Representative women of New England/Hannah E. Gilman

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2341330Representative women of New England — Hannah E. GilmanMary H. Graves

HANNAH E. and JULIA R. GILMAN, the principals of the Home and Day School for Girls at 324 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, belong to a family which for many generations has manifested a marked interest in all matters pertaining to Christian education. Their genealogical tree shows New England stock of the best quality. In one branch appears the name of Daniel C. Oilman, the first President of Johns Hopkins University and now at the head of the Carnegie Institution, Washington, D.C. In another branch is found the name of Arthur Oilman, of Cambridge, formerly regent of Radcliffe College.

The Rev. Tristram Gilman (Harv. Coll. 1757) great-grandfather of the Misses Oilman of Boston, was the honored and beloved pastor of the First Church in North Yarmouth, Me., for forty years, or from the date of his ordination in 1769 until his death in 1809. Their grandfather, Joseph Oilman, who was an eminent physician in Wells, Me., was a stanch ad- vocate of education, good citizenship, and every form of philanthropy. A more distant forbear, the Rev. Nicholas Oilman, A.M. (Harv. Coll. 1724), father of Tristram, had the same qualities of firm principle, sound judgment, and strong sense of duty which have "run in the family," as the phrase goes, from the beginning. The men were more ambitious to be useful members of society than to acquire either fame or fortune, and they were distinguished for their quiet home virtues.

The subjects of this sketch were born in Foxcroft, Me., being the daughters of Ebenezer and Roxana (Palmer) Gilman. The parents had high ideals for their children, eight in all, and together they trained the boys and girls in habits of industry, thrift, self-control, and a genuine religious faith. The father was a man of unusual sweetness and purity of character. The mother, like so many New England women of that period, had a practical wisdom and energy which beautifully complemented her husband's gentle traits. Both believed in the value of a good education, for daughters equally with sons, and labored cheerfully to secure for their large family such advantages as the times afforded.

The elder of these two sisters, Hannah, studied first at the Foxcroft Academy and later at Bradford Seminary, being graduated in 1857. From this time onward she devoted herself assiduously to study, not for the sake of mere accomplishment or mental exercise, but with an earnest purpose to embody in her life the spirit expressed in Whittier's lines,

" Make the world within your reach
Somewhat the better for your living,
And gladder for your human speech."

Her love of culture was inborn, and the wholesome discipline of Puritan training gave her large capacity for work. To these traits were added soundness of judgment, strength of will, cheerfulness, unselfishness, and deep and unaffected piety. Thus it will be seen that she had the qualifications of the ideal teacher, and naturally she was soon sought for by the best private schools in New England, having first served an apprenticeship in the public schools. Everywhere she met with signal success. In the autumn of 1884 she opened the now well-known Gilman School, which rapidly outgrew its original quarters, and in 1890 was transferred to its present location, 324 Commonwealth Avenue.

In this work she was ably assisted by her sister Julia, who resigned a position in the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind, South Boston, where she had taught for nine years, in order to engage in this larger service. She, too, had studied at the Foxcroft Academy, also with her aunt. Miss Rebecca I. Gilman, who for many years was principal of a large private school in Boston. It is interesting to note how strongly marked is the predilection for teaching in the various branches of this family.

Both sisters have given substantial proof of their attachment to the place where they received their early education by the assistance which they have lately rendered to the trustees of Foxcroft Academy in raising an endowment fund for that institution. Evidence of the hold of these women upon the affection of their former pupils is seen in the fact that, when they solicited the money from this particular circle of friends, girls who had no personal interest in the small village in Maine, the letters which came in reply to their appeal for gifts were full of love and loyalty.

To the strong influence for good which they exerted upon their pupils another testimonial, among hundreds which might be adduced, appears in this extract from a letter, dated March, 1903, written to Miss Julia Gilman by Mary Chandler Lowell, perhaps the only young woman in America who has taken a degree in both medicine and law: "The other morning, when I stood in the court room and took the solemn oath of office of an attorney at law, my mind turned toward you. ... It was my good fortune in early youth to have several excellent teachers, but I think that none played so important a part in moulding my character and inspiring within me a desire to press forward and make the most of my abilities as did you. . . . But for your Words of encouragement and cheer I might never have been able to hold, as I do to-day, certificates which entitle me to the privileges of both the medical and the legal profession."

Such letters give an insight into the motives which control these teachers. When Miss Julia Gilman left South Boston, Mr. Anagnos, the director, paid a high tribute to her as "one of the most efficient and conscientious teachers ever employed by the Institution," and laid special emphasis on the way she had helped to "enlarge its ethical atmosphere to a very gratifying extent."

In this last sentence is revealed the secret of their power. Neither of the sisters could ever be satisfied simply to impart instruction. The ethical has been the dominant note in their teaching. Their aim is to provide "a home life which shall secure the development of true womanhood." As one means to this end they have secured as lecturers at the school from year to year men and women who are eminent in various walks of life, and who, in particular, are exponents of the finest Christian ideals. Among representative women they have had Julia Ward Howe, Mary A. Livermore, Amelia Quinton, Lillian Nordica, Mary E. Wilkins, Amelia E. Barr, and Pundita Ramabai. The list of lecturers of the other sex includes many prominent clergymen, artists, and authors.

The Home and Day School of the Misses Gilman stands to-day as a witness to the value of personaiity as a factor in the education of youth. With the old Phrygian philosopher, Epictetus, these women have felt that " the formation of the spirit and character must be our real concern," and this is the basic principle of their school. Its success demonstrates the truth of Emerson's words: "In my dealing with .my child, my Latin and my Greek, my accomplishments and my money, stead me nothing ; but as much soul as I have avails."

Frances J. Dyer.