A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
Amy Brown Lyman
p.159] Most studies of Amy Cassandra Brown Lyman focus on her achievements as social worker, state legislator, and Relief Society general president. However, she was also a schoolteacher from 1890 until her marriage in 1896. Her autobiography, written in 1942 at the request of the Relief Society, offers one of the most detailed accounts of the pioneer home, food, clothing, and schoolroom.
Born in 1872 in Pleasant Grove, Utah, Amy was the twenty third child of John Brown; her mother was Brown’s third wife in a polygamous family. Life in their adobe home was simple and wholesome; education was emphasized not only in the home but throughout Pleasant Grove, a community that took special pride in its school and scholars (Hefner, 97-98). “Books were scarce,” Amy remembered. “Every cent father could spare was used for buying books from Duffer’s Book Store in Salt Lake City. Father loved history and biography as well as fiction. We had access to Dickens’ writings and to Plutarch’s Lives” (Lyman, 14).
These were tumultuous times for Mormons. When Amy was “five and one-half years old,” Brigham Young died. Polygamous families were persecuted and husbands often sent to prison or went into hiding. Yet Amy did not mention any of the difficulties the Brown family faced.
Amy “took” to the classroom, first as a student and later as a teacher. During the latter time, she boarded with Karl Maeser and his family in Provo until moving to the Salt Lake City schools. Her teaching experiences, beginning in 1890, ranged from the church elementary school in [p.160] Provo to the gentile-controlled public schools in Salt Lake City. The Edmunds-Tucker Act required schools to be redesigned into districts rather than wards and financed by the confiscated LDS holdings. In 1894, when she was hired as a teacher in Salt Lake City, Utah finally achieved statehood and U.S. president Cleveland offered amnesty to polygamists.
That same year Amy married Richard Lyman, a move that did not lessen her pace of life. Two children (1897 and 1909) were born to Amy and Richard. She continued to study and accompanied her husband on many trips, meeting Jane Addams in Chicago. That meeting started Amy on a career in social work that eventually helped to provide the women of Utah with improved pre-natal care, nutrition and health programs, and welfare.
Amy’s interest in women’s rights and literature was also fueled by her travels. Among her acquaintances were Rebecca West, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Hamlin Garland. Both Amy and her husband served untiringly in church service; Richard was invited to serve on the Council of the Twelve and later as mission president. Their lives were not without sorrow, however. In 1925 their daughter-in-law died, leaving a baby whom Amy brought up. Nine years later their son killed himself. In 1943 Richard was excommunicated from the church for adultery.
Amy Brown Lyman’s life serves as a bridge between the “radical” church of early Utah and a twentieth-century conservative church. Perhaps she had been too successful in her work for the patriarchal church. As president of the Relief Society, she was instructed to “simplify work of organization and reduce number of activities taking women from their homes”; up until that time, women had been encouraged to take an active role in the social welfare of their communities. Gradually, the financial power of the Relief Society decreased as church authorities took over much of the work and treasury that had been the province of the women.
From her resignation as president in 1945 until her death in 1959, Amy lived a quiet life, only slightly less active than her days of international travel when she shone as a “renaissance woman” (Hefner, 112). She remarked in her diary of her mother: “She was a woman’s woman and always maintained that girls should have equal opportunities and privileges with boys”(7). [p.161]
We sometimes used to think father was too straight-laced and old-fashioned because he did not always see things as we did; for example, he would not allow us to attend dances held in adjoining towns, and he would not permit us to go into the canyons on holidays or weekends with mixed groups without elder chaperons. This sometimes was very embarrassing to us, and really we felt as sorry for him as we did for ourselves.
Our home, a one and one-halt story adobe house, was lighted with kerosene lamps and candies—lamps for downstairs and candles for upstairs. With a family of seven young children, mother thought it not safe for us to carry oil lamps upstairs. The candies were molded by her own hands, and as we ascended the stairs each evening, a mark on the candle indicated how long we could study or visit or play before we retired. Lamps were quite a bother. They had to be filled, wicks had to be trimmed, and chimneys had to be cleaned every morning.
We wore much more clothing than girls do today. Ours was all homemade, including our stockings. The underwear, of which we wore aplenty, was usually made of unbleached muslin which was hung out on the clothesline or laid on the grass and sprinkled often until it became soft and white. Our sheets and pillowcases were also made of the same material in a heavier grade. In the winter we wore at least two petticoats at a time—a heavy woolen one underneath with a thinner one on top. We wore warm, well-lined wool dresses. On our heads we wore knitted hoods or fascinators;1 on our hands, home-knitted woolen mittens. Sweaters were unknown in those days. In the summer we wore calico, swiss, and lawn dresses with several stiffly starched white petticoats. As children, we always wore aprons to school little front aprons; and even at Brigham Young Academy the grownups wore aprons—dainty, white muslin ones trimmed with lace or embroidery. My first school dress when I entered the Brigham Young Acad-[p.162]emy was a pretty, gray linsey-woolsey trimmed with ball-shaped, cherry-red buttons; and my Sunday dress was a wine-colored wool cashmere. Both of these dresses were lined and well boned. Our bathing suits were made to well cover our bodies, and with them we wore long stockings.
I first attended school in the old United Order hall.2 The school was held in the large room which occupied all of the top floor and which was reached by an outside stairway. The ground floor and the cellar of this building were used as a tithing granary and storehouse, and it was in this building that for many years the Relief Society wheat3 of the ward was stored. I shall never forget my first day in school. The teacher was Mrs. Fanny Stewart, a tall, angular woman, intellectual and well-read, but very serious. Like the other beginners, I was afraid of her and of the older children as well.
It was a mixed school of several grades with seventy-five or eighty pupils. There were few textbooks, and equipment was very limited. At tunes the teacher was put to her wit’s end to carry on a recitation with one group, keep other groups busy, and at the same time maintain order. This was indeed a very difficult task. The teacher was very conscientious, and she was determined to get good results in the matter of our intellectual development. She was more interested in seeing that we learned something than she was in Finding out how we felt about what we learned. She succeeded in teaching us how to apply ourselves, and she made sure that our work was correct and well done. She certainly gave us a good start.
[p.163]Mrs. Stewart was a widow, and she had the entire care of three young children. She used to bring her children, her mending, and her ironing to school, and at recess and noon she would mend or iron. She often allowed the older girls to iron during school hours. This they loved to do. The flatirons were heated on the large, oval stove which stood in the middle of the room.
We first learned the alphabet, and then we learned to read, spell, and write. Our books consisted of the old Wilson readers, which were exceptionally good, and the famous blue-backed spelling books. Our number work was taken from the blackboard. We used slates entirely for writing, with a slate pencil attached to the slate by a string tied through a hole in the slate frame. Lead pencils and paper for children were luxuries we had not dreamed of. Most of the older children had double slates which, of course, furnished more space. The girls usually had a little bottle of soapsuds and a wet rag or sponge for erasing or cleaning their slates. The boys, however, were not so particular. It was quite a task to keep slates clean and sweet smelling since saliva was often used when water was not handy or available. A large pail, with a dipper, placed in one end of the room, furnished us with drinking water—a far cry from our sanitary drinking fountains of today.
The next year the schools were better graded, and we were moved to the schoolhouse. Altogether, I had six teachers in the grades—three women and three men. They were all good and greatly loved teachers. I was especially fond of the three women, who made such fine impressions upon my mind that they have been an unceasing uplift to me all my life. In my third year, my older sister, Rose Brown (later Mrs. I. J. Hayes), was my teacher. She had just returned from the Brigham Young Academy, where she had graduated from the normal department under Karl G. Maeser. She was an efficient, up-to-date teacher, as gentle and kind and able in the schoolroom as she had always been in our home where, being ten years my senior, she was to me a second mother. For kindness and evenness of disposition, I have never known her to be surpassed.
My teacher in the eighth grade was Augusta Winters, later Mrs. Heber J. Grant. It was our good fortune that she came back to Pleasant Grove that particular year to be the principal of the school and the teacher of the seventh and eighth grades. She was an excellent and [p.164] most interesting teacher. Having attended both the Brigham Young Academy and the University of Utah, she was especially well prepared. She had also taught school in a number of other places, including Salt Lake City. She had traveled a great deal—to California and even to faraway Maine. She used to tell us many interesting, new, and different things. She was not only well prepared as an instructor, but she was dramatic and humorous in her presentation of material; she constantly enlivened her teaching with interesting experiences, stories, and comments.
We admired and respected this excellent teacher for her fine traits of character, her intellectuality, her dignity and poise, and her splendid ability as a teacher. We loved her for her attractive personality, for her kindness and sympathy, as well as for her beauty and charm. She was our heroine, and we all longed to be like her.
In the fall of 1888, I entered the normal department of Brigham Young Academy. My sister Susan and I were driven to Provo by father in a farm wagon along with some furniture and supplies, and we were located in a large room near the school where we were to do light housekeeping. Each weekend provisions from home were sent to us across Provo Bench [a geological feature of a valley, a plateau overlooking the valley floor].
The school was then located in the old ZCMI4 warehouse near the railroad depot, where it had been housed since the fire had destroyed its original home, Lewis Hall, on Center Street. It occupied the whole second floor of the warehouse, with several offices and the laboratory on the ground floor.
To me the school was a surprise, a marvel, and a delight. It did not matter that the building was a plain, ordinary warehouse, nor that the desks were long, crude, table affairs, with chairs of the kitchen variety. It was the spirit and atmosphere of the institution which were so fascinating and satisfying. I had heard a great deal from my brothers and sisters and other former students about how Free the school was, how the spirit of the gospel permeated every quarter, and how the students [p.165] regarded religion as the most important subject in the whole curriculum. I had anticipated much, but the reality exceeded my expectations, and I found that the wonders of the school had not haft been told. That year seemed to me to be the happiest of my life, and the world such a fascinating place in which to live. It was during this period that I met and fell in love with my future husband, Richard R. Lyman5—so why shouldn’t it be the happiest time of my life?
There were a number of excellent teachers, but the most important, best loved, and honored was, of course, Dr. Karl G. Maeser, who stood at the head and was really the soul of the institution. Tall and thin, dressed in a Prince Albert coat, he personified the idea of the old professor, and ruled the school like a general. Trained for his work in Old-World education centers, he was an educator of the first rank, a fine scholar, and a finished teacher. His enthusiasm and earnestness, his unwavering faith and spirituality, his fine character, and his daily life were a constant inspiration to his students and stimulated them to greater effort and accomplishment than they had thought possible. He loved the calling of a teacher and often said he hoped he would be able to teach in heaven. I was a member of his theology class, in connection with which we had a monthly testimony meeting, and I was also a member of his classes in history of education, theory and practice of teaching, and, occasionally elocution, when he substituted so ably for the teacher of that subject. Next to my own parents, Brother Maeser influenced my life.
The Domestic Department was established to look after students during out-of-school hours. In each boarding place, one student was appointed to act as monitor. It was his duty to look after the rest and report regularly in Domestic meeting, held monthly, as to how things were going, and whether school rules were being observed. Students were not expected to be out at night, even until seven o’clock, without special written permission from Brother Maeser himself. Nine o’clock was considered a late hour.
For recreation we had Polysophical Society which held forth every Friday night, when excellent literary and musical programs were given [p.166] by the best talent available in the school. And once in five weeks there was a student dance in the school assembly hall which began at eight o’clock and closed promptly at twelve o’clock. We were so happy in those dances we did not notice the poor, splintered floor. We were not expected to frequent public dances. Nor did we. I never heard anyone complain, however, about school restrictions. Everybody seemed satisfied and happy.
I was graduated from the Normal School in June 1890, and was selected, with several others, to make a short speech at commencement exercises. It was customary then for a number of students to appear on the commencement program.
Graduating with me in the class of 1890 were … two of the finest and ablest persons this state and Church has produced—they were Prof. Alice Louise Reynolds6 and Dr. George W. Middleton.
A few weeks after my graduation I was engaged by Brother Maeser to go back to the “Y” and take charge of what was then known as the “Primary Department”; and under his supervision and direction, in the fall of 1890 I began my work as a teacher at a salary of $40 per month—one-third cash and two-thirds tithing scrip.7
In 1891, the B.Y.A. was moved from its temporary home in the Z.C.M.I. warehouse to its new home on the new campus, in the northern part of the city, now known as the lower campus. The new building, College Hall, was considered a real palace by the students. Here we had central heat, a telephone, and other conveniences.
I taught in the Training School of the institution for four years and had the privilege during that time of working under President Benjamin Cluff, Jr., who was a constant inspiration to both his teachers [p.167] and students, and Prof. George H. Brimhall, that dynamic and forceful teacher and builder of character, who was in direct charge of the Training School. In addition to my work in the Training School, I taught, at different periods, needlework and physical education. During an emergency I served as matron of the school.
I used to feel at times that teaching in a Church school had its handicaps, especially for young women who loved fun, parties, and dancing as I did. The teachers were supposed to be very circumspect and to set a good example, which was rather hard on the younger faculty members. Party dresses with low necklines and short sleeves were not very common and were taboo for us.
One great disappointment that I remember distinctly was when I was advised not to take part in a grand masquerade ball given in the Provo Theater by the society folk of the town. It was really the ball of the season, and all of my girl friends dressed and masked for the occasion. I felt quite rebellious at being advised not to take part and argued that point with Brother Maeser. I told him I had been held down all my life, and that I was tired of being a bishop’s daughter and a church school teacher. I think I even shed a few tears about it. But I finally gave in, and sat in the front row of the dress circle—we called it bald-headed row—with the older people, where I watched my friends enjoy all the fun that accompanied those old masquerade balls.
Teaching children is always interesting whether in a private or public school. From the B.Y.A., I came to the schools of Salt Lake City, where under that able educator and gentleman, Dr. J. F. Millspaugh, who was then superintendent, I worked at a salary of $100 per month, which seemed a fortune to me. Professor William M. Stewart had offered me a position in the Training School at the University of Utah, but I felt that I had served my time in teacher-training work.
The Salt Lake City schools were then operating under a board of education which was anti-Mormon,8 and which a few years previously [p.168] had reorganized the school system and eliminated practically all Latter-day Saint teachers, and had imported teachers from the outside to take their places. When I began teaching here in 1894, there were only a few Latter-day Saint teachers in the entire city. What a blessing that much of the prejudice against the Mormons has been overcome! I heard Anna Garlin Spencer, a brilliant American woman, say in an address that prejudice should be classed with other destructive forces such as war, poverty, and disease. It was always a mystery to me why some people who were so antagonistic to the Mormons chose to live among them.9
2. In the 1870s Brigham Young advocated establishing “United Order” communities in which complete self-sufficiency would be achieved; the most famous of these was Orderville, Utah. Overall, the experiment was a failure, but the general attitude of providing for oneself remains an essential element of the ideal Mormon lifestyle (Arrington and Bitton, 126).
3. In 1876, at the request of Brigham Young, the Relief Society took over raising and storing wheat; the women—under the leadership of Emmeline B. Wells—were extremely successful in managing this important grain (Arrington and Bitton, 215). Ironically, as Relief Society president, Lyman turned over the “women’s wheat in storage to the General Welfare Program” during World War II. The interest on the stored wheat had financed a pre-natal program that Amy had developed (Hefner, 109).
7. Although the present LDS church is often called wealthy, that could not be said of the church in 1890. The entire nation was in a depression, and the church had just decided to abandon plural marriage (Arrington and Bitton, 210). Nine years later church leaders emphasized the importance of tithing, each member contributing 10 percent of his or her income, a financial boon to the church. Amy’s salary, consisting of two-thirds tithing script, indicates the lack of ready cash in the church—and encourages recirculating the scrip back to the church coffers.
8. The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 seized the church’s holdings and used the money to finance district—rather than ward—schools in the territory. The school boards, staffed by non-Mormons, hired “gentile” teachers whenever possible. At this time Mormons were still thought of as a “cult” by many people in the rest of the country. When Amy began teaching in Salt Lake City, the Woodruff Manifesto was only four years old.
9. Non-Mormon teachers would feel they were on a “mission” to save the wayward souls who had been seduced by a misguided faith. See both Dwyer and Simmonds for discussion of what it meant to be a gentile (non-Mormon) in nineteenth-century Utah.