, Derry, New Hampshire


May 9, 2013

A young teacher's letter

I recently bought from eBay a very interesting letter that was written in Derry in 1881. It cost me $10.70, which is about half my weekly allowance. To make up for this expenditure, I’ll have to skip a few morning cuppas at Dunkin’.

I bought the letter because it reminded me of the pride I felt when I got my first job as a teacher back in 1968. It also speaks of the frustration every first-year teacher experiences.

It was written by Miss Jennie Susan Hill to Miss Amanda Leach (1841-1904) who had been Jennie’s teacher only a year or so before.

The 16-year-old Jennie was living at her uncle’s farm at 108 Chester Road — now G.R.’s Trading Post.

In 1881 Jennie had just started to teach at the one-room school house in District #12 — usually called the Waterman District after the largest landowner in the area.

This tiny school stood near today’s Hidden Valley Camp Grounds and had been built in 1858 and was closed in 1893. It has long since been torn down.

The school year in this district was only 17 weeks long and Jennie’s salary was $20 a month. Jennie taught without benefit of a chalk board, globe, library, clock or even a dictionary. The age of her students ranged from 6 to 14.

Here is the text of her 1881 letter:

“Dear Teacher, I suppose that you know I am a school marm. I have got ten scholars. Some of them are good and some are awful, sometimes. My most advanced scholar is in decimal fractions. He wants very much to finish the book this term and I guess he will. The scholar’s are all mischievous and I have to twist their ears once in a while….”

Jennie signed it, “Your loving schoolmarm.”

Jennie’s school was ungraded; there was no first, second, third or any other grade. The students were taught some of their lessons together and then at other times the children were divided into small groups determined by age or skill level, with the teacher moving between the groups.

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