Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mrs. Susanna Rowson's School & Myra Montgomery in Boston, 1805-1808

Illustration 1

Approximately a dozen typescript letters written primarily by Myra Montgomery (1794-1817)  to her cousin and subsequently, fiancé, Horace Henry Goodman (1785-1849) survive in the Collections of the Haverhill Historical Society, Haverhill, NH. and the New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, NH. Although small in number, the letters nonetheless constitute a valuable source of information on an affluent young woman and her family in the early Republic. While living in a rural town, she had access to much wider intellectual, artistic and literary circles, through her Boston education at the progressive Mrs. Susanna Rowson's School and Haverhill's role as the seat of the North County Court system, which drew several hundred individuals throughout the year.

General John Montgomery's business interests necessitated an ongoing round of social engagements. Consequently, this required that his daughters fill the role of hostesses to manage the ritual events in the parlor of the commodious Georgian home: teas, dinners, music, dancing and other activities characteristic of the early republic. Once Myra's older sisters had "gone to housekeeping" and while her mother was sick during 1815-16, more of the burden fell on Myra.  She was well - equipped to handle all manner of social discourse, for, when she was thirteen she spent several months at Mrs. Rowson’s Academy in Boston (1807-1808). Myra clearly made quite an impression on the highly regarded head of school.  

Illustration 2
Illustration 3
As Rowson observed to Myra's oldest sister, Mary Montgomery:

“Your sister Myra, is a very fine girl, and, what is of more consequence, a very good one.  She has been embargoed at school by a wise papa and has submitted without a repining look or word.  I do assure you she bids fair to become a great favorite.”[i]  

As a man of means, the General could afford to send his three oldest daughters—Mary  (1790-1869), Nancy (known as Ann, 1792-18?), and Myra—to the well-known academy of Mrs. Susanna Rowson in Newton and Boston in the early years of the 19th century.[ii]  From the tuition and “extras” billed to the General, we learn that the girls were trained not only to complete their silk embroidery, but also in the use of drawing paper, pen and ink, and music.  Furthermore, the two older girls attended a play via carriage, as well as going to meeting. As of this writing, none of their silk embroideries are currently known.
Illustration 4
Mrs. Rowson stayed in contact with many of her former pupils, expressing an interest in their activities. For example, in the same letter, she goes on to discuss Mary's forthcoming marriage "I understand that you are about to discard the name of Montgomery and adopt another ....(Batchelder)" 

Myra became ill in November of 1816, and succumbed to what was most likely consumption. She died on April 14, 1817 in the house where she lived most of her short life.  You can visit Myra's burial site, along with that of her father, General John Montgomery, her mother and step mother, Patience, at the Ladd Street Cemetery, not far from where her home still stands along the Oliverian Brook at the junction of Routes 10 & 25 in Haverhill, NH.

Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.
University of New Hampshire, Durham

Excerpt from forthcoming article '"So Dreary An Aspect" The Haverhill Letters of Myra Montgomery."  Available September 2013.

Notes and Illustrations:

[i]  Susanna Rowson to Mary Montgomery, January 8, 1808, in Elias Nason, ed., A Memoir of Mrs. Susanna Rowson, with Elegant and Illustrative Extracts from her Writings in Prose and Poetry (Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1870), 147.

[ii] Mary attended Rowson’s school for 15 weeks in 1805, and Ann boarded there for 23 weeks during the winter of 1804-1805.  Myra attended for a short time, apparently to finish her silk embroidery, in 1807 and early winter 1808 at age 13 part of 1807 and early winter of 1808 there.  For more on Mrs. Rowson's school and her pedagogy, see Jane C. Nylander, "Useful and Ornamental Education for Young Ladies: Mrs. Rowson's Academy, Boston, 1797-1822," New England Ancestors (January 2006): 19-26 and 51.

1. Mrs. Susanna Haswell Rowson, 1762-1824. A novelist, playwright and head of a progressive school for young women in Boston, Mrs. Rowson also wrote "Charlotte Temple." Many sources exist which discuss Mrs. Rowson in detail, including the two cited here. Courtesy of University of Virginia Library.
2. Myra, Mary or Ann Montgomery, artist unknown, c. 1800-1815.
Courtesy, Haverhill Historical Society.
3. Mrs. Rowson's School, Washington Street (near the Roxbury line), South End, Boston.
Watercolor on paper, artist unknown but may have been a student, 1807-1809.
Courtesy, The Boston Society #1919.0015.001. The elaborate architecture and landscape along 'Washington Neck"would have  been a high visibility landmark in post-Revolutionary era Boston.
4.Lydia Withington, detail, silk embroidery of Boston Harbor, 1799. Completed at Mrs. Rowson's School. Although none of the Montgomery girl's work is currently known to survive, this named and dated piece may serve as an example of the nature and quality of work completed under her tutelage.
Courtesy, The Boston Society

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