Thursday, March 21, 2013

Susan's Album

Susan & Anna Beck
My great-grandmother, Susan Beck, taught in one-room country schools  in both Stafford and Pratt Counties.  School terms accommodated the necessity for children to help on the farms, and the fall term usually began in late October.  After a break for the holidays, the spring term resumed until March or early April.  Many of the country school teachers were barely older than their students, young unmarried girls who had been students the previous school year.  Having a mature woman with a high school education as their teacher was considered quite a privilege.
Records of the Stafford County country schools are incomplete, but the Stafford County History book indicates that Susan taught in the early sod school house in Albano Township.  Susan has a photo album given in appreciation for her teaching in that community, and she may have taught in the school house Isaac helped build.  Pratt County has more complete documentation of its country schools, and those records confirm that Susan taught in townships located on the far north side of Pratt County several terms in the 1890s.  Her daughter, Anna Marie Beck, not only taught in Stafford County schools but also served as Stafford County Superintendent of Schools.
As you may remember from prior posts on this blog, Isaac Werner was friendly with the Beck family, loaning books, stereoscope views, and his albums to Aaron and Susan Beck and their children, Royal and Anna.  Unfortunately, Isaac's books, views, albums, and framed prints were sold in his estate sale, and although I suspect some of them might still be found among family antiques in the surrounding communities, I have not located any of Isaac's collections (other than his wonderful journal).
Susan Beck's album from grateful parents
Therefore, I am using the album my great-grandmother received from parents of students she taught as an example of what Isaac's albums might have been like.  I have seen many examples of albums from this period, many with velvet covers and most with some type of decoration.  The pages are thick cardboard, on which a card stock type of paper is glued with framed openings to hold photographs or cards of famous people.  Susan's album has two frames on each page positioned vertically.  Other albums have different arrangements of frames and different sizes of frames.
Interior pages of Susan's album with a print
Susan's album from the late 1890s or early 1900s holds primarily photographs of family and friends, but Isaac's albums probably held more images of  prominent people.  Although newspapers published sketches of people in the news, we must remember that without movies, television, and the internet, images of important people, historical or living, were not widely available.  In his ongoing quest to better educate himself, Isaac wanted to be familiar with the images of famous people. His journal entry of December 31, 1870 included among the books and engravings he wished to purchase the following:  "Card Photographs of about 150 Authors & Artists."
Another entry on February 27, 1871 read: "Started also a small book or memorandum of transitory or present or future wants, such as photographs of certain noted individuals, painting and certain necessary books etc.  By eve had already recorded 3 columns in my small book of such items."  When he acquired the photograph cards he wanted, they were arranged in albums similar to the album in the above photographs.
Although Isaac was eager to acquire a better education with his reading and his collections of engravings, stereoscope views, and photograph cards, he was reluctant to reveal to those who might criticize his efforts just what he was doing.  His entry of March 16, 1871 revealed this modesty: "During A.M. as Mr. Hutcheons run in and out several times, and each time found me busy at my desk at something (he knew not what though, filling my large Album with card photographs of Authors), he remarked, 'Well Mr. W.--.  You astonish the natives someday, the way you are always busy at something.'"      
Most of Isaac's books, engravings, views, and photograph cards were acquired during the years when he was a prosperous druggist in Rossville, Illinois, but he always believed the money to acquire his collections was wisely spent, and he continued to enjoy them during the hard times of his later years as a homesteader on the Kansas prairie.

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