The First College for Women in the West ~ by Kathleen Denly

When we think of the western frontier, few of us picture a young woman seated at her desk, studying English grammar, yet many would argue that the West was shaped as much by education as by anything else. Thus, when I learned of the pioneering institution known at its inception as the Young Ladies’ Seminary in Benicia, California, I was immediately intrigued. Established in 1852, it was the first school of higher learning created for women west of the Rockies and continues today as Mills College.

Despite the word seminary in its name, the school’s purpose was not to prepare its pupils to be priests, ministers, or rabbis. It was established to fulfill the perceived educational needs of the daughters of California’s Protestant Christian families. The original trustees were concerned that the pioneering families of the West were forced to choose between forgoing a higher education for their daughters or sending them on a long ocean voyage to New York, potentially severing family ties.

Thus the school was established while the gold rush was still in full swing and Benicia was California’s capital. According to the school’s early catalogues, its aim was “to train healthy, companionable, self-reliant women—those prepared to be useful and acceptable in the school, in the family, and in society.” To that end, the teachers deemed it important for their students to “be able to spell correctly, to read naturally, to write legibly, and to converse intelligently.” The young ladies of the school performed regular recitations at which family and select members of the public were often invited to attend. In addition to an English course of study, the school offered what they called “ornamental branches” of study which included “instrumental music (pianoforte and guitar), drawing, crayoning, painting (in water colors and oils) and ornamental needle work.” (Keep, 1931)

Initially many of the school’s students came from the nearby cities such as San Francisco, Marysville, Sacramento, and Stockton, but most came from Mother Lode camps such as Hangtown, Park’s Bar, Rough and Ready, Angels Camp, and more. A few students also came from the southern part of the Golden State, which is where my heroine, Clarinda Humphrey, hails from in my novel, Sing in the Sunlight. Keeping in mind the incredible fluctuation of fortunes and social status going on in California during this time period, the idea of young women from such varied backgrounds coming to Benicia to learn and live beneath the same roof is fascinating. What I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall of the Young Ladies’ Seminary in those early days.

I think I’d have planted myself on the shoulder of those early principals first, though. It seems they had a terrible habit of forgoing their duties to pedagogy in favor of matrimony. The romantic in me is incredibly curious about how those courtships began and progressed. Further adding to my curiosity surrounding the school’s romances is the manner in which the school’s students were required to attend church.

Escorted to church each Sunday by their principal, the students were required to sit at the rear of the church in the upper gallery near the organ so that they would be out of sight of the young men present. My guess, though, is that more than one man gained a crick in his neck during services. What do you think?

Source:  Keep, R. (1931) Fourscore Years, A History of Mills College



I’m excited to share with you that Sing in the Sunlight, book two of my Chaparral Hearts series which features the Young Ladies’ Seminary, is currently on preorder.

So today, I’m giving away a signed copy of Waltz in the Wilderness, book one in the series. Leave a comment below to enter. (International Winners will receive a digital copy of the book & signed bookmark in place of printed book. Void where prohibited.)

How influential was your college experience, or lack of it, in creating who you are today?


The Smithsonian

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. According to my This Day In History calendar, today, August 10 is the 174th anniversary of the day President James Polk signed the Smithsonian Institution Act into law. In honor of that, I thought I provide a little bit of history and fun facts about this great national treasure.

Although Englishman and scientist James Smithson, the man the Smithsonian is named for, was something of a globe-trotter, he never actually set foot in the United States. His estate at the time of his death in 1829 was worth approximately $500,000. In his will he named his nephew Henry as his sole heir.

However, he made one unusual stipulation – if Henry were to die without an heir, then his estate would pass on to the United States of America in order for the country to create in Washington D.C. “an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge” to be named the Smithsonian Institution. As it turns out Henry died six years later at the age of 24 without any heirs.

Smithson gave no indication as to why he would chose to leave his legacy to a country he’d never visited, a country that was to him a foreign nation. And his indication of how the funds were to be utilized was also quite vague. Because of this there was a lot of disagreement over exactly what the money was to be used for. Early discussions suggested a university would best meet the requirement. Other ideas put forth were a research center, an observatory, a museum and a library. Politicians, educators scientists and civilians all had an opinion on the subject. It took nearly 10 years for a decision to be reached. What was ultimately established by congress was a hybrid of all these ideas.

The Smithsonian Institute today has 19 museums and galleries, nine research facilities, and the National Zoological Park, making it the largest museum and research center in the world.

Here are some interesting facts and trivia

  • When Smithson’s nephew Henry died, the American government was not even aware of the bequest existed. When President Andrew Jackson was informed he had to pass the info on to Congress. Some in Congress held that our government had no power to accept such a gift, and some were even adamantly opposed to our accepting it.  One senator argued that it would set a bad precedent, that “every whippersnapper vagabond would send a gift to the United States in order to immortalize his name.” But  in 1838, three years after Henry died, the money was finally officially handed over to and accepted by the U.S. Government
  • The original building that housed the Smithsonian was built based on the winning entry in a design competition. It is called the Castle because of its distinctive castle-like appearance.

  • The official estimate of the number of objects, works of art and specimens belonging to the Smithsonian is somewhere in the neighborhood of 154 million. 146 million of these are scientific specimens found at the Museum of Natural History. Just one percent of all items are available for public viewing at any one time.
  • One category of items has been placed off limits to the viewing public – that of human remains. This includes a collection of shrunken heads and other such gruesome specimens
  • The Smithsonian museums are open every day of the year except Christmas.
  • The Smithsonian employs about 6300 individuals all told. It has an annual operating budget of more than $800 million.
  • Most of the Smithsonian exhibits are free to the public.
  • One of the institutions under the umbrella of the Smithsonian is the National Zoo. It houses 400 different species and approximately 2000 animals. About one fourth of these are considered endangered.
  • As the Smithsonian expanded it outgrew the Castle and eventually moved into the current complex of buildings. There are 19 museums spread along the East Coast. The Castle now houses the visitor center.
  • In 2018 there were approximately 29 million visitors to the various Smithsonian museums.
  • Smithson was in Italy when he died so he was buried there. In 1904 the expansion of a stone quarry threatened to displace his remains.  When Smithsonian officials got word of this they petitioned to have his casket transported to America so he could be interred at the site of his legacy. Agreement was reached and the casket made the 14 day sea trip, escorted by Alexander Graham Bell. Today Smithson’s body is entombed in the Castle.

I’ve visited the Smithsonian twice and it really is an amazing place. I spent about a half day each time and feel I only scratched the surface of all there was to see.

What do you think – did any of these facts surprise you?

Have you ever visited the Smithsonian? If so, what was your favorite exhibit?


Jane Porter: One Room School Houses

A former teacher, I come from a long line of passionate educators. My father was a history and political science professor. My brother Thom is a business professor at UNC Wilmington, and my great grandfather was a professor of refrigeration engineering at Purdue University.

With teaching in my blood, it’s a given that I’ll write a story or two about teachers (Kit Brennan in The Good Daughter teaches English at a Catholic High School in Oakland, California and Jesslyn from The Sheikh’s Chosen Queen teaches at an international school in the UAE), I’ve never written about a teacher in a one room school house…until now.

My new story, The Lost Sheenan’s Bride, which releases on Friday, July 8th, is about a young teacher taking a long-term substitute job at one-room schoolhouse in Montana. The story wasn’t about the one-room school, but you wouldn’t know it from my research. I’m fascinated by Montana history, and in particular the intrepid women who first settled there.

Some facts from

  • It’s estimated that up to 18 percent of homesteaders in Montana were unmarried women.
  • Passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 allowed any twenty-one-year-old head of household the right to homestead federal land. Single, widowed, and divorced women fit this description, and they crossed the country to file homestead claims of 160 acres.

Many of the homesteading women in Montana also became the state’s first teachers. Because of the Homestead Act of 1862, one-room schoolhouses were built all over the state.   Historians estimate that there were once 2,600 rural schools in Montana, and those rural schools served a multitude of purposes for each community, from education to social gatherings. In America today, there are still 200 operational one-room schoolhouses, with 62 of them located in Montana.

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The one room school house in Paradise Valley that inspired my story (photo courtesy Megan Crane )

Last month in early June I returned to Montana for eight days, and on my flight from Seattle to Kalispell I sat next to a woman who worked for the Swan Valley school district which still has an operational one-room school in the town of Salmon Prairie. The woman, a school clerk, loves the one-room school in Salmon Prairie and told me about the exceptional quality of education the children receive, the time teacher is able to devote with his students, the ability to individualize lessons and even better, the opportunity for a teacher to truly teach Montana—morning nature walks, visits to local parks (Glacier National Forest, Yellowstone, etc). The teacher doesn’t just teach math and reading, but hunts and fishes with his students and embraces what it means to be a Montanan. (Here is a story on the school in Salmon Prairie! Photographers document Montana’s disappearing one-room schools)

I was able to work a little of that fascinating conversation into my story, but its impossible to convey the history for Montana’s one-room schools in a 50,000 word contemporary romance, but I’ll try to share a bit more here with you since I know you’re all history and western buffs, too.

In 2013, The National Trust for Historic Preservation added Montana’s one-room schoolhouses to their list of the Nation’s 11 Most Endangered Historical Places.

Today at Montana’s Divide School, built in 1870, teacher Judy Boyle functions as teacher, principal, and guidance counselor. Grades K-8 are taught in the same room to as many as eight students. This year she had 3 students, and as there are no janitors, it is part of the kids’ responsibility to help clean the school daily.

As an American Studies major at UCLA, I focused on Frontier literature with my senior thesis on Mark Twain, and you can’t immerse yourself in Frontier lit without understanding the significance of the one-room schoolhouse scattered across vast prairies and in the snug valleys nestled between the Rockies. The schools represented hope and opportunity, and education was a big part of that opportunity. Homesteaders and miners, ranchers and railroad workers wanted their children to succeed, and the best way to succeed was by getting an education, and the sheer number of the schools still standing today are a reminder of the commitment Montanans made to their children.

Another historic school house in Paradise Valley, this one still in operation.

Many of us grew up with Little House on the Prairie, or are fans of Hallmark’s popular series, When Calls the Heart, so we can picture the one room school. There was very little variation from one school to another:

  • Teachers were typically male. If the teacher was a woman, she had to be single. Married teachers were not allowed.
  • Frequently, families in the rural towns would take turns boarding the teacher, with every family contributing towards the teacher’s salary.
  • Schoolhouses had only a few windows and one door. Bigger schools might have two doors for separate entrances for the boys and girls.
  • The teacher’s desk was located at the front of the room and the teacher wrote the lessons on a large slate board, much like chalkboards or white boards in classrooms today.
  • There was no bathroom or running water. Students used an outhouse.
  • The children sat at narrow wooden desks and/or on long wooden benches, with boys sat on one side and the girls on the other.
  • Schoolhouses were heated by one stove with the older students responsible for keeping the fire going.

One of my favorite books I bought in Montana several years ago, that probably also helped inspire my new story was Visions and Voices: Montana’s One-Room Schoolhouses. The pictures are worth the price of the book alone, but there are also wonderful quotes and stories from former students who were educated in these schools.

Visions and Voices: Montana’s One-Room Schoolhouses
by Charlotte Caldwell


Three other favorites books from my shelves on Montana and women homesteaders:

Nothing to Tell: Extraordinary Stories of Montana Ranch Women
by Donna Gray

Montana Women Homesteaders: A Field of One’s Own
by Sarah Carter

Staking Her Claim: Women Homesteading the West
by Marcia Meredith Hensley

To celebrate the release of my new book, The Lost Sheenan’s Bride, featuring Jet Diekerhof, the teacher of a one-room schoolhouse in Paradise Valley, Montana, I’m giving away a signed print copy of the book, plus lots of fun reader swag. Interested? Tell me if you think you would have enjoyed attending school at a one-room school. One comment will be drawn and the winner will be announced on Wednesday, July 13th so do check back and see if that was you!

Look for The Sheenans’s Lost Bride at these online retailers:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK


Back to School

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Here in Texas, our children have returned to the classroom. My three kids were up early Monday morning, making lunches, packing backpacks, and rushing off to the first day of school. My oldest is starting her senior year of high school. Gasp! Not sure mom is quite ready for what that means. But whether mom is ready or not, it has begun.

In the American West, teachers were often little more than former students who had completed the 8th grade and gone on to pass a teacher’s examination. My youngest is starting 8th grade this year, and I can’t even imagine him having enough knowledge to turn around and teach.

As more settlers headed west and communities grew, so did the demand for teachers with a higher education. In the early 1800s, schoolmasters were men. They ruled their classrooms with discipline and authority. Yet in the 1830s when tax-supported common schools made education more widely available, the result was a teacher shortage that left the door open for women.

“God seems to have made woman peculiarly suited to guide and develop the infant mind, and it seems…very poor policy to pay a man 20 or 22 dollars a month, for teaching children the ABCs, when a female could do the work more successfully at one third of the price.” — Littleton School Committee, Littleton, Massachusetts, 1849

By the time of the Civil War, women dominated the teaching field. However, if a woman wanted to set herself apart, to establish herself as a professional, she required training that went beyond the rudimentary grammar schooling of her peers. She needed a diploma from a reputable Normal School.

Normal Schools were two-year academies designed to grant teachers a mastery of the subjects taught in the common schools as well as giving them a practical knowledge of teaching methodology. Normal Schools prided themselves on their thorough, cohesive, and “scientific” curriculum. They would provide a norm for all teachers (hence the term Normal School) that would assure a level of quality generally unavailable previously.

The Boston Normal School, for example, was established in 1872. According to a regulation manual published in 1888, a teacher studying there would have taken courses in the following areas:

  • Mental and Moral Science and Logic
  • Physiology and Hygiene
  • Natural Science
  • Study of Language
  • Elementary Studies
  • Principles of Education, School Economy, and Methods of Instruction
  • Vocal Music, Drawing, and Blackboard Illustration
  • Observation and Practice in the Training School
  • Observation and Practice in other public schools

Not so very different from our current teacher education programs, is it?

Click Cover to Order
Click Cover to Order

The heroine in my latest release is a teacher of exceptional youths, or what we would call today – gifted children or child prodigies.

In honor of teachers across the country who are getting back into their classrooms, I’ll be giving away an autographed copy of A Worthy Pursuit to one reader who leaves a comment.

Tell me about you favorite first-day-of-school memory. What made you excited, what you dreaded. How long it took you to pick out the perfect outfit. Anything related to the first day – kindergarten through college. Or maybe your first day as a teacher, if that is your profession. Anything is fair game.

Have fun! 🙂


Women Schoolteachers in the Old West

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The Three R’s: Ridin’, Ropin’, and Romance (of course!)

The leading lady of my first book, The Angel and the Outlaw, was a schoolteacher in the “wild, wild, West” of 1873 and so I thought I’d give a small glimpse into the life of a teacher in that day and age. I am also working on a new story in which the heroine is a teacher in Southern California’s back country.

Prior to tThe Angel and the Outlawhe Civil War, schoolteachers were mostly men because the prevailing belief was that women could not maintain discipline in the classroom. When the men left for the war, women moved in and filled positions at 60% less salary. When the men returned, they refused to work at the reduced wages (even though they did make more than the women teachers) and most left the profession.

Women teachers were required to be single. They could “sit” for their teaching certificate as long as they had graduated. Some were as young as fifteen. If they married, they had to give up their job. They were not allowed to attend public performances or dances. Male teachers were permitted to date one night a week or two if they attended church regularly. Because women were so few in number compared to men in the West, the turn-over rate for teachers was fairly high as women married and started their own families.

Children from the age of five would go to school daily through the week and then on weekends, would be expected to come back and help clean the schoolhouse. A teacher might have anywhere from three to forty-five students in the first through eighth grade. Discipline could be difficult at times, especially when some of the older boys towered over the teacher.

                                  Wisconsin Schoolhouse
Wisconsin One-Room Schoolhouse

The typical school house was a one-room building. A male teacher and his family often lived in a home next door or attached to the school house—a teacherage. Women teachers would be housed with one of the families whose children attended the school so that they could be supervised. (Now that would make it hard to “leave your day job” at the end of the day!)

Teachers had to be creative and work with whatever supplies they had. They used memorizing, reciting, and oral testing to teach reading, spelling, arithmetic and history. For many years, the main textbook was the McGuffey Reader. A staggering amount, approximately 120 million copies of McGuffey Readers were sold between 1836 and 1960. Many parents could not afford textbooks and so they sent their children to school with any book from home—usually the Bible—for instruction in reading. Eliza Mott was a teacher who taught the alphabet using the inscriptions on tombstones!

McGuffey Reader
McGuffey Reader

In doing research about the school in La Playa where The Angel and the Outlaw is set, I learned that the main difficulty for the teacher there was a horse track in Old Town San Diego that enticed the children to play hooky and also let them wager on the horses. When the school in La Playa had a teacher vacancy, the children rowed boats to the school in Old Town and attended there.

Some very important and influential people have “graduated” from one-room schools. To name a few ~ Abraham Lincoln (President), Herbert Hoover (President), Joyce Carol Oates (Pulitzer Prize), Laura Ingalls Wilder (author), and my father.

My father and his brothers attended a one-room school house that was built on land his father donated for the school. It still stands (and is now a private home), down a winding country road in central Illinois. It feels like stepping back in time a hundred years when I go back for a visit. My grandparents farmhouse is just around the corner ~ a country mile…

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One of my memories is that my Junior High School was situated right up against the back of the San Diego Zoo next to the wallaby and kangaroo enclosures. When the tour bus would drive by loaded with people, the bus driver would often comment on the “animals” on the other side of the fence– meaning the children on the gym field. It was all in good-natured fun (I think…)

What about you?

Do you have any unusual or fond memories of school?

Comment for a chance to win a copy of my newest release ~ The Gunslinger and the Heiress ~ (which does not have a schoolteacher in it!) along with Playing the Rake’s Game by Bronwyn Scott. (Continental U.S. only)



Women Make History Daily, Not Just Once a Year

Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of [their] sex. —Abigail Adams (1744-1818), second First Lady of the U.S.
“Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of [their] sex.”
—Abigail Adams (1744-1818), second First Lady of the U.S.
I hope everyone will forgive me for not writing about western history this month — at least not specifically. Every so often, though, even those of us devoted to the history of the Old West must take a look even farther into the past, and sometimes much closer to the present, in order to develop a broader perspective about the era in which our imagination spends so much time. This is one of those occasions.

I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves. —Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), writer and advocate for women’s rights
I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.
—Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), author and advocate for women’s rights

March is Women’s History Month. While I appreciate the increased emphasis on remembering women’s contributions to science, art, philosophy, and society in general, I’ve always considered it a bit odd that we need reminding women have contributed. Designating a specific month during which to focus on women’s history implies that for the rest of the year, everyone thinks of women as secondary characters in their own life stories.

Old-fashioned ways which no longer apply to changed conditions are a snare in which the feet of women have always become readily entangled. —Jane Addams (1860-1935) social reformer, women’s rights activist, first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize
“Old-fashioned ways which no longer apply to changed conditions are a snare in which the feet of women have always become readily entangled.”
—Jane Addams (1860-1935), social reformer, women’s rights activist, first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize

Women don’t sit around waiting for men to make all the great discoveries, think all the great thoughts, and fight all the dragons. They never have. Throughout history, as many women as men have explored the unexplored, cured the previously incurable, and given voices to those unable to speak for themselves. And, as has been famously stated, they did it all dancing backward in high heels.

If women could go into your Congress, I think justice would soon be done to the Indians. —Thoc-me-tony (aka Sara Winnemucca, 1844-1891), Pauite educator, interpreter, writer, activist
“If women could go into your Congress, I think justice would soon be done to the Indians.”
—Thoc-me-tony (aka Sara Winnemucca, 1844-1891), Pauite educator, interpreter, writer, activist

“It would be ridiculous to talk of male and female atmospheres, male and female springs or rains, male and female sunshine…,” women’s rights pioneers Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in one of their suffrage pamphlets. “[H]ow much more ridiculous is it in relation to mind, to soul, to thought…?”

Anthony and Stanton often railed against inequality between the genders and the resulting injustices visited upon the distaff side of humanity — lack of access to education and discriminatory civil laws, for example. Today, the philosophy they espoused is, or should be, de rigueur, but until the mid-20th Century, speaking such thoughts in public in many societies carried significant risk to life and liberty. In some societies, it still does.

The best protection any woman can have … is courage. —Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), social activist, abolitionist, women’s rights crusader
The best protection any woman can have … is courage.
—Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), social activist, abolitionist, women’s rights crusader

For precisely that reason, historical romance novels can be important beyond the obvious entertainment. Unlike much literature written in previous ages, primarily by men, romance novels written during the past twenty to thirty years, primarily by women, portray heroines and female villains with courage, determination, and strength equal to the hero’s. Call me a man-bashing feminist if you must, but I believe it is crucial for readers, particularly younger ones, to be presented with female characters who are much more than decorative pedestal dwellers.

The day will come when men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race. —Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), social reformer, women’s suffrage leader
“The day will come when men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.”
—Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), social reformer, women’s suffrage leader

In fact, when one studies history, it becomes impossible to consider the romantic notion of heroes on white chargers rescuing damsels in distress anything more than exactly that: a romantic notion. On any frontier in any age, toughness and capability are essential for survival, regardless of gender. Today’s well-researched historical fiction makes that abundantly clear — and like it or not, fiction resonates in contemporary culture, subtly but undeniably influencing attitudes on both sides of the gender divide. Art always has been both reactive and proactive in that way.

So, readers and writers of romance, don’t let anyone tell you you’re wasting your time with ludicrous, lowbrow “trash.” You’re not. You’re buttressing ramparts our foremothers built long ago. Could there be a more pleasant, if stealthy, way to celebrate Women’s History Month?

Learning to Spell with Lucy…1890 ~Tanya Hanson

During my college days in Nebraska, a favorite pastime was picking up treasures at farm auctions. Upon opening one such bargain, an antique trunk, I found a spelling book a little girl had scribbled in many years ago.

Her spelling book, The Graded World Class Speller was written by Mortimer A. Warren and published by Taintor Brothers, Merrill and Co, NY, 1876. The curriculum was described as containing several thousand words grouped in classes, and arranged to form a progressive course in spelling.




Near as I can tell, her name was Lucy J. V. Bucher. (In my imagination, she is Lucy Joanna Victoria). I’m certain a parent inscribed this for her…(it looks fairly mature) but she was learning cursive.

This page in the back of the book, Chapter VI, is a “List of Words Whose Pronunciation or Whose Spelling I have Found Difficult” seems to have a mature penmanship first, hers to follow, for practice sake.

I suspect she was about nine in 1890. Apparently she lived in Thayer, Nebraska, one of the nine villages in York County (est. 1855) in the south eastern part of the state. I like to think her schoolmaster looked something like this, my great-grandfather who taught school for many years. Indeed, in his classes, boys and girls were separated on separated sides of the room.

Lucy likely attended a one-room school where five or six age and grade levels were given lessons at different times. When applicable, the same lesson might be taught to the entire class. Textbooks were purchased by families and often passed down within the family until the book was tattered and worn. Lucy’s book, copywrite 1876, might have been used and battered by older siblings. Hence its disreputable condition.  Lucy’s pencil might have been “yellow” by then. Originally pencils were left unpainted to showcase the natural wood, but yellow paint came into fashion about 1890 to showcase use of Chinese graphite. Older children used pen and ink, but sparingly.


I think Lucy would have looked like this. 

It’s fun trying to make a long ago little girl a bit more real. My five year old grandson has already resisted the concept of homework. He complained to his daddy about having to write his name ten times, explaining “You’re not my boss.” I wonder if Lucy felt the same, considering all the doodling in her practice pages,, and of course, the mysteries she left behind.

One scribbly page claims “Fred is go to mery Lily Boile.” (Another page claims “Martha is go to mery..” somebody also but I can’t read the name.) Anyway, did they? Marry, I mean,  a couple of decades down the road?

Perhaps the dearest things that fire my imagination are: “What is my doll name?” Mixed in with numbers and math.

And…the mysterious name Charlie Mix?…was she writing his name because he was her first grade school crush? Or was he, boringly, simply another kid who used the book?

I’m sure hoping for the former!


Dear Old Golden Rule Days—and Book Giveaway

  Things you probably didn’t know about the Little Red Schoolhouse


  • They weren’t always red.  Many early schools were built from logs.  Out west classes were often conducted in canvas tents, sod house and abandoned mines. Clapboard schools were painted white or left unpainted.  Some schools were painted red after the Civil War, but people objected to painting schools the same color as barns.


  •  The school year was planned around farming.   Families needed children to help with planting and harvesting. School terms were generally twelve weeks long and ran from Thanksgiving to early spring. A single school term of six to nine months began after the Civil War


  •  Almost every president up to and including Lyndon Baines Johnson attended a one room school. 


  • A one room schoolhouse would average somewhere between six to forty students.


  • Most teachers were female and were not allowed to marry.  Female teachers got five to six dollars a month in salary and generally boarded with a local family.  Male teachers earned fifteen dollars a month and were held in higher esteem.


  •  In the early 1800s the youngest scholars were called A-B-C-darians or abecedarians because they were learning their A-B-Cs.  These youngsters sat up front.


  •  A teacher’s duties included cutting wood, starting a fire in the potbelly stove and preparing a hot noon-day lunch.


  • McGuffey’s Readers were first in published in 1836.  Not all schools could afford textbooks and parents sent whatever books could be found around the house—usually Bibles and Sears, Roebucks Catalogs.   McGuffey’s opened the door for the printing of other textbooks including the History of the United States.  A popular geography book featured a Chinese peddler selling rats and puppies for the purpose of making pies.


  •  Unruly students are nothing new.  Those early scholars passed notes, dipped braids into inkwells; tied bell clappers so they wouldn’t ring; stuffed chimneys with branches and tossed buckshot into the fire to create loud explosions.  They also marked desks with “Images which would make heathens blush.”  Punishment included standing in a corner, staying after school or a wallop with a ruler or hickory stick. 


  •  Reform was slow. At the turn of the century state educators sent out rural standardization ranking schools on desks, blackboards and outhouses.


  •  Speaking of outhouses, did you know that during Colonial and Frontier times the crescent moon  on the door was used to symbolize womanhood?  (The moon or Luna was an ancient symbol for women). Outhouses for men and boys were marked with a star or sunburst.  These symbols were originally used to direct non-readers.  Male outhouses soon fell in disrepair and were not maintained (which explains why so few of them remain today). It soon became common practice for both sexes to use the “cleaner” crescent moon outhouses.


  •  In 1919 there were 190,000 one room, one teacher schoolhouses in the U.S.  By 1968 that had dwindled down to 4000.  Today there are only a couple hundred left.  Hawaii closed its last one room schoolhouse in 2005


The reason my mind is on schools has nothing to do with the new school year.  Maddie Parker in my story “Snow Angel” in A Log Cabin Christmas Collection is a teacher in a log cabin school in Texas.  Since her students have no desks she “borrows” the church pews for them to write on. This doesn’t sit well with the elders and leads one man to complain that he had to  “…stand two solid hours on Sunday morn to hear the preacher tell us we ain’t nothin’ but sinners.  That’s hard enough to take sittin’ down let alone standin’.”  


 Not only does Maddie rile up the town with her unorthodox ways, she causes one big headache for her nemesis Sheriff Brad Donovan.  Forced to traipse through an unprecedented snowstorm to rescue the schoolmarm and three of her most challenging students, he’s ready to wring her pretty neck.  Will a snowbound Christmas be just the thing to bring forgiveness to an entire town and hope to a grieving man’s heart?


I’m giving away a copy of my new book to one of you today so let’s hear it.  What do you most remember about your early school days? Anyone out there attend a one room schoolhouse?


 For more contests and giveaways visit me on my Facebook page:  



A Log Cabin Christmas: 9 Historical Romances during American Pioneer Christmases


A Vision of Lucy (A Rocky Creek Romance) 

Winning Words ~Tanya Hanson

It’s “bee” season around here. No, not hives or honey, but words. My local newspaper has sponsored the county spelling bee for more than fifty years. This year, some 16,000 students from grades three-through-eight participated in classroom spelling bees in our county’s 138 schools. Ultimately, 13 area students competed at the county level, the final champ winning an all-expenses paid trip to the 86th Annual 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee to be held in Washington DC, June 1-2.

Since bees are such social insects, the word “bee” became the collective noun in the 1800’s for gatherings of people doing all sorts of things, from building barns, husking corn, and sewing quilts. Throughout the 19th Century, popular “education exhibitions” of students showing off their academic skills in subjects such as spelling and geography came to be called “bees” as well. The concept of the “spelling bee” is almost certainly original to the United States.

The earliest use of the term “spelling bee” in print dates to 1825 although the contests certainly had been held long before that. One key force behind spelling contests was the Noah Webster Spelling Book. First published in 1786, the “Blue-backed spellers” were essential parts of any American elementary school for five generations. Nowadays, kids use the Merriam Webster dictionary.

In  April 1850, the first “official” references to the term “spelling bee” appeared in  New York Monthly Magazine.

The year 1875 saw an enormous event in the history of the spelling bee. The Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut, sponsored a huge spelling bee, and the event started out with a humorous monologue by the town’s most famous resident, Mark Twain. In his Autobiography, the author indeed  assures readers he was a masterful speller as a schoolboy.

 In 1925, the United States National Spelling bee was inaugurated by The Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville, Kentucky. The first winner of an official spelling bee was Andrew Smith. Scripps Howard News Service acquired ownership of the national program inn 1941 and changed the name to the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. Today, the National Spelling Bee is sponsored by English-language newspapers and educational foundations. The top “masterful spellers” come from all fifty states as well as Canada, the Bahamas, New Zealand and Europe. Winners receive a cash award.

Typically, a spelling bee is a competition to spell English words. Spelling Bee Competitions are also held United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Indonesia, and India. Similar competitions are held as France’s “La dictée” and Poland’s “Dyktando”.

Spelling Bees are virtually nonexistent in countries whose national language follows more phonetic spelling rules, as compared to the largely historical spelling of the English and French languages.

 The winning words this year from our 13 area champs were chimichanga, impervious, sukiyaki, Esperanto, tournament, grotesqueness, barrow, olympiad (twice), propaganda, magnolia, prodigal, and android.


Now who of you out there don’t remember spelling bee scenes from such favorite shows as Little House on the Prairie or Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman?

Have you ever been in a spelling bee? I represented my school as an 8th grader, and misspelling “abscess” still haunts me.