A Medford teacher.
About half-way between Mt. Monadnock, N. H., and Mt. Wachusett, Mass., lies the little village of New Ipswich, N. H., where may be found a large old-fashioned mansion dating back to 1768, and belonging to the Barrs. On one side stands a large willow tree with the most comfortable rustic seats built among its trunk-like branches. In this colonial house, with its large fireplaces and cozy-corners, was born, in 1840, a little girl destined to become one of Medford's most beloved and influential teachers. The New England Magazine states that James Barr, a Scotch gentleman traveling in the American colonies, was caught here when war was declared against Great Britain, and falling in love with a bright-eyed New Hampshire maiden, never went back to his Highland home. ‘His son, Dr. James Barr, prominent as a physician in New Ipswich, endeared himself for miles around for his sturdy character and genial wit.’ He married Laura L. Bellows of Walpole, N. H., daughter of Col. Caleb, and granddaughter of Gen. Benjamin Bellows, an officer of the Revolutionary War. In the Barr mansion Dr. and Mrs. Barr reared a family of seven children, the following of whom have been connected with Medford's history: Mr. George Barr, who [p. 91] married Maria Lawrence, purchased, but never occupied, the Royall House. The last of his life was lived in a house built by his brother-in-law, Samuel T. Ames, on Oakland, corner of Chestnut street. Mr. Ames's son, James Barr Ames, was dean of Harvard Law School. Another brother-in-law, Sanford B. Perry, Esq., built and occupied the house next to Mr. Ames. A sister, Miss C. Frances Barr, was a Medford teacher from 1853 to 1858. Medford's school report for 1854 has the following:—
The Everett Primary School, taught by Miss C. Frances Barr, maintains with great evenness its former high reputation. An incumbrance of overgrown and ignorant boys, some, twelve years of age, whom the committee thought it wise and just to retain at their true level, has been a source of trial to teacher and committee; but the perseverance of Miss Barr has not been thereby foiled of its reward.Miss Ellen M. Barr, the youngest of Dr. Barr's children. came to Medford a young girl, attended our high school under Mr. Cummings, and later gave to its teaching force a part of her active and earnest life. In answer to my inquiry, her sister, Miss Fanny Barr, writes:—
There was nothing unusual in my sister's character in her early life. She, like many New England girls, was bright, affectionate and wide-awake. She began her education in the public school of her native town, afterwards attending our Appleton Academy and then going to the Medford High School. She was a pupil of Mt. Holyoke Seminary, and also had private instructions in music and language in Philadelphia. At the age of eighteen she went as a governess to Arkansas, in the family of Hon. Robert W. Johnson, a member of U. S. Senate and of Jefferson Davis' Cabinet during the Civil War. She was there two or three years, thoroughly enjoying her duties and the delightful society with which she was brought in touch. So loyal was she to the North, that she refused to sew an Arkansas star on a Confederate flag, and left the South on the last train that could bring her to the North.Her first school in Medford was the Swan Intermediate, which she taught from November 11, 1861, to April 1, 1864. One of her pupils, Mr. Herbert N. Akerman, [p. 92] recalls the fact that the children picked lint and made stripes and epaulets for the soldiers. He also told this incident, which occurred when Miss Barr was attending the high school. A classmate of hers, feeling sure of her position at the head, made this remark, ‘It is rather monotonous, being at the head all the time.’ Miss Barr quickly responded, ‘Then I'll break that monotony for you.’ This she did, and retained the place till the close of the year. Miss Barr was called to the high school to be Mr. Charles Cummings' assistant March 1, 1866, which place she held until the summer of 1875, when she left to devote a year to study in Europe. At this time her salary amounted to thirteen hundred dollars, the largest sum she received in Medford. In the school report for 1875-6 may be found this comment:—
Miss E. M. Barr's return to her place in the school was greeted with satisfaction by her old pupils and by the public at large. The committee have seen with pleasure that she brings to the discharge of her duties all her former energy and enthusiasm, securing even more than the old measure of success.At the end of the term of 1877 Miss Barr left Medford to take charge of an endowed school for girls in South Boston. The school report for that year reads as follows:—
The committee were reluctantly compelled, at the close of the summer term, to accept the resignation of Miss Ellen M. Barr, she having a call to a higher and more lucrative position in Boston. The committee gratefully acknowledge the service she rendered to the High School during her long connection with it. She brought to the discharge of her duties not only sound scholarship, energy, and habits of systematic labor, but a weight of character which did much to elevate the tone of the school.Mrs. Walter Cabot of Brookline, wishing to open a school in Boston for her own daughter and a few of their friends, invited Miss Barr to take charge of it. After two or three years in this school Miss Barr decided to open a school of her own. For this purpose she built a house in Marlborough street, and met with eminent success. [p. 93] The History of New Ipswich, referring to this effort says:—
Miss E. M. Barr's school for girls in Boston for ten years was recognized as one of the best ever conducted in that city. Few teachers in New England have had the confidence and admiration of so great a circle of friends.In 1893 she gave up this school and made a journey around the world, returning in May, 1894. She was taken very ill in India and never fully recovered. In February, 1895, I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Miss Barr in Boston, and took advantage of the muchlonged — for opportunity to say, ‘If I have the influence over one of my pupils that you have had on my life I shall feel that that life has not been lived in vain.’ The smile of heart-felt pleasure she gave me will never be forgotten. This was my last opportunity. The following week brought the sad news that our beloved teacher and friend was at rest. At the twenty-fourth annual reunion of the Medford High School Association Miss Annie H. Ryder, a pupil and afterward an assistant of Miss Barr's paid the following tribute to her memory, which I fully believe was heartily endorsed by every one who came under the influence of this more than teacher. She said:—
‘My friends, since you welcomed to your last reunion, as guest of honor, a teacher of former years, she has gone from this life. The nights of her earthly striving, the nobility of her endeavor, are changed. Yet human hearts are frail to bear the parting from lives like hers—so strong in themselves, such inspirations of strength unto others—that not even the thought of death occurs to us in regarding them. Small though my tribute be—a mere blade of grass where else should be the victor's wreath—in all gratitude and love, I place it to the memory of Ellen M. Barr; a woman who inspired love of duty as few can inspire, aye! made it sacred to every pupil whose life she touched; a teacher who lifted the eyes of her scholars to culture's heights, and never allowed them to look upon anything debasing farther down the way. Her memory lives in lives made better, stronger, happier by her presence, and though time pass, the responsibility she imparted to make the utmost of one's self— [p. 94] this will hold her forever in our hearts. O, say not the past has no charm like the present, when it has given us a teacher and friend like this! Say not that such lives have not been at the very foundation of present prosperity.’What more fitting tribute to a teacher! Just to see her was an inspiration. I dearly prize this quotation she wrote in my album, for her life proved that she believed it:
Howe'er it be, it seems to meShe left to Radcliffe College between fifty and sixty thousand dollars, to be used as scholarships. Some of Medford's girls have taken advantage of the privilege so graciously held out to them.
'Tis only noble to be good.
Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith, than Norman blood.