The Starr Children’s Modern Education

By Barbara Judkins, Site Manager, Starr Family Home

The late 19th century saw a growth in educational opportunities for women. This was fortunate for the six daughters of Frank and Clara Starr as their parents were adamant they receive a good education in the best schools with the best teachers they could afford. Some of the girls went off to school and some were taught at home but quality was the key, no matter the location of the classroom.

With information gleaned from newspaper articles and family letters, we know three of girls, Clara, Sallie, and Pamela, did study away from home. Clara is noted to be studying at Beechcroft School in Springhill, Tennessee in in 1885 and in 1886. Clara and Sallie are studying at Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts in 1889, per a letter written by Frank Starr and Clara. Sallie and Pamela all arrived at Beechcroft School in August of 1889 and just Clara and Sallie in 1890.

The first teacher hired by the Starrs was Rebecca Nicholson. She arrived in Marshall in 1885 and left their employ in 1889, upon her marriage to Thomas Francis Howe. She did not teach all six girls as some were in Tennessee at Beechcroft. We do not know the requirements for the girls’ education when Miss Nicholson was hired but we know Frank and Clara probably had a set of requirements similar to the ones they had when they hired their second teacher, Mary Grace Stone. A warm relationship formed between the Starr family and Miss Nicholson, which continued for the rest of their lives. Several photographs in our collection attest to this as photos of Miss Nicholson range from the time she was a teacher in Marshall to well into her middle age at her home in California.

Mary Grace Stone, from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, was hired after Miss Nicholson’s marriage in 1889. She was a recent graduate of Wellseley College, having studied Latin. She agreed to a salary of “forty five dollars per calendar month, board and washing” provided she agreed to teach all six daughters. Additionally, she was to teach in the small building on their property that Frank had “fitted up with desks, a blackboard, maps, and charts with ample space out of doors.” The school day would be from 8:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a break for lunch and then resuming class from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. with proper recesses, Monday to Friday.

The Starrs preferred there be no vacations except the long summer vacation from June 25 to September 10, but they did request the girls be “in the school room in the morning for two hours or less” and then “having them do something in the way of light and agreeable study.” He expressed the vacation “classes” should not be too much of a burden for either the students or the teacher. Lastly, Frank expressed to Miss Stone that she would be welcome to arrive early—with pay—to get to know the family and community and that it was his and Clara’s wish for her to “become a member of our home.”

We do not know a great deal about Miss Stone’s time with the Starrs or afterward. In 1898-1899, she studied at Oxford University in England and, later was a teacher at Wadleigh, an exclusive all-female high school in New York City, from 1901 to her death in 1919. She never married. In our collection is one letter from Miss Stone to Ruth Blake dated 1913. The letter is warm and friendly and implies they had stayed in touch over the years. Miss Stone has written to say she will be traveling to Norway to see the fjords and asks Ruth to send her a “steamer” letter or two. 

While the girls never graduated from college, their children and other descendants, both male and female, did. The family were life-long learners and curious about the world around them. They wrote letters back and forth detailing a topic of interest or a book review and, sometimes, the book itself.  They traveled extensively in the United States and abroad with Ruth Blake traveling many times to Europe in her later years. We use, as documentation of this, not only the personal letters in our collection but the over 750 books in our collection that cover many, many topics. We believe this reinforces the family’s strong belief that learning is an important legacy to leave future generations.

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