Woman of the Century/Esther B. Steele

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STEELE, Mrs. Esther B., author, born in Lysander, N. Y., 4th August, 1835. She is the daughter of Rev. Gardner Baker, a distinguished ESTER B. STEELE A woman of the century (page 692 crop).jpgESTER B. STEELE. minister of the Northern New York Methodist Episcopal Conference. From 1846 to 1852 Miss Baker studied in Mexico Academy and Falley Seminary, N. Y., where her talent as a writer attracted the attention of all her teachers, but no published literary efforts mark that period of her life. During those years her imagination and aspirations found expression in music. In 1857 she was installed as music teacher in Mexico Academy, whither the next year went J. Dorman Steele as professor of natural science. His keen intellect, stimulating conversation and strong character won her. In 1859 they were married. The first years of their married life were broken into by the Civil War, when, responding to the call of his country, Mr. Steele entered the service in command of a company he had raised. A wound received in the battle of Fair Oaks and long illness of camp-fever incapacitated him for further military service, and he resumed his profession .is educator, first in Newark, N. Y., and afterward in Elmira, N. Y. In 1857 there was among teachers an urgent call for brief scientific text-books, and Dr. Steele was invited to prepare a book on chemistry. From his study in Elmira then began to issue that series of school books which is known throughout the United States. How much their great success is due to Mrs. Steele it is impossible to estimate. In a personal reminiscence, written just before his death, Dr. Steele says: " My wife came at once into full accord with all my plans; she aided me by her service, cheered me by her hopefulness and merged her life in mine. Looking back upon the past, I hardly know where her work ended and mine began, so perfectly have they blended." Inspired by the success in the sciences, text-books on history, Mrs. Steele's favorite study, were next planned. During the years that followed four journeys were made to Europe, in order to collect the best and newest information on the subjects in hand. Libraries were ransacked in London, Paris and Berlin, distinguished educators interviewed, and methods tested. Fourteen months were spent in close study within the British Museum. Pervaded by the one idea of rendering a lasting service to education, husband and wife, aiding, encouraging and counseling each other, returned to their study in Elmira, laden with their rich spoils, to weave the threads so laboriously gathered, into the web they had planned. Their conscientious literary work was successful. The books that issued from that workshop were original in plan and execution. They were called the Barnes Brief Histories, so named from the publishers, A. S. Barnes & Co., New York, as at that time Dr. Steele preferred that his name should be attached only to the sciences. The historical series includes "United States" (1871), "France" (1875), "Ancient Peoples" (1881), "Mediaeval and Modern Peoples" (1883), "General History" (1883), "Greece" (1883), and "Rome" (1885). The last two books were prepared for the Chautauqua Course. In 1876 a large "Popular History of the United States" was issued. In the preparation of these histories Mrs. Steele had entire charge of the sections on civilization and of the biographical notes. In 1886 Professor Steele died. The entire management of the books then fell upon her, demanding her time, her heart, her brain. Since that time, many of the books have been revised under her supervision. In recognition of her intellectual attainments, the Syracuse University conferred upon her, in 1892, the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature. Mrs. Steele's generosity is continually drawn upon by her sympathy with every noble project. Among the public benevolences which have absorbed large sums of money may be mentioned the Steele Memorial Library of Elmira, and the physical cabinet connected with the J. Dorman Steele Chair of Theistic Science in Syracuse University.