridged soon enough to "save the state"?
There were also attendant ifs, buts, ahs, ohs, the
"little foxes that eat the vines".

How she answered these queries by the swift erec-


tion of the temporary building, thus for two years
holding the school together, issuing the usual cata-
logues, and graduating the Senior Classes, is too well
known to need detailed repetition here. "Get under
a bush, Miss Haskell, and we'll come back to you,"
was the pledge of the out-going crowd as the smoke
of the holocaust ascended to heaven, and the pledge
was more than doubly redeemed. Encouragement
and substantial help came at first call, from devoted
alumnae, friends "at large", and one particular bene-
factor who may be mentioned in passing as a member
of the aforesaid Bible Class. All this has been re-
hearsed many times, but never has been, and perhaps
never can be related, the superb poise of the victor in
the fight — victor from first to last, from smoking ashes
to palace towers.

No person not upon the ground could ever realize
the patient vigilance brooding over the new construc-
tion. She knew by heart as well as head the lay of
every beam, the span of every arch, the lift of every
column from turret to foundation-stone. Nothing
escaped her watchful eye, and midnights often, as
well as meridians, were her "working hours". Vaca-
tions as well as school sessions kept her on steady
duty. Obstacles numerous, irritations manifold as
plagues of Egypt, could not shake her Gibraltar of
equanimity. The workmen marvelled greatly at her
invariable good-nature in the face of exasperating de-
lays, and came to the conclusion that Monticello must
be "aisy on the heart" with such a cheery woman at
the head! But the end crowned the work, and the


glorious fruition following has continued from the
dedication day to the present hour in the shape of
an overflowing school crowding from year to year the
halls and corridors of an educational temple worthy
of an Athenian Acropolis. Though so often prophe-
sied that she must collapse when she could say, "It
is finished," nothing of the kind happened, and she
lived to grace what she had so skilfully builded ; to
enjoy the result brought to pass by brain toil and
heart petition.

Monticello's ''golden age" was now in the ascend-
ant, for its preserver was in her splendid prime. The
mellowing beauty of her chastened administration is
too subtly elusive for words. Beside her morning
greeting to the school there were her prayers after
evensong in the dining-room, the sacred hush of
which at that hour can never be forgotten by any
student or teacher who ever enjoyed the precious
privilege of that devotional period ; those petitions
so simple, so brief, so sincere ; a litany of spontane-
ous eloquence ; in a language that the smallest and
weakest could understand — sometimes scarcely a cry
of aspiration, again a sweep of fervid inspiration. It
is here "in order" to appeal to every listener, who
held her breath to catch every accent of devotion.
Who can ever forget the familiar hymn-tunes as night
after night they floated "sweet and low" yet marvel-
ously distinct to the farthest corner of the rooms?

A third most notable point of regular contact
with those under her charge was the Sunday morning
service, which she generally conducted after the with-


drawal of the Institution from church services across
the way. Here she was matchless, as none can ever
know who were not there to hearken. In her pubHc
ministration she never had the ''fictitious type of
bearing", "the air of omniscience", the trick of pedan-
try, the slavish conventionality and above all the me-
tallic, raucous voice of the "cut and dried ''teacher" !
Every "talk" was a cameo! Not only were the
youngest of her auditors always ready listeners, ar-
rested by her clear and chaste expression, but the old-
est also were as much surprised as edified by what
seemed specially addressed to their mature intelli-
gence. The wonder grew as to how she touched both
poles with the wand of communicated thought. The
voice — never lifted above middle registers — carried
like flute notes, melodious and thrilling; the ideas
were crystal, for she rarely spoke enigmas to the
young. Her devotional temperament (an astonish-
ment to many who had previously seen her only on
the secular side) was then at high tide. She was
moderate, self-contained, and serene, though convinc-
ing to a finish, and as earnest as the prayer of the
publican, breast-smitten and contrite. She was not
and did not desire to be heard for her ''much" , but
her honest speaking. She was the same hearty, gen-
uine woman on her home platform as in her private
library with familiar friends. She knew not "airs,"
but she abounded in "graces" !

Her charities were "ships that passed in the night"
— not pageants that moved in the sunlight. The se-
crets of her private purse were not open secrets to


any save beneficiaries, and not always known even to
them. Many a class pin or graduating gown seemed
to drop from heaven like the manna of the Israelities,
while the bestowal of the gift was so graciously man-
aged that obligation was not so much a burden un-
bearable as a blessing unspeakable.

She never had the manner dictatorial, nor carried
the stiff "dignity of authority". She zi'as authority.
Most considerate was this Principal of both the rights
and feelings of her teachers — always allowing each a
"free hand" in work, and only judging it as she her-
self demanded to be judged, by results. She recog-
nized, however, every individual method, though with
no appearance of surveillance, and would not have em-
ployees about her made uncomfortable by the adverse
and nagging criticism of those who thought they
could do it better ! Every teacher was to have the
entire swing of her own circuit, subject of course to
delicate suggestions, but not to rasping censure. If
a subordinate proved unsatisfactory she was not re-
tained, but she was not to be hampered to any verge
of nervous prostration while she remained. Full
scope was given to originality of scheme, and no
method was tabooed because unusual, if it proved ef-

Though self-contained and apparently beyond pos-
sibility of tremor, she was modest in self-estimate
when required by the duties of her position to put
herself in the public view. Once there, however, she
bore herself proudly, grandly, and yet with a meek-
ness that in itself was might impregnable. Even


more than mothers, she impressed fathers, who often
came to visit their daughters on Sundays, because
then released from business cares. As a matter of
courtesy they attended Chapel service, manifesting
some measure of curiosity as to its character. It was
easy for an observer to watch curiosity merge into
close attention, close attention into aroused interest,
aroused interest into electric sympathy, electric sym-
pathy into discriminating admiration, as they recog-
nized the breadth and the uplift, and better still the
logical proportions of her simple yet astute discourse.
Her personnel was here exhibited at finest advantage.
She was not a beautiful but she was a handsome
woman — sometimes said to resemble Susan B. An-
thony, a rather plain one, also Mrs. Mary Livermore,
an unusually imposing matron. But strange though
it may appear, neither woman resembled her, for here
was something beyond and above either. She used
to humorously relate that when Senior at Holyoke
she met an old gentleman, who on being introduced,
remarked: "My dear, you strongly resemble Mary
Lyon," then pausing meditatively he most innocently
added: "I think Mary Lyon the homeliest woman /
ever saw." He must have been "sand blind" like
old Lancelot!

As has been remarked, though not beautiful in tie
ordinary sense, our patron saint possessed distinctum,
which does not fade, but is often accentuated by
passage of years. Strangers looking at her
turned to look again and inquire, ''Who is
-she? Some public woman, of course!" Her hair


brushed smoothly off her broad brow, and below her
ears to knot at nape of the neck, displayed the dome
of her fine head, which she playfully called her "ad-
ministration dome" (as indeed it was). Her chin was
firm and square. Her nose, Napoleonic, was her
most classic feature, its fine thin nostril quivering as
did that of Marie Antoinette, when indignant or scorn-
ful. Her head was royally set on her white, columnar
neck, as the bust so truly represents, and her eye was
ever telling the fervid emotions of her heart, or the
racing thoughts of her active brain. She was not
tall, though always so described because her erect
and spirited carriage gave that universal impression,
and it was not until standing beside a really tall
woman that it became apparent she was not much
above medium height. In middle life, and this picture
is drawn from that view point, her attire was black
always, which best suited her fair complexion ; her
garb was simple and ever adapted to time and occa-
sion, though so regardless in mere matters of dress
was she that it was sometimes well that she was su-
perintended by her watchful friends, while her pre-
occupied mind was on much higher things intent.
She was absorbed in what she was saying, and not
thinking of garments she was wearing or how she
was looking in the mirror of other minds.

There were no dregs in the spicy wine of her con-
versation, for she did not deal with commonplaces.
Though she appeared not only to lead but to dominate
social converse wherever she was present, it was
mainly because everybody willingly waited and list-


ened for her wit and wisdom, so spontaneous but
never crowding.

A word should be said in passing concerning her
letters. She did not consider herself a satisfactory-
correspondent, because she said she had no time or in-
clination in that line after her numerous business ob-
ligations. She was therefore rather impatient even
of letters received, especially if they were illegibly
written, and would toss them to others to decipher.
But for all she was absolute mistress of her trenchant

It has been said that, though man excels in humor,

1 3 5

Online LibraryEmily Gilmore AldenHarriet Newell Haskell : January 14th, 1835, Waldoboro, Me. May 6th, 1907, Godfrey, Ill. ; A span of sunshine gold → online text (page 3 of 5)