Harriet Bishop

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Winning Nomination

Harriet Bishop was a woman of many firsts, all of which dramatically impacted the frontier territory that would become Minnesota. She is perhaps best remembered for her role as the first public schoolteacher in St. Paul in 1847. Charged with a sense of the importance of feminine virtue, Christian duty and divinely inspired education, Harriet Bishop and her school helped to transform the rugged outpost of St. Paul into a flourishing town. Of equal importance was her participation in and support of the First Baptist Church, the St. Paul Circle of Industry, the Baptist Women's Sewing Circle, the Territorial Temperance Society, the Christian Aid Society, the St. Paul Women's Seminary, and the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. Harriet Bishop pioneered St. Paul's first Protestant Sunday school and joined the Minnesota Historical Society as a founding member. In addition, she acted as the first state organizer of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.

In all of these endeavors, Harriet Bishop sought to enhance the stability and morality of Minnesota, establish a society of like-minded individuals, and improve the lot of Christian women like herself. Harriet's books, including Floral Home and Minnesota Then and Now, also served these purposes. They provided a ladylike appeal for a larger feminine sphere of influence and acted as prime Minnesota booster material. While calling for further settlement of her beloved adopted home, Harriet declared, "If Earth has a paradise, it is here." Indeed, if St. Paul and Minnesota were Harriet Bishop's vision of paradise, it was because of her lifelong struggle to make it so.
~Katie McKee, St. Paul, MN, and Judith Hentges, Minneapolis, MN



Runner-up Nominations

She was the first teacher in Minnesota and now has a school named after her. With all of her hard work to become a teacher in the state of Minnesota, she deserves to be nominated.
~Emily and Sasha, Maple Grove, MN

Harriet Bishop was our state's first school teacher. She changed Minnesota by starting the first school. She was a good leader and helped kids. She was intelligent and enjoyed a challenge. By giving kids a good education she gave them the skills to get a good job and maybe get an idea or make a discovery to help Minnesota.
~Samantha McConnell, Minneapolis, MN


Contents

History

(1817-1883)

Minnesota's first schoolteacher

On Harriet Island, a small spot on the Mississippi River just across from downtown St. Paul, there is a paddleboat-shaped play area sheltered by a replica of the city's first schoolhouse. It's a lovely setting and a fitting tribute to the island's namesake, Harriet Bishop. As the city's first schoolteacher, Bishop dedicated her life to transforming the rugged outpost she first encountered into a thriving, civilized town.

Bishop moved from Vermont to St. Paul in 1847, fresh from her training with Catharine Beecher, a reformer (and sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe) who believed that women needed to be well educated in order to devote themselves to the moral development and education of their children and their homes. As part of Beecher's program to train women to help educate and civilize frontier children, Bishop answered a call from Minnesota missionary Thomas S. Williamson. In addition to founding a school (her first schoolhouse was a former blacksmith's shop), she became involved in all sorts of other "firsts," including the First Baptist Church, the Baptist Sewing Society, the Territorial Temperance Society, the Ladies Christian Union, and the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. She pioneered St. Paul's first Protestant Sunday school and acted as the first state organizer of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Throughout her endeavors, Bishop "sought to enhance the stability and morality of Minnesota, establish a society of like-minded individuals, and improve the lot of Christian women like herself," according to Katie McKee and Judith Hentges, who portray Harriet Bishop through the Minnesota Historical Society's "History Players" program. She wrote two books that outlined her philosophies while encouraging like-minded others to join her in her adopted home. "If earth has a paradise," wrote Harriet Bishop of St. Paul, "it is here."

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