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Mary E. Stearns online

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Willie grew steadily worse. The school con-
tinued as usual. The girls were not permitted

[ 273 J


to feel the slightest sadness on account of his

It became necessary to send him away.
In the spring of 1881 Miss Kittrcdge took him
to Colorado Springs, where, just a week after
his arrival, he died, on the twelfth of V


Willie was the only child, at the time of his
father's death, who could understand what his
loss meant, even in the smallest degree. Some-
times in the night, at the end of a long, brave
day, Mrs. Stearns would give way to the grief
of her heart, and as she lay sobbing, there would
come a tap at the door and Willie would softly
ask, "Is there anything I can do, mother : "
"No, dear," she would reply, "you must go
back to bed again." She always felt that he
died of grief. His body was brought back to
Amherst, where it was buried on his twenty-
first birthday.

The girls, during this brief period, were scat-
tered in the houses of various friends, until
after the funeral, when the school dudes were

Harold, meanwhile, who had been a year at
Andover, where his uncle, Dr. Bancroft



the husband of Mrs. Stearns's sister was
principal of the academy, entered Amherst
College in the fall of 1881. He remained during
his freshman year only, for in 1882 he devel-
oped alarming symptoms, which foreshadowed
tuberculosis. Harold, the handsome boy with
such superb colour! Mrs. Stearns sent him
on a sailing voyage to the Orient. He visited
Japan and Java, and remained away a year.

People have questioned how it was possible
for Mrs. Stearns to do for her children what
she did. Where did the money come from ?
The only answer Mrs. Stearns would make
is that what they needed, they must have.
And they did.

Moreover, she discovered that some trades-
men who had been her husband's creditors at
the time of his death, had received only a per-
centage on what was owing them. In a few years
after the school was started, she paid them all
in full, and she never borrowed a cent of
money in her life !

Ethel was not only beautiful, but talented.
She wrote well, had a remarkable voice, and
was the noblest and strongest character of the
family. She had been failing gradually during



the entire school year of 1 88 1 -82. What could
be done ? She had no pain. There was no strug-
gle. She only faded, slowly. She was not an
imalul, ruver being confined to her bed. Y
Stearns tried to keep Annie away from her.
Yet she did not \\ish Annie to suspect that her
exquisite sister could do her harm. Annie's
chief di-li^ht was to spend long, sunny hours
with I tlul in her large southern nx>m. When
they urged Annie to go outof doors, Ethel would
say pathetically, " But she wants to stay with
me ! " And so she stayed. Shortly after the be-
ginning of the school year 1882-83, four days
after her seventeenth birthday, Ethel died of
tuberculosis of the lungs, on the fifteenth of
October, 1882. The main dependence of her
mother was gone !

Some of the girls went to Miss Snell's house,
others remained with Mrs. Stearns. The day
after Ethel's funeral, the lessons were resumed
as usual.

Could Mrs. Stearns afford to look back, to
wonder whether she had done all for Ethel that
could have been done, or to allow herself t<>
realize the full extent of her grief? Through
it, she seemed to have gained, in every pur-


pose, a still higher tendency. All her energy
should be bent toward making life gladder for
those who remained. The school could not
pause to look back. The words she wrote to
another who was in agony of spirit, explain, in
part, her own courage. " If only my tears would
make your sorrow less! . . . But Oh, how
hard, how dreadfully hard ! I feel sometimes
as though I could not bear the thought of this
suffering from separations of loved ones by
death. What horrible darkness it would be but
for the revelation which Christ has made, . . .
and the assurance that our dear ones are there
waiting for our coming."

Her certainty of this reunion was unassaila-
ble. It was her chief source of power through
all the years. One of her pupils at this time,
Hattie Alexander, now Mrs. Holliday, writes,
"Her silent grief impressed the girls very
much, and created more sympathy than if
she had openly manifested it. ... For her
pupils there was always a smile and a loving
caress, perhaps bestowed as she thought of the
beautiful daughter she had lost.

"Honour was Mrs. Stearns's rule. We were
never commanded to do anything, but were

[ 277 ]


simply told what she desired, and what she
thought was right. It was her trust in the girls
that won their love."

This was about the rime when Mr. H. G.
Tucker, of Boston, began to come to M
Stearns's school once a week to give piano-
forte lessons. Aside from the pleasure she took
in his playing and teaching, his visits were a
very real help to her. We all remember how
eagerly she looked forward to "Mr. Tucker's
day," their dinner-time discussions of topics
which we could not imagine interesting, but
which had a world-wide scope!

It may not be too inappropriate to insert,
here, an appreciation of Mrs. Stearns sent by
Mr. Tucker, shortly after her death.

"The dearest friend on earth. The kindest
and most loving of women. The best condi-
tioned and most unwearied spirit in doing cour-
tesies. Her words were bonds. Her love sin-
cere. Her thoughts immaculate. Her tears pure
messengers sent from the heart. Her heart as
far from fraud as heaven from earth. Remember
her? Aye, while memory holds a seat in this
distracted globe."

From this rime on, art formed an important

1 278]


part of the school life. Many girls studied not
only the pianoforte with Mr. Tucker, but sing-
ing and painting in oil and water colour with
Mrs. Todd.

Mrs. Hollidaygoes on, "After 3 130, we could
play tennis or walk. In the winter we made
these walks very short. Instead, we would go
to Mrs. Stearns's room, where there was a
large open wood fire, and we would sew for
our bazaar. Each girl felt she was welcome
at this fireside. This was one of Mrs. Stearns's
endearing ways. It was during the long winter
afternoons that we would prevail on her to
open her curio trunks, and show us the Eastern
dresses, embroideries and souvenirs, which
were very rare and beautiful. . . .

"In the early spring evenings, just as we
were retiring, we heard the Psi U songs. No-
thing gave us more pleasure than the occasional
serenades of the college men. In an instant
we were up, and showering them with bou-
quets. Someway we always knew these sere-
nades were to take place, and no one was more
enthusiastic than Mrs. Stearns. The only
objection she had was that we never could
decide amicably who should throw the flowers.

[ 279 ]

I II I \I <>NE

hen came the baseball games. All was
excitement. Our< .U, hats and colours (we
were always loyal toAmlu-rst >.\M n- tin- absorb-
ing thoughts for days. We had a great deal of
fun at these games. The men we knew would
come and surround the steps of our carriages.
This was the nearest we ever came to driving
with them. . . .

"Mrs. Stearns had a wonderful influence
over every one. There was no jealousy, envy
or backbiting, or any of the petty vices so ot
prevalent among school girls. Her religious
influence was deeply felt, and has remained
with many of the girls, now women, through

"In the fall the hills were covered with
radiant colours. 'Mountain Day 'was always
looked forward to with more real joy than any
other holiday."

It was on the Mountain Day of 1882, the
day before that of the college, that a famous
escapade took place. In the words of one of
the chief actors, "We went to Mount Holyoke,
and, before leaving, wrote our names on a blue
ribbon, and tied it to a stake on the summit.
The following day the sophomore class went


to Mount Holyoke, captured the ribbon, and
the next morning as they went up the hill to
chapel, we were electrified by the bits of blue
in their button holes ! ... So we decided on
blue as our colour. The gold was added

An Amherst friend of Mrs. Stearns writes,
"The relation of the student body to the
school was fine and chivalrous. Every young
man admitted to the 'Convent' must be pro-
perly introduced by parent or guardian of the
pupil he wished to see, before he could be-
come even a Friday evening caller; and those
invited to the musicales and receptions, the
annual fair, or other occasional festivities,
were either friends of Mrs. Stearns, or, if it
may be so expressed, hereditary acquaintances
of the pupils. One result of this careful guard-
ing of the girls from too casual companion-
ships, was a mighty enhancement of the de-
sirability of entree. To many college students
nothing in their course was more highly prized
than the trust and approval of Mrs. Stearns,
evidenced by their admission to her home.

"In the President's house, with college
buildings close at hand, it must have been
[281 ]


sometimes a difficult n maintain that

ili licate adjustment of relation, uhiili rirrtim-
stances demanded, between a bevy of
girls and several hundred young men. Hut
she never failed. Her situation was furthrr
complicated by the fact that through most
the eighties, and until 1894, Mrs. Stearns had
sons in college. They lived, however, at the
Psi Upsilon fraternity house, of which they
were members.

" 1 f occasionally there was some enthusiastic
pupil to whom this delightful wilderness of
youths was new and intoxicating, so that she
was inclined to overstep bounds of stric-
propriety in the delights of sub rosa flirtation,
no one outside heard or knew of it; and the
offender, after an intimate talk with the dearest
of mentors, must have felt that to be forgiven
and helped by Mrs. Stearns was positive as-
surance and guarantee for future perfection."

Such were Mrs. Stearns's relations to the
college students, formal indeed, so far as the
school was concerned. But to the men as her
sons' friends, she was the "valued adviser and
dear friend." They felt instinctively her su-
perior judgment, her power of discerning the



right in a tangled situation, and her ability to
help them choose the right when once it was
shown them. What she was to them as a friend
is best expressed in their own words.

"I first had the pleasure of meeting Mrs.
Stearns during the opening months of my
sophomore year. From that time on, through
my college course, I saw her frequently, both
in and out of her home. There was about her
a motherliness that drew the boy who was away
from home naturally to her. I remember so
well her quiet dignity and self-poise, her spon-
taneous interest in all that occupied the atten-
tion of the young people about her, her un-
affected genuineness, her frank kindliness.

"And now that my college days are receding
into a past which the calendar says is already
distant, I find the memory of her is one of the
most vivid recollections of that happy time.
After a period of many years, during which I
saw her only once or twice, I was again brought
into association with her. The physical change
was great, for the infirmities of age were upon
her, but she was the same Mrs. Stearns, alert,
and vigorous in mind, affectionate, living in her
children and in the wide circle of men and



women, older and younger, who had been her
boys and girls in i-arlit-r days. She never grew
old in spirit. The many trials and sorrows
that fell to her lot only ripened and sweetened
the beautiful nature, so that her old age was
a mellowed youth, and at the end of life, as
in its prime, she was still the interested com-
panion, the sympathetic friend, of everyone
who had the privilege of knowing her."

Again: "Her great wisdom in handling the
girls under her care, and the college boys who
were her sons' friends, and who were proud
to look to her as their friend, was a constant
source of wonder. She trusted the. men whom
she honoured with her friendship, and this very
trust made them more manly and worthy of
her confidence. . . . When her dearest ones
were taken from her . . . even in her own
grief she was a tower of strength to those of us
who were in trouble ourselves."

Again : "My mind's eye holds distinctly and
gratefully the image of Mrs. Stearns. . . .
Mental breadth and alertness united with
warm human sympathies to make the world
widely-horizoned and endlessly interesting to
her. It followed that she was delightful in con-



versation. ... I feel sure that many college men
count their acquaintance with Mrs. Stearns,
and the open door of her gracious home, as one
of the best of the good providences of their
Amherst days."

Mrs. Stearns was often a mediator between
the men and girls, as her sponsorship in sev-
eral love affairs proves.

Harold had returned from his long voyage,
apparently well. He had been only a short time
in Amherst, however, when the serious symp-
toms reappeared. He went west to remain,
studying medicine in Kansas City and Denver.
Arthur was sent to Andover, to prepare for
college, and entered Amherst in the fall of

Meanwhile Annie, who showed no signs of
tuberculosis until a year after Ethel's death,
was taken ill. At the first suspicion, Miss
Kittredge took her to Florida. This was in the
late winter of 1884. The trip did not seem to
benefit her. She grew steadily worse during
the summer. The school began as usual in the
fall of 1884. Of the five remaining children,
Harold was in the west, Arthur was a freshman
in college, Alfred had been taken to Florida,



Mabel was in school at home, and Annie, also
at home, was now confined to her bed. Unlike
I rhel, she suffered untold agony, in r heart as
\M-I1 as lungs being affected.

Ir would seem as though no human I
could bear such burdens as rested upon Mi-.
S reams. But when is added the fact that her
own health was in a precarious state, and her
eyes giving her constant trouble, so that any
one else would have been a hopeless invalid,
what she accomplished is indeed incredible.
Her heart wrung with anguish unable to
help her child, whose sufferings were growing
more intense every day, she was obliged to take
to her bed herself. She heard all her recita-
tions from September to Christmas, 1884, on
her back.

The girls could come to her just as usual.
She seemed surrounded with a sublime peace.
As always, she was the tender sympathizer
with all their trifling mishaps.

On the fourth of March, 1885, at the age of
sixteen, Annie died. All the girls remained in
the house. Mrs. Stearns rose to greater and
greater heights of serenity. "She did not allow
a curtain to be drawn down, nor any crape to



be placed on the door. To the girls she said,
'I do not wish the school lessons to be inter-
rupted, nor the piano closed. Our dear one
has only gone to a more beautiful home, and
we cannot weep for her. She has gone to her
father. He will be there to greet her/

"Were this calmness and peace unnatural ?
No ! not for one who walked so close with God,
and who lived every day and in all circum-
stances the religion she professed. . . .

"Never have I witnessed such a triumph
of soul over heart sorrow as shown in her per-
fect peace and absolute trust in the infinite love
that was back of the severe chastening. It was
not stoicism, though those who did not know
her might call it such, nor was her calmness
assumed, when she met with others, but it was
simply her anchor-hope, which no storms
. could move."



Amherst Activities

THE anxieties of these heart-breaking years,
the responsibilities of running her, now, large
school, of meeting her own teaching appoint-
ments, of caring for her children, and of her
perfect housekeeping, were not apparent. Her
Amherst friends never guessed that she was
over busy, or had duties more exacting than
those of other women. Of what she was to the
town of Amherst we can best judge by the fol-
lowing appreciation, written by a fellow towns-
woman and dear friend.

" In the midst of a simple New England col-
lege town, Mrs. Stearns established a gracious,
cosmopolitan centre. Homesick at times she
must have been not only for the husband
and children who had already gone onward
into the unknown, but even for the details of
that far different environment from which she
had come, a life brilliant with all the glamour
of the East, whose everyday incidents, when

t 288 ] '


she could be induced to speak of them, sounded
like actual chapters from the Arabian Nights.
From the splendour of the Orient she passed
to the plainer life of a small college town, the
same sweet, unspoiled, forceful, cultivated
woman who had so profoundly impressed the
society of Bombay.

"Almost at once she had become one of the
moving spirits in Amherst, always on the side
of betterment, genuinely interested, despite
continued personal bereavement, in all that
pertained to town and college.

"Unconsciously to herself she broadened the
outlook of all with whom she came in contact.
Wider horizons dawned gradually in narrow
lives, eyes unexpectedly opened to larger things,
not only in details of daily living, but in mental
attitude and toleration of what to them was
new. Routine had never cramped her own

"Frequently Mrs. Stearns was called the
'first citizen of Amherst.' Her standards be-
came a fixed quantity for comparison. For
years, frequent and heartbreaking losses kept
her enveloped in crape. But it was her only
sign of grief. Always her face was serene and



cheerful, her greeting genial. lu-r response to
another's happiness as In artklt as if no d uui
had ever dimmed the sunshine of her own blue

"In the long veil and handsome seal
cloak which spoke of more opulent years, she
would have bestowed distinction on any com-
munity; and her dignified presence in the vil-
lage streets became familiarly welcome -
always a commanding and distinguished figure.

" Of the girls who came to her ' home-school '
for education with her own daughters, sadly
reduced by death from three to one, all felt her
inspiring uplift, her optimistic attitude, her
tenacious and unswerving hold upon all high
planes of thought. Her spirit never faltered
in its celestial lift.

"Rough manners, were there any in a new
pupil, softened under her influence to all the
externals of ladyhood. The simple elegance
of her table took for granted the familiarity of
all with the proprieties of the world at large,
and the furnishings of her house carved
teak, Persian rugs, Eastern embroideries -
accustomed pupils and visitors alike to an
unusual and picturesque setting.
[ 290 ]


"While entering heartily into the cheerful
young life about her, conducting classes most
inspiringly, and doing her part bravely and
unshrinkingly in town and church, all aspects
of the inner life of Mrs. Stearns, her sadness,
her memories, the hopes still left, were for her-
self alone. She never asked sympathy, or ob-
truded the slightest suggestion that the present
was in any way a different experience from her
delightful life in Paris, or the almost regal
years in India.

"Sacrifice of herself was constant and in-
stinctive. One instance will illustrate.

"When, during a certain period, the girls
seemed unusually gay and conscious of the
proximity of the dominant sex, she quietly
withdrew, permanently, her pewfuls of bloom-
ing maidens from the college church that
gift of her husband in his successful years, and
in which are tablets in his honour and that of his
father, for twenty-one years president of Am-
herst College. This, her normal Sunday home,
she left with genuine sadness ; but at the village
church, she said, there would be less to dis-
tract the thoughts of young girls from the real
worship of God.

[ 291 ]


"A consistent opponent of the movement
for woman's suffrage, she nevertheless ex-
hibited in In r <>\\n power and achievement,
the very qualities which in a wider ami n
public position \\ould have brought i
to herself and large betterment to the world.

"During a time when the anti-suffrage
society was seeking membership in to\\n. In r
sympathy with the movement led her into an
ardent house-to-house canvass in a certain sec-
tion. Her life had been heretofore quite tin-
reverse of democratic, but she was both sur-
prised and gratified at the interesting homes
and persons she encountered on this unusual

" Elected on one occasion to the school com-
mittee appropriate tribute to her well-known
interest and authoritative views in educational
matters she resigned at once, a consistent
example of her life-long objection to seeing
women occupy public office.

" But in home and private educational lines,
she believed, lay the true sphere of woman's
strongest influence, and she never swerved
from that position, despite the devotion and
high character of many who believed in and

[ 292 1


worked for the franchise, as the first step to the
salvation of modern conditions a nobility
of purpose which she freely acknowledged.
It was simply not her way of aiding the up-
lifting of womanhood.

"Mrs. Stearns was always keenly suscep-
tible to the best music. Well trained herself,
she warmly appreciated thoroughness and
good method, even more in singing than in
pianoforte study. Nor was she less sensitive
to quality in the speaking voice, so generally
ignored in America. Frequent recitals of the
best music in her home formed an entering
wedge for a gradually rising musical standard
in the town at large; and the presence there
of artists of wide reputation, really helped to
pave the way for that larger development along
classic lines, which has come to town and col-
lege in later years."

Left alone as she had been, the average
woman would have considered merely "getting
along" all that could be expected. To Mrs.
Stearns the problem of daily living was but
incidental to a still constantly broadening life.

"With a brilliant wit, beautifully sincere, the
home-making talent in generous measure, a deep

[ 293 ]


kn<>\\lrdge of girl nature and necessities,
thorough appreciation of the ;nn tu i,i
life, a truly religious heart and loyalty un-
bounded, Mrs. Stearns was always vividly
alive, not only to world matters, on uhuh
she was authority, hut in details of every day,
in the experiences of her frumls, in the inter-
ests of the town.

" It was not so much what she taught the
girls in actual text-book information, \\lmh
made every one who left her school a finer and
nobler woman than when she came, but the
mere contact with so fully rounded and un-
usual a personality was in itself a liberal edu-

" I he town was poorer when she went;
and to her special friends the niche will always
remain empty where once she reigned."

The school was growing in popularity every
year. She was succeeding with it far beyond
her hopes. It had become the gracious centre
she had wished. Day scholars were begging
admission. Mrs. Stearns accepted four or
five, never more in any year. Dr. Bancroft,
her brother-in-law, wrote her in 1886, "We
rejoice that you have brought your school so
[ 294 ]


handsomely forward. God has led you through
the deep, deep waters, and I am glad the prayer
is heard for you that your faith fail not."

Miss Parsons had come to teach in 1886.
In 1887 Miss Wright came, though not as a
resident teacher.

In the spring of 1887 Mrs. Stearns had her
only critical illness, a sudden attack of pneu-
monia. For a time her life was despaired of.
She recovered, however, after but a short ab-
sence from her school duties.

Experiences are of avail only when their
results are embodied in character. Even this
illness she took joyfully, and gained from it
inspiration for further effort. Another ob-
stacle converted into an opportunity!

She had gone to bed when it was winter.
When she got up, the earth had blossomed. She
gasped with wonder over the spring, which
she insisted was more beautiful than ever be-

"Why," she exclaimed, "have I never known
what it was to love nature ! "

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Online LibraryMillicent (Todd) BinghamMary E. Stearns → online text (page 13 of 16)