Frances attended Deerfield Academy between 1866 and 1873. Mary began her first term at Deerfield Academy in 1868 when she was ten years old and attended for six years. Since consecutive school attendance was not mandatory, Frances and Mary occasionally skipped terms. In 1872 and 1873, Frances also attended Teacher’s Institutes in nearby Greenfield, Bernardston, and Hatfield. In 1873 and 1874, she taught three terms of primary school at the Mill and Bars School in Deerfield.
In the fall of 1874, twenty-year-old “Fanny” and sixteen-year-old “Mame” began a two-year program at the State Normal School teacher’s college in Westfield, Massachusetts. Both scored well on the entrance examinations: Frances’s score was fourth and Mary’s score was eighth highest among the sixty-one pupils taking the exams.7 The sisters amiably shared a room, classes, and friends. After the first day of school, Frances wrote to her mother: “I think there is a splendid set of teachers. Anybody can see that they are smart, and good too, by just looking at them…. The table fare is very good. We always have oatmeal for breakfast. For dinner we generally have sweet potatoes, some simple pudding, like tapioca, or sago and apple, and yesterday peaches besides the meat, and for tea apple sauce, and sponge cake or gingerbread. An infant couldn’t get sick from anything we have to eat.… The school library is .25 a term, and nothing in it that anyone wants to read either. We are thankful for even what we have with us…. We have been to church. The singing and organ were splendid.”8 Frances took on the responsibility of her younger sister, and reported on Mary’s health and appearance: “Mame has got on her black suit and with ruffles and a pretty ribbon to brighten it up looks very pretty.”9 Concerns about their clothing and accessories persisted throughout their letters home. When they had to walk home in the snow one December day, Mary wrote home: “As the feathers on our hats didn’t curl, we didn’t mind it.”10 Their courses included “Algebra, Geometry, Physiology in the fore noon, Chemistry, Drawing, Latin and Music in the after noon. With Composition and Zoology instead Wednesdays.” In addition to academic pursuits, Mary was an editor for The Ladies’ Casket in her second year.11
Frances and Mary’s subsequent letters home brim with enthusiasm about all aspects of school life. While some things never change, other aspects of college life seem foreign. With no apparent squeamishness, Frances requested her mother and brothers to “Ask Father if he doesn’t want to send Mr. Scott a car load of cats. Those that will use them, are going to be furnished with cats, turtle, birds, squirrels, etc. to dissect. I shouldn’t know how to go to work to skin anything, even.”12 Although it is not known if Josiah Allen actually sent the felines, Frances’s request conjures up an unforgettable image.
Frances and her younger brother Edmund began a lifelong correspondence while she was in college. Knowing that he might be interested, she reported that “Some of the girls are real nice, and we have a good deal of fun, in a ‘subdued mouse color’ kind of way…. Tell father that all the girls here—most— part their hair on one side and do it up in Greek pugs, and we’re going to also. Wont he be glad.”13 Although Frances encouraged her brother to visit them, the school’s strict boarding rules made her uncertain “whether they would dare have a wolf come among the lambs here.”14
Tuition was free to the State Normal School pupils who had agreed to teach in the state’s public schools following commencement. In addition, Massachusetts appropriated money as financial aid. For the last three terms, Frances, along with about half of her class, received financial aid.15 In June 1876, Frances and Mary Allen graduated from the State Normal School.
In October following their graduation, Frances and Mary, chaperoned by their Aunt Louisa Stebbins, visited the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition where there was a Photography Hall that displayed photographs as well as the latest camera equipment. Included in the International Exhibition were the English photographers Julia Margaret Cameron and Henry Peach Robinson, both important figures in the early development of photography as fine art.16
Photographs courtesy of Memorial Hall Museum, Deerfield, MA.