A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
Lucy Meserve Smith Smith
[p.39]Before 1852, church authorities who practiced plural marriage did so in secret. Lucy Meserve Smith was one of the women involved. She married George A. Smith (1817-75)—cousin of Joseph Smith—in 1844; one child was born three years later. All of this occurred outside of legal wedlock (in 1850 she gave birth to a stillborn son). Being the second wife of six, Lucy had to seek her own living, and she did so by teaching school, first at the Pawnee mission school in Bellevue, Iowa, and later in Provo, Utah.
Her teaching methods at the Pawnee School sound like the “organic teaching” that Sylvia Ashton-Warner used with Maori children; that her methods were successful is apparent from the response of the students who did not want the “good lady” to leave for Salt Lake Valley.
In Utah George A. Smith’s six wives lived apart: Bathsheba and Susan in Salt Lake City; Zilpha in Parowan; and Hannah, Lucy, and Sarah in Provo (Godfrey, 261).
The Smith wives, though often geographically scattered, cooperated economically, those in outlying settlements sometimes sending handwoven fabric to wives in Salt Lake City who sent back dyed cloth or sewn clothing. Many plural wives were economically independent or interdependent because of their husbands’ intensive involvement in missionary and colonization efforts (Derr, 167).
[p.40]Lucy’s contribution must have included cloth as she had learned to weave at a factory in Lowell, Massachusetts.1
Kanesville, 1847. The next summer I attended school at Kanesville, then I assisted in the school for a while, I was sent for, to go to Bellevue to teach the Pawnee mission school. I went and taught the Indian children for six months. They, the Missionaries, offered me double wages if I would stay longer as I had such good control over the old folks as well as the children, but not with standing that they treated me with great respect, yet I could not stay. They presented me with a number of pretty moccasins but I did not forget to send them presents when I got home. I boarded with a missionary family and ate in the same room with the Indian children and they helped prepare the food for the tables. The old folks would often crowd around the stove in the morning and pick live vermin off their bodies and eat them. I must confess that it weakened my stomach so that I got thin, but my hostess discovered it and she took great pains to fix some little extra food for me which I could eat with relish, knowing she had prepared it herself. I was determined to stay six months for I was proud to earn money to purchase my necessaries to prepare for the valleys,2 and then the children took such interest in theft studies and they thought so much of me that it helped to while away lonesome hours. Although I was far from home, but yet I was in the way of my duty and my heavenly father comforted me with dreams and visions. At one time three voices sang an anthem to me. These are some of the words, “Glory to God who hath made us” etc.; one was on my bed and the other a distance away, but their voices accorded perfectly and Oh, how charm-[p.41]ing, and then my little son appeared to me.3 I tried to hug and kiss him, but I felt no substance, but I said to him why did you leave mother dear; he answered and said because I had a greater work to do somewhere else. I said God bless you dear and he disappeared and left me as wide awake as I am at this moment. His answer was a great consolation to me as I couldn’t understand why my heart should be so keenly pierced as to be compelled to give my only child up.
The Indian children used to contend one with another to see who should comb my hair and get water in the morning, indeed they were very kind to me. They wrote me a kind little token saying “I love you well as my own people. You such good lady, sorry you go to valley, Wish I go to valley with you. You teach us long time to read, write, and study geography and Atlas.” I had many gentlemen from the East to visit my school. I used to exhibit the writing books, cut out hard words, ask questions on the atlas, etc. The gentlemen declared they never saw it equaled in any white school. The Indian agent, Mr. Miller, and the interpreter, Mr. Saunsisee used to visit my school often. They took delight in hearing the children sing. I taught school five and one haft days a week and Sabbath School on Sunday. When my six months were up, I bade adieu to the Pawnee Mission and went home. I then made preparations with the rest of the family and started for the Salt Lake Valley. Our family included a teamster, hunter and cowboy—numbered 19 souls. We left Kanesville June 22nd, 1849, crossed the Missouri River July 11th, and crossed Elkhorn the 17th.
Provo—1856. While Johnny and Charley4 were little boys down came myriads of grasshoppers eating everything before them. I was teaching school. Mr. Smith had gone to Washington to intercede for a State government. He calculated we had sufficient provisions to last until fall and he returned, but we had so much company we ran out and were obliged to eat bran bread, it was rather light food to teach school on. Sister Hannah’s Sarah was a little baby and Sister Redfield [p.42]had a feeble baby at the time, she wished sister Hannah to nurse it what her baby could spare, she did so and Sister Redfield gave her a few pounds of flour, so we could have one pancake apiece, in the morning. The little boys seemed satisfied though, being told they could have only one. I would come home at noon and go back to school without a bite of dinner until someone threshed and then I would get that on my school bill.
1. Catherine Beecher, in an 1846 address advocating teaching as an appropriate profession, focused on the difficult working conditions for women at the Lowell mills, one of the few “jobs” available at the time (43-45).