Manuscripts Division
William Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Louise Gilman Papers, 1866-1869

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, November 1994

Summary Information
Title: Louise Gilman papers
Creator: Gilman, Louise Lane, 1838-1922
Inclusive dates: 1866-1869
Extent: 30 items
Abstract:
The Louise Gilman papers consist of letters written by Louise Gilman while serving as a teacher at the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Viriginia, a school set up to educate freed slaves. The letters describe Gilman's activities as a teacher and her thoughts about the black students.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1994. M-3067.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Louise Gilman papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Biography

With the fall of the Confederacy and the abolition of slavery, many northern reformers shifted their focus to the problem of educating the vast numbers of newly freed men, women and children. In 1866, Brig. Gen. Samuel C. Armstrong, who had organized and commanded several "colored" regiments during the war, secured an appointment as agent for the Freedmen's Bureau and Superintendent of Schools in Virginia, and turned his considerable energies to the task. Within a year, Armstrong had persuaded the American Missionary Association to purchase 159 acres near Hampton, Va., as site for a permanent school for African-American and Native American students, and he put into practice his beliefs that the standard academic education was less relevant to the needs of freedmen than the provision of a base level of literacy and some form of useful, industrial or agricultural skills. The Hampton Institute officially opened in April, 1868, was incorporated by the state two years later, and graduated its first class of men and women in 1871.

In January, 1869, Louise Lane Gilman, a sister of Daniel Coit Gilman, was offered a five-month teaching position at the Hampton Institute through the efforts of a friend, the well-known Civil War nurse, Georgeanna Woolsey. The Gilmans, a politically active family with strong abolitionist ties, supported the decision of their youngest daughter to accept the post, and at the end of January, Louise left her home in Norwich, Conn., for the south.

When Gilman arrived at Hampton, an air of uncertainty hung over the school. Several of the Institute's buildings were still under construction, and several of those that were not being renovated did not meet the needs of teachers and students. For a while, Gilman was forced to hold class in a recitation room without desks, but during the five months that she taught at Hampton, Armstrong managed to bring the school onto firmer footing by securing a $15,000 appropriation from the federal government to construct new buildings, and his tireless efforts to raise funds eventually paid dividends in the form of more suitable facilities.

Gilman's tenure at Hampton was spent in fairly intensive contact with the students, teaching them during the day and tutoring them evenings. On occasion, she found time to travel through the surrounding area, visiting Slabtown, a freedmen's village, attending freedmen's religious services and assisting with their Sunday School, and in general, soaking up the local flavor. She and Rebecca Bacon, another teacher at Hampton, were offered a teaching post at Church Hill, Va., but decided against for unstated reasons. Certainly, Gilman admired the tenacity of some of the African American teachers and students that she met, and was particularly impressed with the story of some African-American women teachers in a "country place" where whites torched the school, only to find that the women "nailed their blackboard to an elm tree & kept on teaching till some time in December when the cold forced [them] to give up" (after 1869 March 7).

Clearly, Gilman did not divest herself of all of the broader (white) cultural attitudes toward African-Americans, and clearly, too, there were differences in the educational philosophies of Armstrong and Gilman and those of their pupils. Gilman, for example, disapproved of Miss Clark, a graduate of Hampton who had "come back to her old friends among the colored people" to teach. The problem with Clark, according to Gilman, was that she "puts herself on a level with [her old friends], in a way which Gen. Armstrong says is a mistaken one," and she added, "I am glad that Rebecca & I did not go to Church Hill -- for if the people there have had this kind of teaching for four or five years, I don't know what hateful degrees of aristocratic pride they might have discovered in us!" (1869 April 24). Motivated by a true desire to help the disadvantaged and oppressed, Gilman nevertheless displayed a range of complex, often conflicting ideas about her students and her work. The ambiguity of her feelings is best summed up in her description of the African-American men at a sing-along she attended at Hampton: "Such a picture as it was -- these forty black faces huddled together around the piano -- singing army songs at the tops of their voices and with the utmost solemnity till they came to Dixie or some other rebel song -- and then the humour gleamed all over their faces as they promised to shoot the Yankees one by one, or described the valiant exploits of Jeff. Davis" (1869 March 5). How Gilman or her family understood this event is never explained. Gilman appears to have returned to Connecticut early in May, 1869.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Louise Gilman papers consist of 21 letters written by Louise Gilman to her elder sisters Molly and Emily, one to her brother, Edward, and four letters to Lizzie (probably Elizabeth Dwight Woolsey Gilman, ca.1839-1910) or Hattie, who may either be friends or relatives. The collection also includes five letters from Molly Gilman to Lizzie, and a copy of one letter from Samuel C. Armstrong to one of the Miss Woolseys (probably Georgeanna).

Gilman's letters to her sisters include several fine descriptions of the still unfinished grounds of the Hampton Institute and portray an interesting, though not highly detailed picture of the life of a freedmen's teacher. The eagerness of many of the students to learn to read and the enthusiasm for education, at least among some of them, comes through strongly in these letters. One letter in particular provides an outstanding description of the Institute, the teachers' rooms and the daily routine, along with a long description of a visit to a Freedman's Church and Sunday School (1869 February 21). Gilman's final lines in her description of the Sunday School capture some of the complexity of her feelings about her experience: "I have spun out a long story of all this - but how else can I give you an idea of the mixture of free-ness & pomposity, of rudeness & simple decorum in all the exercises - I wish I could give you a picture of the whole scene! Such bonnets! Such hoops!!"

A running tension in the Gilman correspondence is the mixture of admiration and respect that Gilman musters for her pupils, leavened with an air of condescension and occasional scorn. At times, it can be difficult to discern her true feelings, as when she implies that books found in the Slabtown Sunday School might have been stolen, or when she suggests that she might bring home an 18 year old African-American girl whose health and well-being might improve at the north. Gilman adds, revealingly, "'Nothing offensive or niggery about her' says Rebecca [Bacon] -- 'She don't smell bad.' She has never received wages -- & I have not doubt would be satisfied with very small wages at least till the expenses of her journey are paid" (1869 April 27).

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • African American teachers--Virginia.
    • Armstrong, S. C. (Samuel Chapman), 1839-1893.
    • Bacon, Rebecca.
    • Freedmen--Education.
    • Freedmen--Social conditions.
    • Freedmen--Virginia.
    • Hampton Institute.
    • Slabtown (Va.)
    • Teachers--Virginia.
    • Woolsey, Jane Stuart.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   1  
    Louise Gilman papers,  1866 March 28-1869 May 7 [series]:
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Africa
    • 1869 February 28
    African American churches--Virginia
    • 1869 February 21
    African American music
    • 1869 February 28
    • 1869 March 5
    African American teachers--Virginia
    • after 1869 March 7
    • 1869 March 27
    • after 1869 April 9
    African Americans--Religious life
    • 1869 March 7
    African Americans--Social conditions--Virginia
    • 1869 February 27
    American Missionary Association
    • 1866 March 28
    • 1869 February 28
    Armstrong, Samuel Chapman, 1839-1892
    • 1869 February 7
    • 1869 February 9
    • 1869 February 18
    • 1869 February 28
    • 1869 March 7
    • 1869 March 27
    • ca.1869 March
    • 1869 April 9
    • 1869 April 15
    Bacon, Rebecca
    • 1869 February 7
    • 1869 February 9
    • 1869 March 7
    • 1869 April 27
    Bond, William
    • ca.1869 March
    Booker, Bridget
    • 1869 March 27
    • after 1869 April 9
    Breakfast
    • 1869 March 7
    Carter
    • 1869 March 7
    • after 1869 March 7
    Charity
    • 1866 March 28
    Clark, Miss
    • 1869 April 24
    Entertaining--Virginia
    • 1869 March 5
    Freedmen--Education--Virginia
    • Passim
    Freedmen--Social conditions--Virginia
    • c.1869 March
    • 1866 March 28
    • 1869 April 27
    Freedmen--Virginia
    • 1869 February 21
    • 1869 March 5
    • after 1869 March 7
    Gilman, Louise Lane, 1838-1922
    • c.1869 January
    • after 1869 March 27
    • n.d. Monday
    Hampton (Va.)
    • 1869 February 21
    • after 1869 March 7
    Hampton Institute, Hampton, Va.
    • Passim
    Hygeia Hotel
    • after 1869 March 7
    Kingsley, Miss
    • 1869 March 7
    Literacy
    • 1869 February 27
    Middlesex (Va.)
    • after 1869 March 7
    Reconstruction--Virginia
    • 1869 February 21
    Sabbath schools--Virginia
    • 1869 February 21
    Slabtown (Va.)
    • 1869 February 21
    • after 1869 March 7
    • 1869 April 24
    Slavery
    • ca.1869 March
    Sunday schools--Virginia
    • 1869 February 28
    Teachers--Virginia
    • Passim
    Williams, Miss
    • after 1869 March 7
    Woolsey, Jane Stuart
    • 1869 February 7
    • 1869 February 9
    • 1869 March 7
    • 1869 March 18