Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Harriet Patience Dame and the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment

by Barbara Rimkunas
This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, May 25, 2012.

In 1901, the New Hampshire State Legislature, prompted by Governor Frank Rollins, voted to appropriate funds to have a portrait of Civil War nurse Harriet Patience Dame painted and placed in the State House. Hers was the first portrait of a woman displayed in such a manner in New Hampshire. Attached to the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment, she served from the beginning of the war in April of 1861 until she mustered out in December of 1865 –without furlough through two enlistment periods.

Harriet Dame was born in Barnstead, New Hampshire, in 1815. Harriet remained the unmarried daughter, staying with her parents into her adulthood and moving with them to Concord. She cared for both parents as they aged. After her mother’s death in 1854, she purchased a house for herself and her father and took charge of the household until his death in 1859. For a time, she opened her home as a boarding house, but with the outbreak of war in 1861, Harriet felt she had a more important duty.

Like most women, Harriet had never formally trained as a nurse. Her experience running a household and caring for invalids, however, made her an excellent candidate for the nursing corps. At 46, she was well within Superintendent of Army Nurses Dorothea Dix’s requirement that army nurses be, “matronly persons of experience, good conduct, of superior education and serious disposition.” Dix also warned, “Only women of strong health, not subjects of chronic disease, nor liable to sudden illnesses, need apply. The duties of the station make large and continued demands on strength.” This was no job for fragile or faint women.

Dame’s first months of service kept her in Concord ministering to the new recruits. Most New Hampshire men had never strayed far from home. The first weeks in a crowded army camp exposed them to illnesses they’d never encountered before. Measles quickly broke out along with the near-constant diseases of camp life, diarrhea, dysentery and typhoid fever. After the regiment moved on to Portsmouth for training, Harriet remained in Concord to care for the stragglers.

The 2nd Regiment was comprised mostly of men from Concord and Exeter. Their leader was Colonel Gilman Marston, a 50 year old lawyer from Exeter. In late July, they saw action at the First Battle of Bull Run. By that time, Harriet had caught up with ‘her boys.’ A fellow member of the regimental medical team, Dr. Joseph Janvrin (like Marston, an Exeter man) wrote of the battle to his sister Abby, “When we were fired upon at Bull Run on our retreat we were the last team and had four wounded men with us. We had to take out our horses and leave the ambulance saving the men and horses only. The cannon ball passed through the body of the carriage just as the horses were being taken out, it went on over the horses’ heads.” Marston was seriously injured during the engagement. “I had the care of Col. Marston and Captain Rollins from Centreville to Washington,” Janvrin wrote, “both were wounded. Marston’s right arm being shattered and Captain Rollins’ left shoulder the same. Both will survive and the limbs be saved.” Marston would never forget the care provided by Harriet Dame. “She was always present when most needed, and to the suffering, whether Yank or Greyback- it made no difference- she was truly an angel of mercy.”

During the ensuing years of the war, Harriet kept up with the regiment, often close to the action. She wrote later, “I have often dodged the shells when on the field. And once at Fair Oaks, Virginia, a shell struck my tent. I happened to be out at the time with Dr. Janvrin making some gruel over the campfire. Dr. Janvrin and I dodged at the same time and we hit our heads together so hard that each of us thought the shell had struck us.” She was captured twice by the enemy, each time talking her way out and respectfully being escorted back across lines.

At the war’s end, there was still a great deal of work to do. Soldiers were still recovering and Harriet Dame remained in service until December of 1865. When she returned to New Hamsphire, a grateful state Legislature voted her a $500 bonus – most of which she donated to the 2nd Regiment to build the headquarters at Weirs Beach. For the remainder of her life she lived and worked in Washington, D.C. at the Treasury Department, returning to New Hampshire only in 1900, her final year. In 1884, Dorothea Dix founded the Army Nurses Association and Harriet Dame served as its first president.

That same year, as Congress considered providing pensions to army nurses, Gilman Marston wrote of her, “Miss Dame is the bravest woman I ever knew. I have seen her face a battery without flinching, while a man took refuge behind her to avoid the flying fragments of bursting shells. Of all the men and women who volunteered to serve their country the late war, no one is more deserving of reward than Harriet P. Dame.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

William Robinson

Cooperative Middle School student Emmet Bloomer won the Nancy Carnegie Merrill History Award for this essay about William Robinson. Service Credit Union generously sponsored the essay contest and Youth Night, April 19, 2012.

“I have given my mite to this purpose, and if good comes of it I shall not have lived in vain.” wrote William Robinson in one of the last lines of his will. The Exeter native was referring to his plans to fund a girl’s school in Exeter. Robinson left 250,000 dollars of his own fortune in his will to go towards the building of a prestigious girls school to make the women and girls of Exeter and surrounding towns, “female scholars equal to all practical duties of life.” That school went on to be called the Robinson Female Seminary and educated girls for 86 years from 1869 to 1955. William Robinson was an agent of change in Exeter because even after his death, through the school he helped create, he enabled the women of New Hampshire, “to compete, and successfully, too, with their brothers throughout the world.”

Robinson was born in Exeter, NH in 1793, and had two siblings, a brother and a sister. Robinsons father died when he was seven, and William moved from one relative’s home to another. This might have led to Robinsons preference to helping the “poor and the orphan.” Robinson went to the public schools of Exeter and then Phillips Exeter Academy, which at the time was an all boys’ school. After completing his schooling William became a printer’s apprentice, but then moved to Georgia where he lived for the rest of his life, although he still visited his hometown. By all accounts on his visits to Exeter, William Robinson was a “gentleman” and took time to see his old friends. In Georgia, Robinson acquired his fortune as a very successful cotton merchant. In 1837 he retired comfortably, however, Robinson’s real acts of charity didn’t start until after his death.

In the 1800s in Exeter, women’s education was not nearly at the same caliber as men’s. Back then PEA was an all boy’s school and women couldn’t attend. There were “Female Academies” to teach sewing embroidery and drawing, but no options for higher education in Exeter until 1848 when a High School was established. However, Robinson might have believed that the high school wasn’t suitable for women, and may have been looking for the school he planned to build to be an equivalent to his alma mater PEA. In Robinson’s will he left the balance of his property to pay teachers for the, “flourishing Female Seminary” that he hoped would be built. Also in his will he stated that, “in admitting applicants, all other things being equal, always to give preference to the poor and orphan.” a true show of his compassion. In his will he also left money to go to a school in Georgia. He clearly had a passion for the education of young people. Finally on May 13, 1864, William Robinson died.

The next year in 1865 Robinson’s will went into effect and a town meeting was held to begin the plans for a Female seminary. It was decided at that meeting that girls over 9 could attend the school, tuition free. Soon after a board of trustees was elected, consisting of, as one graduate said, “The most influential, responsible, reliable men in the town.” including congressman Amos Tuck. The board chose land to be purchased and a building plan was selected, and finally, in September 1869, Robinson Female Seminary opened. The school taught countless girls in its lifetime, and as graduate Elvira Benfield Collishaw said, “how many memories does that building hold for each of us!” At the seminary women had access to a vast variety of subjects. Latin, algebra, geometry, chemistry, geology, astronomy, natural philosophy, mental philosophy, political economy, French, and German were all required in the original 8-­‐year curriculum. Without William Robinson many of these girls would have never been exposed to these subjects. As graduate Grace Barker Smith said, the women of Robinson Female Seminary are, “Eternally grateful to William Robinson.”

Emmet Bloomer receiving his award at Youth Night.
William Robinson was a great, charitable man, and was responsible for the superior education that countless young Exeter women received at The Robinson Female Seminary. Although he became wealthy he never forgot his humble roots in Exeter. His effect on the town is immeasurable. He changed the lives of the women of Exeter, as they may not have been able to receive such a fine education, if it weren’t for Robinson’s great charitable efforts. In his will, Robinson said that if good came of his efforts to improve education, then he will not have, “lived in vain.” As said by alum Mabel Hayes, “We the Alumnae of Robinson Seminary, the people of the town of Exeter, and the people of Augusta, Georgia can say with all sincerity, Be assured William Robinson, you did not live in vain.”

A Man of Many Worlds: Robert Bates

Exeter High School junior Meghan Donovan won the Nancy Carnegie Merrill History Award for this essay about long-time Exeter resident Robert Bates. Bates's widow, Gail Bates, was in the audience when Meghan read her essay at the historical society's annual Youth Night, April 19, 2012. Service Credit Union generously sponsored the essay contest and Youth Night.

There are some people who change lives; there are others who change communities, and there are even some who change the world. Very few however, are able to accomplish all of these as Robert Bates, of Exeter, did. He was an incredible man who inspired his students, promoted activism in his community and revolutionized mountaineering on an international level. Bates left a legacy behind, or rather, a philosophy, which stressed the importance of friendship, optimism, and risk taking.

Robert Bates
Known as “Bob” by his acquaintances, Bates was an Exeter Academy graduate of the class of 1929, and returned to the school as an English teacher in 1939. He was a personable, welcoming professor who mentored students throughout his career at the academy. He was the advisor of multiple clubs and organizations at the school and many looked up to him as a role model. In 1947, one of his first days back in Exeter following his military service, three students approached him and asked if he would be willing to advise a new mountaineering club He delightfully agreed, and continued to offer his support and guidance to the group for the next thirty-seven years, even after it evolved into a cross country and alpine ski team. Bob himself stated “[his] best teaching may have been with the Exeter Mountaineering Club.”

Others however, disagreed. Robert Anderson, a former student said “[he believes] Bob was the most inspiring teacher [he had] ever had.” Anderson went on to write numerous plays and novels, most notably Tea and Sympathy. Bates was the advisor of the literary society at Exeter, called the Lantern Club, which brought a number of famous lecturers to the school on a weekly basis. Not only was he able to influence the young people on an intellectual level however. George Russell was a student at Exeter, in the 1940s, who met Bates when he showed interest in the Mountaineering Club. His parents were concerned about his participation in the club because Russell had been diagnosed with a heart murmur. Bates asked his lifelong friend, Charlie Houston, to examine the boy’s heart. With this examination, he determined that Russell’s heart was stable enough to withstand exercise and that in fact it would most likely benefit him. Bates became close to Russell throughout his time at Exeter and watched him grow into a talented athlete. By extension, Bates enabled Russell to develop into an outstanding climber, runner, wrestler, and lacrosse player. Later in life Russell was a wrestler of Olympic caliber. He said “I’m just one student out of roughly 3,000 who were privileged to learn from Bob Bates…I don’t know anyone else like him. He formed my character and made me who I am today.”

Despite mentoring, Bates is most famous for his work in his natural habitat: the mountains. He climbed during a period known as the “Golden Age of Mountaineering” in which unexplored territories were tackled and adventure never ceased. He began his climbing while at Harvard from 1929 until 1935, where he was part of the Mountaineering Club and the group of climbers known as the “Harvard Five.” The group pushed mountaineering to unprecedented limits throughout the 1930s. In 1937 he made the first summit of Mount Lucania in the Yukon, which at that time, was the tallest unclimbed mountain on the continent. In 1937 and 1953 he climbed K2, the second highest mountain in the world. K2 is considered to be a much more technical, challenging mountain than Mount Everest. On these climbs they established routes up the mountain although they never reached the summit. On the second attempt, Art Gilkey died from a blood clot, and the group is famous for their heroic efforts to save him. On the way down, they experienced the most famous belay in mountaineering history, in which five men were suspended, held by the weight of one man’s ax in the ice. Despite the failure to save Gilkey and reach the summit, his success in the Mountaineering world won him international fame.

 James Bryant Conant, President of Harvard, had a son at the Academy and asked Bates to rock climb with them in the White Mountains. During their hike, they discussed the usefulness of mountaineering to the US army and days later, Conant met with General George Marshall to discuss the importance of soldiers training in harsh conditions. In 1941, before the US entered the war, Bates became the Captain of the Quartermaster Corps of the US Army. His team developed and tested equipment in cold and mountainous regions throughout the world. Bates was asked to yet again, to work for the greater good in 1962, when he served as the first director of the Peace Corps in Nepal. His civil service was a perpetual component of his life that never wavered. Bates was a strong preservationist in Exeter, saving the Dudley House from being replaced by a bank on Water Street and working to conserve lands on the outskirts of Exeter.

Gail Bates with essay author Meghan Donovan
Robert Bates was a man with a plethora of accomplishments on all levels: personal, local and international. His 96 years of life were so full; few will ever impact the people of Exeter and the global population at large, as he did. No obituary can ever express the impact that Bob Bates had on this world, but his sheer memory left in the words of his friends, colleagues, and family are the true legacy that he left behind. As written in his book, K2—The Savage Mountain, “No mountain is climbed by one man.”

Saturday, May 19, 2012

William Seward

by Barbara Rimkunas
This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, May 11, 2012.

In 1944, William Seward retired from a long career as a pharmacist in Exeter. For fifty-six years he’d run his drugstore on Water Street in the Merrill Block and it had become, not just a place to pick up prescriptions, but a gathering place for generations of Exeter’s youth.

The story of Seward’s Drugstore begins long before William Seward even lived in town. In the early 1800s there were no drugstores or apothecary shops in Exeter. Individual doctors would either concoct their own medicines or instruct patients on how to brew them in their own kitchens. Of course, medical treatment being what it was, most instructions to patients read like this gem from Culpepper’s Family Physician, published in 1824: “Decoctions made with wine last longer than such as are made with water; and if you take your decoction to cleanse the passage of the urine, or open obstructions, your best way is to make it with white wine instead of water, because this is penetrating.”

By mid-century, however, there were some drugs that were proven to actually treat and occasionally cure health problems. In 1848, Charles Merrill, the son of hat-maker Abner Merrill, had purchased a general store with his brother. The busiest part of the shop proved to be the drug counter and the brothers decided to specialize in the new business of selling only medicines. Charles studied the latest in pharmacology and joined the American Pharmaceutical Association in 1858. After his brother retired, Charles became the sole owner. The business proved profitable and soon Merrill was able to erect one of the most impressive and massive storefront blocks on Water Street – the Merrill Block.

Among the many types of drugs and medicines sold at Merrill’s drugstore was a class of drink thought to improve health and increase energy. Although some carried high levels of caffeine or, even worse, cocaine, the flavors were bitter and improved with both sweetening and carbonation. Merrill, like most druggists at the time, installed a soda fountain in his shop to encourage people to imbibe in these seemingly healthy drinks.

In 1886, Merrill retired and sold the shop to Edward Cram. By that time, the medicinal qualities of soft drinks had fallen out of favor – probably because they were addictive. Druggists now assured the public that their soda fountains sold only wholesome drinks. Cram hired a young William Seward to manage the store. Within seven years, Seward had put himself through the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and bought out his employer.

Partnering up with Albert Weeks, the store became Weeks & Seward’s Drugstore, combining a full service pharmacy with a soda fountain. Phillips Exeter Academy students frequented the place, as did many local kids, to hang out and perhaps meet girls. The store’s publicity in 1910 boasted, “they carry an extensive stock of drugs, chemicals, proprietary medicines and remedies, choice imported and domestic cigars and tobacco, toilet accessories of all kinds, leather goods and stationery. At their soda fountain is served delicious soda, with pure fruit juices, and delectable ice cream.” The ice cream must have been a challenge, as the store wasn’t wired for electricity until 1919.

Albert Weeks retired in the 1920s, but William Seward continued the business and prospered well enough to purchase the entire Merrill Block in 1927. Prohibition increased his soda fountain sales but the store continued to function as a drugstore.

In 1941, the March of Times news reel production company came to Exeter to film New England’s Eight Million Yankees. The film was a propaganda piece intended to foster patriotism when World War II was on the horizon. Highlighting the small town appeal of New England, Exeter was chosen for its quaint main street appeal. The film, which can be viewed in short bits on YouTube, features many of Exeter’s local civic and business leaders. Chief among them is 68 year old William Seward shown filling prescriptions from an ancient log book. “More than any physician in town,” boasts the narrator, “he knows all the ailments of Exeter’s families.” Seward is then shown, somewhat woodenly, handing a pint sized bottle of medicine to a 10 year old boy with the instructions, “Son, you tell your father not to take this all at once, like before. The directions are on the bottle.” The scripted bit brings all manner of uncomfortable questions to mind – like what happened to the patient when he drank the whole bottle the first time and, more importantly to modern viewers, who would give a big bottle of medicine to a kid?

 Seward retired in 1944, selling the store to his employee, Horace Grant. At the time of his death in 1950, Seward remained a respected member of Exeter society. He was a member of no less than nine fraternal organizations and had served terms as director of both the Exeter Banking Company and the Exeter Cooperative Bank. With three daughters, he was well equipped when he served on the board of trustees for the Robinson Female Seminary. But his greatest service to the town was his drugstore and the soda fountain that brought countless people together.