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Spafford papers, 1879-1933 (Bulk: 1882-1889)
2 boxes (10 linear in.)
Collection number: MS 0717 (LD 7096.6 1879 Preston)

Abstract:
Spafford, Mary Otis Preston, 1857-1929; Teacher and missionary. Mount Holyoke Female Seminary graduate, 1879. Papers contain correspondence, biographical information, memorabilia, and a photograph. Primarily documenting her experience as a teacher at the Huguenot Seminary, South Africa.

Terms of Access and Use:

Unrestricted

Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
South Hadley, MA

Biographical Note

Mary Otis Preston was born in Granby, Massachusetts, on July 20, 1857. Her parents were Calvin Preston, a farmer, and Sarah Montague Moody Preston. After attending local and district schools, she entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1876 and graduated in 1879. She then worked as "boy's attendant" at the Clarke Institute for Deaf Mutes in Northampton, Massachusetts for two years. In the summer of 1882 Spafford went to Wellington, South Africa to work at Huguenot Seminary, the first institution for the higher education of women in that country. She taught Latin, physics, and a number of other subjects, managed the school's financial accounts, and served as acting principal for a short time. She returned to the United States in 1889 and in 1890 married William Swain Spafford, whom she had met when he was stationed in South Africa with the South Irish Artillery. They had four children. She died in South Hadley, Massachusetts on April 29, 1933 at the age of seventy-five.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Mary Otis Preston Spafford Papers consist of correspondence, biographical information, memorabilia, and a photograph. Of particular interest are letters that Spafford wrote in 1880 and 1882-1889. The 1880 letter is addressed to her Mount Holyoke Female Seminary classmates and describes her work as "boy's attendant" at the Clarke Institute for Deaf Mutes (now the Clarke School for the Deaf) in Northampton, Massachusetts. The letters from 1882-1889 were written while she was a teacher at Huguenot Seminary in Wellington, South Africa. This correspondence is chiefly addressed to members of her family, the Prestons of South Hadley, Massachusetts. The earliest letters in the collection describe her railroad and steamship journey to South Africa by way of New Haven, New York City, and London, where she stayed at the Temperance Hotel and went signtseeing. Subsequent letters describe Huguenot Seminary, Wellington and the surrounding area, and her activities in great detail. She discusses her work as a teacher and her other duties, which included keeping financial accounts, buying supplies, and serving as acting principal. She also discusses students and other teachers, government inspections of the Seminary, the construction of new buildings at the school, and visitors, including a team of astronomers lead by Simon Newcomb of the U.S. Naval Observatory who came to South Africa in 1882 to view the transit of Venus. In addition, Spafford describes her impressions of "colored people" in South Africa, her temperance work, missionary meetings and mission work, visits to Inanda Seminary and a Zulu mission, and her summer and holiday activities, which included traveling through the country and participating in the Chautauqua Circle (a literary organization related to the Chautauqua Movement in the United States). There are occasional references to her relationship with William Swain Spafford, a gunner stationed with the British Army in South Africa whom she would marry in 1890. The final letters in the collection were written in April and May 1889. They describe her voyage to England on the S.S. Tartar and another round of sightseeing in London. A number of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary alumnae who were missionaries and teachers in South Africa are regularly mentioned in these letters, especially Anna E. Bliss and Abbie P. Ferguson (the first teachers and principals of Huguenot Seminary), M. Lizzie Cummings Gamble, Sarah E. Holbrook, Carrie E. Jannasch, and M. Emma Landfear. The letters for 1882-1889 were transcribed by Spafford's granddaughter, Ruth M. Beebe, and the transcripts, which are indexed, are part of this collection. In addition, these papers include an obituary and other biographical information about Spafford as well as a class pin and a photograph of her, both probably dating from her final year at Mount Holyoke, 1879.


Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

Mary Otis Preston Spafford Papers, Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections, South Hadley, MA.

History of the Collection


Additional Information
Contact Information
Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
8 Dwight Hall
50 College St.
South Hadley, MA 01075

Phone: (413) 538-2013
Fax: (413) 538-2370

Email Reference Form: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/lits/library/arch/forms/areq.htm
URL: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/lits/library/arch/
Language
English.
Sponsor
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Contents List
1880-1889, 1928
5 folders

Arrangement:

Arranged chronologically.

Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Scope and content:

This series chiefly consists of letters written by Spafford in 1880 and from 1882-1889. The 1880 letter was written to her Mount Holyoke Female Seminary classmates. It offers a detailed description of Spafford's work at the Clarke Institute for Deaf Mutes in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she had the care of twenty-eight boys between the ages of six and twelve. In July of 1882 she left her home in South Hadley, Massachusetts to take a teaching position at the Huguenot Seminary in Wellington, South Africa. Her letters for her years in Africa begin on July 8, 1882, with a description of her journey by rail to New Haven, Connecticut, then by boat to New York City, then overseas to London where she stayed at the Temperance Hotel and took in the local sights, and finally on the S.S. "Spartan" to Cape Town, South Africa, where she arrived on August 18. She received a warm welcome at Huguenot Seminary, founded in 1874 by the Reverend Andrew Murray who wished to model the new school for girls after Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Two Mount Holyoke graduates, Abbie Park Ferguson and Anna E. Bliss, were recruited to head the Seminary and both were there when Spafford arrived. She was greeted by one hundred and twenty students, Dutch and English, distributed among the Higher, Middle and Lower Departments, and fourteen teachers. Those in the Higher Department had to be at least fifteen years old. The purpose of the school was to give young women an education and mold character, as well as to train teachers. All members of the school aided in the "domestic work of the family." Spafford taught a variety of subjects, including Latin and physics. Although most of the students were Dutch, students spoke English. Not long after she arrived she took over the school accounts. This was a demanding job since it involved the payroll and long Government reports; her records were regularly inspected by a government official. The job also involved writing business letters, shopping for the Seminary which meant dealing with local shopkeepers, and visiting the bank, where, she wrote, she was not intimidated by the bankers. At one time she was Acting Principal while Miss Bliss and Miss Ferguson were away--a job she did not relish, especially when disciplining the pupils. She felt overpowered with the responsibility for "such naughty girls" and hated dealing with young men posing as relatives of Seminary students, although she was unfazed by rowdy village youths who peered into students' windows and tore up Seminary grounds. In a boarding school caring for sick students was another duty of teachers. Government inspectors made regular visits and the Seminary was justly proud of its good results in the Government examinations. During Spafford's tenure the school expanded, adding Goodnow Hall and purchasing other property for additional dormitory space. Three miles from the Seminary, Abbie Ferguson's brother was head of a training institute, a mission school for young men. He and his wife appear frequently in these letters. Since there was no English-speaking church in Wellington, Sundays were usually spent sitting on a plain board at a Dutch church, an endurance trial since services lasted three hours. Hearing the Reverend Mr. Ferguson and the Reverend Mr. Murray preach in English at Seminary services was a welcome relief. When classes were not in session, days were filled with activities. The Chautauqua Circle was reading the Iliad in the spring of 1885 and celebrating Longfellow's birthday. The area provided beautiful country; school picnics, botanical excursions, local expeditions were frequent, sometimes with students, sometimes with teachers. There were also vacation and holiday times which permitted exploration of the vicinity around Cape Town. Frequently a group of teachers rented a house on a beach, perhaps twelve or more with several servants, bringing their household things with them. One trip involved tenting between the two oceans. Although Spafford did not swim, she adored sea bathing, sometimes with a horse-drawn bathing machine. Short holidays were often spent with families of students, or former students--mostly Dutch farmers with families of ten or more children. The Seminary, she wrote, was a password into Dutch homes. Since most farms had vineyards, wine was always offered guests, but Spafford, as a White Ribbon wearer, would refuse, drinking her favorite milk instead. Some trips were to mission stations. One was to Beaufort, three hundred miles from Cape Town and up three thousand feet. Another took her by boat in April 1887 to Durban, nine hundred miles east of Wellington, then by train , then by cart for forty miles, to see a Mount Holyoke alumna, Sarah E. Holbrook, and her husband at their Zulu Mission. On her return trip she visited Inanda Seminary by horseback and visited a Kraal hut, a challenge with her "long habit and big hat" going through an opening two feet high (June 1887). There were many visitors at the Seminary. It was a magnet for tourists on passing steamers and of course for many missionaries and teachers travelling back and forth from South Africa to the British Isles and the States. In November of 1882 a team of astronomers lead by Simon Newcomb set up equipment on the Seminary grounds to view the transit of Venus. On board a U.S. Naval ship "three of us ladies sat down with 12 nice American gentlemen" for a five-course meal (June 1886). In January of 1884 a flag ship of the British Navy was stationed at Simon's Town nearby and Captain McLeod proved a gracious host. There was great excitement when Mount Holyoke alumna Carrie Ingraham, Principal of Bloemhof Girls' High School in Stellenbosch, announced her engagement. Spafford wrote that she was the first of sixty American teachers to become engaged, but "Do not think she is the first one to be asked, oh dear no..." (February 1886). One special friend of Spafford's was Frances Smith who had been a student at the Seminary, receiving honors in the Teachers Examination, and who then taught school. Spafford was often a guest of the family and they vacationed together. In 1885 she met "a corporal from the Royal Scots and Mr. Spafford, a gunner from the South Irish Artillery," both members of the British Navy. She described Spafford as "dressed in dark blue with red and gold stripes, a little round cap, a fine looking fellow rather fair with a mustache." There are few references to him after that until July of 1887, when she wrote that he had been writing often and for her birthday she received a silver pin. Their visits were evidently brief since she wrote in March of 1889 that he finally had time off and they had strolled through Lovers Lane. When she was sailing for home, she felt badly that she had to leave him but there was "no scene on board." Spafford surely used every opportunity that opened to her while in South Africa. She welcomed each new challenge, enjoying new foods (exotic fruit, ostrich) and exploring the country. Deeply concerned about the amount of drinking, she helped to establish a coffee house in town for the local population and another for sailors on shore leave. She was sensitive to the plight of "the colored people" and refused to attend the circus because of the use of small children in the performances. She also visited a colony of four hundred lepers and insane on an island about an hour's boat ride away (December 1888). Although the focus of these letters is on Spafford's life in South Africa, her ties with home remained strong and she frequently comments about news, friends and relatives whom she heard about in the letters from her family. On May 8, 1928, Spafford sent a letter and birthday card to Anna Edwards, mentioning the coincidence that her grandson turned nine years old the same day that Anna turned ninety.

1882-1889
9 folders

Arrangement:

Arranged chronologically.

Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Scope and content:

This series contains complete typed transcripts of the letters that Spafford wrote between 1882-1889 which are filed in Series 1. There are 2 sets of transcripts, one set that is bound and another set that is unbound.

ca. 1904, 1906, 1933
1 folder

Arrangement:

Arranged chronologically.

Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Scope and content:

The biographical material includes a newspaper article about Spafford's parents' fiftieth anniversary and three obituaries for Spafford, which give brief summaries of her life. Biographical information written by Anna Edwards provides basic details of Spafford's life.

ca. 1879
1 folder

Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Pin for the Class of 1879 at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary bearing the motto "God us Ayde"

ca. 1879
1 folder

Arrangement:

Arranged chronologically.

Restrictions on access:

Unrestricted

Scope and content:

A photograph of Spafford probably dating from 1879, when she graduated from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

Contents List
Correspondence,
1880-1889, 1928
5 folders

Correspondence,
1880

Box 1: folder 1
Correspondence,
1882-1884

Box 1: folder 2
Correspondence,
1884-1886

Box 1: folder 3
Correspondence,
1886-1887

Box 1: folder 4
Correspondence,
1888-1889, 1928

Box 1: folder 5
Transcripts of Correspondence,
1882-1889
9 folders

Transcripts of correspondence,
1882-1884, bound set

Box 1: folder 6
Transcripts of correspondence,
1884-1887, bound set

Box 1: folder 7
Transcripts of correspondence,
1887-1889, bound set

Box 2: folder 1
Transcripts of correspondence,
1882-1883, unbound set

Box 2: folder 2
Transcripts of correspondence,
1883-1884, unbound set

Box 2: folder 3
Transcripts of correspondence,
1884-1885, unbound set

Box 2: folder 4
Transcripts of correspondence,
1885-1887, unbound set

Box 2: folder 5
Transcripts of correspondence,
1887-1888, unbound set

Box 2: folder 6
Transcripts of correspondence,
1888-1889, unbound set

Box 2: folder 7
Biographical Information,
ca. 1904, 1906, 1933
1 folder

Obituaries,
clippings, notes,

Box 2: folder 8
co. 1904,
1906, 1933

Box 2: folder
Memorabilia,
ca. 1879
1 folder

Pin for Class of 1879,
Mount Holyoke Female

OBJ 0006
Seminary


Box 2: folder
Photograph,
ca. 1879
1 folder

Formal photograph of Spafford,
ca. 1879

Box 2: folder 10

Search Terms
The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. Use these headings to search for additional materials on this web site, in the Five College Library Catalog, or in other library catalogs and databases.

Subjects
  • Bliss, Anna E. (Anna Elvira), 1843-1925.
  • Ferguson, A. P. (Abbie Park), 1837-1919.
  • Gamble, M. Lizzie Cummings (Mary Elizabeth Cummings), 1854-1947.
  • Holbrook, Sarah E. (Sarah Elizabeth), 1856-1934.
  • Jannasch, Carrie E. (Carrie Emily), 1853-1939.
  • Landfear, M. Emma (Mary Emma), 1851-1914.
  • Newcomb, Simon, 1835-1909.
  • Spafford, Mary Otis Preston, 1857-1933.
  • Spafford, William Swain, 1859-1929.
  • Chautauqua Circle (Wellington, South Africa).
  • Clarke School for the Deaf - History - Sources.
  • Courtship - History - 19th century - Sources.
  • Dutch - South Africa.
  • Education - South Africa - History - Sources.
  • Huguenot Seminary (Wellington, South Africa) - History - Sources.
  • London (England) - Description and travel.
  • Missions - South Africa.
  • Ocean travel.
  • Railroad travel.
  • South Africa - Description and travel.
  • South Africa - Social life and customs - 19th century.
  • Temperance - South Africa - History - Sources.
  • Venus (Planet), Transit of - 1882 - Anecdotes.
  • Voyages and travels.
  • Wellington (South Africa) - Description and travel.
  • Women missionaries - South Africa.
  • Women teachers - South Africa.
  • Women travelers.
  • Young women - Education - South Africa - History - Sources.

Contributors
  • Beebe, Ruth M.

Genre terms
  • Letters


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