Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Exeter Historical Society History Bat

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, December 2, 2016.

The Exeter Historical Society’s mascot, History Bat, hasn’t been around much lately. When the town put a new roof on our headquarters at 47 Front Street back in 2012 it must have sealed up all the crevices that the bats used for entry. As glad as we are not to have bat visits, we still embrace our mascot.

Before History Bat there were the library bats. Our current home was the Exeter Public Library from 1894 until 1988. Pam Gjettum, who became the librarian in 1971, says there were bats in the building when she first arrived although she didn’t notice them much until the interior was painted in the mid-70s. She wrote about her experiences in the October, 1976 edition of Yankee magazine. “We first noticed the bats when the place was being repainted. Before then nobody ever saw them, or else figured that bats hanging from the ceiling were part of the Oppressive Late Victorian style of decoration.” The library staff wasn’t impressed with them. For one thing, they didn’t seem to be like other bats. These were, in Pam’s words, “Not stately, well-bred bats who swoop out gracefully at sunset, like the colony next door in the Baptist church. The library bats are raucous, stupid individuals, the sort of bats other bats tell their children not to play with.” Once the painters left, “They started turning up fairly often after that. Maybe the new gold and cream walls appealed to them. They would swoop silently down from the biographies and go flapping around the lobby. Sometimes, with their marvelous radar, they could find their way out through an open door or window, but most of the time they just flapped around in a fatheaded sort of way. They were probably looking for insects, but all we have in here is a spider over the main desk, and she is a pet.”

Sometime in the late 1970s, Catherine Geanoulis, a library staff member, snapped a photo of one of the bats comfortably napping on the toilet paper in the restroom. Its discovery must have been startling to say the least. The photo is now in the Historical Society archives listed as “bathroom bat.”
Attempts to eradicate the bat colony were usually foiled. Bats have to be moved out – you can’t simply spray deadly chemicals – and this requires some patience to wait for them to wake up from hibernation. And since they seem to be homebodies at heart, they have a tendency to come back. Since the Historical Society moved in there have been fewer bats, but we still have the occasional visitor.

People seem to naturally respond to bats the same way Homeland Security advises people to respond to an active shooter: Run. Hide. Fight. But rest assured, a wayward bat means no harm. They’re not wild about being stuck in a building and usually want to leave as soon as possible. They’re also not particularly interested in people unless those people are chasing them with murderous intent. I’ve found the best way to deal with a visit from the History Bat is to keep your wits about you and help the bat leave on its own.

Pam had her own tactic. “We evolved a regular bat drill. The first thing is to wait for the bat to land. If he was already asleep and we came to work and found him hanging there, so much the better. Library supplies come in small cardboard boxes just the right size for slapping over a quiescent bat and holding him in place while you slide a record album under him.” I prefer a butterfly net, but any type of containment will work. Take your bat outside and set it free. It might come back, but maybe it won’t flap its way into your work space again.

The library was concerned, correctly so, about the possibility of rabies. Exeter’s health officer, J. Harold Carbonneau, Sr. had Pam take one of the bats to the state lab for testing. None of the library bats suffered from rabies. Apparently they just had intense curiosity about books.

Our most recent bat was an art lover. Hanging on the wall in the main meeting room of the Historical Society is a beautiful painting by Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau called “Crossing the Brook.” Of all the places to settle, the bat chose the painting. Out of reach of my net, and not wanting to injure the painting, we threw the front doors open and after some gentle prodding with a long bamboo pole, the history bat decided he had other things to do that day.

Rumor has it you might catch a glimpse of History Bat in the Holiday Parade this week.

Barbara Rimkunas is curator of the Exeter Historical Society. Her column appears every other Friday and she may be reached at

Photo: The History Bat (formerly the Exeter Public Library Bathroom Bat). Please be assured that the only bat you may encounter at the Exeter Historical Society today will be our cartoon mascot.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Adult Education Has a Long History in Exeter

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, November 18, 2016.

We can be rightly proud that Exeter Adult Education is now fifty years old. Tracing its birthday to the 1966 Adult Education Act signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, Exeter’s program is actually a few years older than the legislation. And the program that Exeter launched in 1964 has its roots in earlier projects in adult education.

From 1892 – 1900, Exeter had a night school program led by local educator Rosa Akerman. Geared toward the growing population of immigrant workers living in town, Akerman focused on English language skills. Many factory workers in town had to depend on their children to translate for them. Akerman charged five cents per session and her classes were well attended. But rent for a meeting room had to be covered by donations and within a few short years Akerman found that local enthusiasm waned. The students were still interested, but with only factory wages, there simply wasn’t enough to pay increased costs.

The next wave of education was also aimed at the immigrant population. In 1917, the Women’s Club and the Civic Club worked with oversight from the town to provide more wide-ranging educational opportunities. Along with English, the program offered arithmetic, algebra, bookkeeping, mechanical drawing, stenography, fancy needlework, woodworking and sewing. Again, though, the program depended on donations. English language was again the most attended class, so there was still a need for this type of instruction. It was during this time that the country experienced something of an immigration backlash. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, worker unrest at home and the extreme patriotism of the First World War combined to create an atmosphere of distrust. Citizenship became a badge of honor and people of foreign birth were quick to apply. The days of unfettered immigration ended in 1924 when laws were created that imposed a quota system on new arrivals. With fewer immigrants coming to town, and the onset of economic depression in the northeast, English classes were in lower demand. The night school program faded by the end of the decade.

Perhaps it was the GI Bill that inspired the next period of adult education in Exeter. Servicemen returning from World War II were provided with unprecedented access to higher education. In the fall of 1947, the Exeter News-Letter announced the creation of The Exeter Program for Adult Education. “This program, designed for the greater community about Exeter, is in line with a trend throughout the country. Thousands of men and women are going back to school this fall enriching their own lives and strengthening American Democracy by taking courses.” The world had changed, bringing leaps forward in science and technology. This was reflected in the course offerings: “The Monday evening courses will include a laboratory course in photography, a lecture course on chemical and atomic energy, and a hobby group making and repairing furniture. On Tuesday evenings there will be two courses, the first, in public speaking, and the second a lecture on Russia. Wednesday evenings will be given over to a series of lectures dealing with great men (sorry, Eleanor Roosevelt, Grace Hopper and Jackie Cochran) and given by eight different speakers.” The instructors, all volunteers, were a mix of Phillips Exeter Academy teachers, Rev. Francis Curran of St. Michael’s church and a few vocational teachers from Exeter High School. At the same time, Ruth Stimson of the Cooperative Extension was offering classes on home economics throughout Rockingham County. The Cold War may have made people somewhat uneasy about the wider world, but they were eager to improve things at home. In the following years physical education was offered. When the program was renewed in 1948, the News-Letter noted that, “too much cannot be said in praise of this venture, or of those responsible for its institution. It was inaugurated for the purpose of bringing to the people of Exeter and nearby towns the opportunity of greater understanding of a fast changing world.” The Exeter Program for Adult Education continued until 1959, when it was decided to suspend the program until sustainable funding could be secured. Even with volunteer teachers, it was difficult to support the program.

After taking a breather for a few years, Exeter Adult Education was revived in 1964 as a cooperative program between Phillips Exeter Academy and Exeter High School. Courses reflected the times: “Government: a study of local, county and state government with a different speaker each week,” Personal Typing, Public Speaking, Oceanography, Election Backgrounds, Woodworking, The Meaning of History, and “Slimnastics for Women.” That last one perhaps because if women couldn’t be ‘great’ at least they could be slim. Programs expanded during the next few years, offering a wide variety of science, history, civics and math programs. In 1965, a course was offered in “new math” – a problem that befuddled parents in 1965 as much as it does today. The course promised to “present the fundamental ideas and applications of the new math in such a way that it can be clearly understood and effectively used by persons of different age levels, mathematical backgrounds, and abilities.”

Adult Education was expanded in the 1980s to include high school equivalency and diploma programs. English language instruction was reintroduced linking our current program with Rosa Akerman’s original vision in 1897. It’s never too late to learn something new – check out the Exeter Adult Education offerings and change your life a little or a lot.

Barbara Rimkunas is curator of the Exeter Historical Society. Her column appears every other Friday and she may be reached at

Photo: from the Exeter News-Letter, volunteer teaching staff of the Exeter Adult Education Program in 1948. Front Row: Rev. Francis Curran, Elbert Little, H. Darcy Curwen, Academy Principal William Saltonstall, Chairman Phillips Wilson, Superintendent of Public Schools Aura Coleman, Martin Sounders and Robert Kesler. Back Row: John Anderson, Arthur Landers, Oscar Pearson, W. Leonard Stevens, henry Bragdon, Norman Hatch, Jackson Adkins, Dan Fowler, Ralph Lovshin, Gordon Benn, henry Phillips, Robert Bates, Theodore Seabrooke and John Hogg.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Why Exeter? What Brought Irish Immigrants to Exeter?

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, November 4, 2016.

Immigration is fueled by factors that both push people from their country of origin and pull them toward a new one. It’s easy to believe that the tremendous increase in immigration in the nineteenth century was the result of the industrial revolution, but in Exeter, that wasn’t the case until the 1890s. Before that, immigrants came for reasons that did not include factory jobs.

The population in Exeter remained about the same from the end of the Revolution until the 1820s, with about 1700 people in town during those years. New people arriving in town were few and rarely offset the number of people who decided to head for new farmland in the West. The economy was a mix of small farming and small industry. The town produced leather goods, printed materials and was known for carriage-making. None of these required huge numbers of workers. The Exeter Manufacturing Company – a cotton textile mill – was erected at the waterfalls in the 1830s as our first big industry. In its early years of operation, the mill tested the labor system used in Lowell and Lawrence, that of hiring local farm girls. Young women were inexpensive to employ, easily controlled and locally available. Or, so the mill owners thought. It turned out that few New England young women wanted to spend long hours in a dark mill. The system never took hold in Exeter and mill owners were forced to find labor elsewhere.

At just about the same time, Ireland experienced an agricultural catastrophe that would come to be known as the Irish Potato Famine. Scores of Irish, facing possible starvation, found their way to the United States and to Exeter. It would seem logical that the mill owners would hire the new Irish residents of town, but census records show otherwise. The 1850 census put the Exeter population at 3329 with 135 foreign born residents in town. Of these, 101 people had been born in Ireland. But they weren’t working in the cotton mill. Nearly all the Irish immigrants in the 1850 census were single, with women outnumbering men. Men tended to list their occupations as “laborer” and the women were working as domestic servants. “Very few people in Exeter kept more than one servant,” Elizabeth Dow Leonard recalled of her early nineteenth century childhood, “We had Yankee help in those days and queer touch-me-nots they were. We used to import them from the rural districts where they belonged to the first families and earned money in the summer at a dollar a week to attend some seminary of learning through the winter and perhaps themselves teach the young idea.” Local ‘help’ tended to be too haughty for domestic work and the servant problem was frequently a topic of discussion. Young Irish women were more than willing to work for local families.

Irish men were willing to take on whatever work was available. Many were quite used to farm labor and were quickly hired by aging farmers whose sons had gone west. By the 1860s, when the Ireland-born population of Exeter had grown to 183, 24 men listed their occupation as unspecified labor and 14 considered themselves farm laborers. Those without skills were able to find plenty of work as long as only a strong back was required. Exeter was moving goods by both the river and railroad. The mill may have only hired a few people of Irish origin (only 3 women and 2 men listed their employment in the textile mill), but there was plenty of work hauling, loading and building. The wool industry needed men to work as ‘wool pullers’, an occupation listed by 11 men of Irish origin. Wool pulling was a catch-all description of any job involved in the processing of raw wool; sorting, grading, hauling or even shearing from pelts. It was hard work, but it was work. Jobs inside the mill were monopolized by native New Englanders and skilled workers from England. It would take several decades for the Irish to fully integrate into New England mills. Like most immigrants, they took the only jobs offered to them when they first arrived.

Within twenty years, by 1870, the Irish began to integrate into the town’s native born population. A Roman Catholic church was erected in 1868. The period following the Civil War brought with it an increase in the town’s industrial growth. The need for labor would be acute by the late 1880s and 90s. When newer immigrants from Quebec, Germany, Poland and Lithuania arrived at the end of the century, the town was more prepared for the newcomers. This time, it was the lure of jobs that brought immigrants to town and mill owners were less discriminating about country of origin.

Barbara Rimkunas is curator of the Exeter Historical Society. Her column appears every other Friday and she may be reached at

Photo: In Exeter, Irish immigrants began arriving in the late 1840s. Although workers were needed for the cotton mill, Irish immigrants were not immediately welcome and worked instead as domestics or laborers. Pictured is Edward Graney Jr., who worked for the Anderson Coal Company delivering coal and ice.