1836: Anna M. Gibson to Betsey Gibson

What Anna and Betsey Gibson may have looked like.

This letter was written by Anna M. Gibson (1815-1880), a student of the Ipswich Female Seminary. Another letter, also written in 1836, in which she writes to Miss Grant, Principal of the Seminary, can be found by clicking here.

It is believed that Miss Gibson’s mother’s name was Jane (surname unknown) Gibson (1789-1869) and that the brother she referred to in this letter was James P. Gibson, a Catholic Priest who served St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Warwick, Kent Co., Rhode Island. Anna had sisters named Betsey, Caroline, Ann, and Harriett, I believe. The letter was mailed to Lowell, Massachusetts where it is likely her sisters, if not her mother as well, were working in the Lowell Mills; her father seems to have already passed.

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Addressed to Miss Betsey Gibson, Lowell, Massachusetts

Bristol [Rhode Island]
September 24, 1836

My very dear Sister,

One very pleasant evening this week as I was rambling along the streets with several of my companions, I called at the post office and to my great joy there I found two letters – one from you and one from Aunt Lucy. You may be sure I found a feast in reading them – yours particularly. I thank you heartily for taking time when I know you are tired to write me such good long letters. I am very glad to hear that dear sister Ann is able to be with you and that you both are so well, I want you both very careful of your health, and am happy to tell you that mine is quite restored – a blessing for which I hope I shall be ever grateful. As to my diet, to gratify the long and earnest entreaties of my Bristol friends, I have returned to eating a little meat, once a day. I did not begin, however, till my health was restored so that has not done it. I shall not decide whether to eat it this winter or not till I get to Ipswich. As to butter, tea, and coffee, I have no intention of using them again. Am very glad you like water so well. I would advise every young person to drink it. I was faithfully exhorted in Aunt Lucy’s letter to return to my old habits. Grandpa says I must not lay my ill health to the climate for he knows it is healthy here, but though I highly respect his judgment, I must think he is mistaken this once for I am not by any means the only stranger who has found it this summer more than they could bear.

For several weeks, the weather has been mild and delightful. Autumn glows here in all its beauty.  If any one would look on a scene where nature and art have mingled their beauties, I think they may find it here. We have this week had fine moonlight evenings. I have enjoyed some of them in walking through some of the pleasant streets or along the shore where the moon reflected its silvery radiance on the placid face of the waters, or in the garden of some friend overhung with fruit and adorned with many things to please both the eye and the taste. But I think it would have rendered them an additional charm had my sisters shared them with me. Not that I expect to see you here, but I do indulge the fond hope of meeting you at home if our lives are spared till another spring.

Last Saturday, I spent in the family of our [Congregational] minister, [Rev.] Mr. [Thomas] Shepard.  A few weeks ago, I sailed with a party of ladies across the bay to Greenwich – about 12 miles. It was before I had regained my strength and it made me very tired. But in most respects, it was pleasant. Miss Church now has two scholars boarding with her. One of them is my roommate. She is about 15, I think. She is a professor of religion, but am sorry to say she does not appear to adorn her profession by her life. She [is] often very pleasant but not such a companion as I should choose. The other is a little girl from Cranston – 9 or 10 years old. She is a pleasant little creature. I love her much. She is now sitting by my side while I write. She has no brother or sister. She very modestly asked me if she might call me sister. I readily told her she might and it seems to fill her with delight. She is ready to tell everybody of it. She is much pleased that I am going to tell you of it. She is just asking if I have put it in my letter. Miss Church tells her she must try to find her another sister when I leave, but she says she won’t get so good a sister.

Our school prospers and increases in numbers. My time passes very pleasantly but Oh! how swiftly. Have excellent success in my painting; am now taking a piece in India ink – the resurrection of the happy family. Our school closes in 4 weeks. Then I go directly to Ipswich. It will be more expensive being there than any preceding term. I hope to meet several Pelham girls. Miss Cutter is there now. I heard from her a few days ago.

It gives me much joy to find you resolved on going to school. I long to have you with me but perhaps it will not be best this winter. You mentioned staying at home a month, but I think you had better stay as long as the winter school lasts. As to studies for you and Ann, I give you the advice that Miss [Zilpah P.] Grant gave me. That is to be thorough in the groundwork studies. I want you both to attend to Grammar and to Arithmetick. Be thorough in both mental and written, next composition, and writing. Spelling and reading, you are aware, are essential to any person’s education. I hardly know, but I believe you both well acquainted with Geography and the History of the U.S.  If you are not, you had better attend to them more. But do not take Woodbridge’s Geography. But I hope you will find time to attend to more than study. If it was summer, I would like to have you study Botany but you cannot do it now. Think it would be profitable for you to take Natural Philosophy, Watts on the Mind, or the [Sullivan’s] Political Class Book. There are at &c primary studies and what you would most need to enter that, or any other similar school. You ask me of the [Mt. Holyoke] school at Hadley. I think it may be just the place for you, but I can’t give up the idea of having you coming here with me. Be sure you hold fast your resolution of going to school somewhere. I rather fear the school at Hadley may not be in operation next summer. When I get to Ipswich, I will try to ascertain and write you all about it. I sometimes think I should like to have a select school in P. next summer if they would have me, and so have you and Ann go. I want to be at home next summer very much, but hardly dare to hope for it.I suppose you will not write me again while I am here, but hope you will write as soon, at least, as you get home and get another to write too. Am glad to hear that home and family and friends are in so comfortable a condition. Where was sister Ann when you wrote? She did not say anything, but I know she does not forget me.

One thing in your letter gave me great joy and I intended the subject of it should fill the greater part of my letter but I have hardly given it a place. It was this – that my dear sister was beginning to think of that great object which alone is worth living for. My dear, remember it is not enough to be almost, but quite persuaded to be a Christian. Do not rest at all till you find it in the bosom of Him who says, “My daughter, give me thy heart. Here you will find perfect rest.” And my dear Ann, I say the same to you. If you have not yet chosen the good part. My dear, I hope you have not forgotten your late sickness. I have not forgotten it and the mercy that spared you. I have not forgotten to pray for you both morning or evening since I left you. Do not forget to pray for yourselves, and for me, and for our dear Mother, and brother and sister, and all our dear friends. How sweet it will be to me to know that though we are far from each other, our souls daily meet at that same blissful centre, the throne of our Heavenly Father. And that there the departed and the remaining may together spend an eternity of bliss is the wish of your sister, — A. M. Gibson


The Ipswich Female Seminary was incorporated in 1828 with Miss Zilpah P. Grant as the principal. Miss Grant was a contemporary with Miss Lyon of Mt. Holyoke Seminary; they taught together for a time.

“At present, it is important that those who are received should have a thorough acquaintance with mental and written Arithmetic, modern Geography, Watts on the Mind, the History of the United States, and Sullivan’s Political Class Book; and should have made considerable proficiency in ancient Geography, and English Grammar.

The Trustees pledged themselves to provide the members of the school with accommodation in families, so that two ladies should have the exclusive occupancy of one room ; and that in winter, not more than four should study by one fire. Since the spring of 1830, a house capable of accomodating thirty-three boarders, besides the family which has the care of it, has been occupied exclusively for the use of the school. The Principal and most of the teachers have usually boarded in this family, and its privileges have always been in great request. The conduct of the young ladies here, is of course, directly under the eye of the teachers. The care of engaging boarding places in town, and of assigning rooms and room-mates, belongs also exclusively to the teachers. This secures to them a great control over the influences operating on the pupils out of school. It is made the business of a particular teacher, to acquaint herself with the wants and wishes of the young ladies in regard to their boarding places, rooms and room-mates, and to make such arrangements for their personal comfurt and accommodation, as if they were all members of the same family. Those who are in the boarding-house, and those who are not, bear to the Principal the same degree of responsibility ; and all have the same regular hours for meals, sleep, relaxation, exercise and study.”

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