[Oberlin, Ohio]: James M. Fitch, 1850. First edition. Original publisher's cloth binding ornately embossed in gilt. All edges gilt. Yellow endpapers. Measuring 165 x 105mm and collating complete including frontis: , viii, 252. Mild rubbing to spine ends and corners. Contemporary ownership inscription to front endpaper: "To our dear daughter Abbie. Dec. 26th 1864. May she as certainly be a daughter of Zion." Later pencil ownership signature of Grace Frances Mowry to lower front pastedown and corresponding note "For Grace" to lower front endpaper; youthful pencil scribble to rear endpaper. Endpapers and final text leaf moderately foxed; some spotting near the gutter on 222-223 and marginal staining to 228-233 not affecting text, else internally clean. A scarce first-person account of a New England school teacher working in the antebellum South, OCLC reports 14 physical copies in libraries. Scarce in trade as well, the only two copies to appear at auction in the past half-century were both ex-library, the most recent with significant wear. The present is in lovely, collectible condition.
Early in her teaching career and before her marriage in 1848, Emily Pillsbury Burke took a teaching position at the Female Asylum for Orphans in Georgia. Raised in a progressive household in New Hampshire, Burke was astounded at the social and economic differences that she saw across races in the rural South; and she committed her impressions and experiences to paper in a series of articles in New England journals before compiling the works here in 1850. Though Burke's original intention was to culturally inform the rising ranks of young Northern teachers who were increasingly taking positions in the South, her letters clearly document her increasingly commitment to racial and gender equity. Certainly the South and its reliance on the labor of enslaved people shocked her; so, too, did the institutional tricks by which enslavers could enact their cruelty without consequence. "Not far from the Asylum stands the city jail, the occupants of which are mostly slaves, not only those who have been caught while endeavoring to obtain their freedom, but also those who have been sent there by their masters to undergo a course of punishment...The laws of the city forbid the master to whip his own slave; therefore, when he considers his slave to be deserving of punishment, he sends him to the jail with orders to have him whipped...I have seen runaway slaves dragged to this place of cruelty with their hands tied behind them, attended by two or three white men who made free use of the lash." In the face of such violence, Burke notes Black communities' commitment to learning; and she documents the commonality of both adults and children using white families' resources to become literate, to create their own works, and to grow "as wise as his master." She does not shy away from graphic descriptions of the violence committed on Black peoples -- physically or through the attempted constraint of their minds. And she celebrates their tenacity in assisting themselves and others in resisting these constraints.
Covering significant ground in her consideration of Southern culture, including the dangers faced by women within the white patriarchal system ("I have known ladies that would not dare to go to sleep without one or two pistols under their pillows"), Burke's memoir takes a complex view of the region. For she acknowledges that the North, too, faces economic, gendered, and racial tensions that often go unacknowledged; and she admits that there is much beauty to Southern people, food, and places. Ultimately, Burke experiences "mingled emotions of pleasure and pain" when considering the South.
Burke married in 1848, and by 1849 she was widowed and took a position as Principal of the Female Department at the progressive, integrated, and open- gender Oberlin College. Despite her popularity, her tenure was short-lived and she was dismissed in 1850 following a retaliatory report by a male student. Departing education, she remarried and became an activist during the Civil War.
Howes B981aa. Not in Blockson. (Item #5033)