(Editor’s Note: The following is a reproduction of historical newspaper excerpts and as such contains language and ideology considered inappropriate and erroneous, and which would not be used today).
The following is an excerpt from a speech given by Mary Burns Burke Bennington (1884-1976) in 1951, titled “Parkersburg Elementary Schools and Early Start Drills:”
“Strange, it seemed to me, none of the articles I could find mentioned a fine school run by Miss Kinney Smith and her sister Mrs Nanny Neely. This was done at their residence on Fourth St. along the block where the B. & O. Freight Depot is now located. This school existed through the years of the ’90s.’
“The graduation exercises at the beginning were great occasions. The first class graduated from Parkersburg Public Schools in 1874 (eight years after the first school was offered.) Three students completed the course that year and the next [year] there does not seem to have been any and in 1876 only two. I couldn’t find any record of their program for graduation. By 1882 beginning exercises had become very important, both in the eyes of the school and the general public.
“On June 6, 1882, the graduates conducted an 8 p.m. program in the First Baptist Church at the corner of Ninth and Market streets. The graduates were nine in number, and each had to write and deliver an essay on the program.
“Long ago, the important topic of ‘China issue’ was discussed, and the valedictorian of 69 years ago said where the ‘woman’s sphere’ was. It was Miss Mollie Virts and I have here her essay, written in her own handwriting, with the little pink bow that held it, bound by hands long since turned to dust, for Miss Mollie died in 1888.
“May I give you a few words from her essay showing her ideas and thought for that day: ‘Woman by nature has been assigned to a realm soft in her atmosphere and soft in her environment. A position in which modesty, chastity and purity should be the dominant virtues and where beauty and refinement are expected to dwell. It is in the social circle and domestic life that she finds the broad provinces of her sphere. It is here that she can exert, by her ennobling influences, great powers for good. It seems to us that politics does not belong to the feminine sphere. They can bring up future generations of men in right principles, rather than in the love of gain and glory. This way they can do more for their country than they could through the ballot.
“While it is true that the majority of women are content with the pleasures and resources of the home, there is a minority group who wish to go beyond that and exercise their powers in a wider area. For this, the sphere of women should be broadened to encompass professional and commercial life.
“The Journal Account of the Graduation Exercises of the Class of 1882 ends with these words: ‘Bouquets were sent in such profusion to the graduates, that some of them had to use carts to carry their flowers at home. “
Note the “heavy” subject mentioned above, the “Chinese Question” refers to a global immigration situation in the late 1800s. In the United States, it was triggered by the Chinese and the Californian Gold Rush.
Start of the Sumner School
The first colored public school debut ever held in this city will be at the Academy of Music on the 15th instant. There will be six graduates, namely: Cornelia J. Jones, Ophelia Amiss, Maggie Brown, Lawrence N. Jones, Charles E. Jones and Harry Robinson. Beginning exercises will be similar to high school, including music, essays, etc., etc.
Parkersburg Daily State Newspaper
June 2, 1887
Bob Enoch is president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society. If you have any comments or questions about Look Back articles, please contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at WCHPS, PO Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102.