“Our work in the school room” – Letter from the Pottsville teachers in Tennessee – March 1867

Each Monday, we are sharing stories about the efforts of the Pottsville Freedmen’s Relief Association and the school they opened in Tennessee during Reconstruction.

What is it like to leave home for an area of the country torn apart by a brutal civil war?

These are the questions that Fannie Couch and Hannah Streeper must have been asking themselves as they journeyed to the heart of Tennessee in early 1867 to open a Freedmen’s School sponsored by the residents of Schuylkill County.

Murfreesboro During the Civil War
Murfreesboro, Tennessee in the 1860s

In a bid to keep those at home in Pennsylvania informed of their activities, Streeper penned a letter to the J.A.M. Passmore that subsequently landed on the pages of the Pottsville Miners’ Journal. 

The letter, written on March 21, 1867, highlights the two teachers’ efforts to meet their students and gauge their abilities and aptitude for learning. They found enthusiastic students, and at least to Passmore, wrote that they were pleased with the conditions they found in war-torn Murfreesboro. The letter appeared in the March 30, 1867 edition of the Miners’ Journal. 

Pottsville Teachers at Murfreesboro –

As our readers are aware, Miss Couch and Miss Streeper, late of this Borough, are now teaching a freedmen’s school at Murfreesboro, organized under the auspices of the citizens of Pottsville and supported by them. To those who have taken an active interest in this work, the following letter from Miss Streeper will be read with interest.

Murfreesboro, March 21, 1867

To Mr. J.A.M. Passmore, Secretary of the Pottsville Committee of the Penna. Branch of the Freedmen’s Aid Commission


Miss Couch having already written you of our pleasant journey and safe arrival, I will endeavor to give you some information concerning our work in the school room. On the afternoon of the 6th inst., we entered our new field of labor, and were much pleased with the appearance of things, although we could not help observing the great contrast between our new school room, and the nice, pleasant one we had so recently occupied.

The school had organized a few weeks before we reached here, as the morning school was so much crowded, that further delay was impossible.

Mr. Buchanan opened the exercises in the usual way by singing, and then reading a portion of Scripture, which was repented by all the pupils in concert. After introducing us to our new pupils, and giving them some god advice, he resigned the school into our charge, and we immediately commenced operations.

The most advanced scholars we ascertained were reading in Wilson’s First Reader, while quite a number had just began the Primer, and a few were on the cards. I very soon become much interested in my highest First Reader class. It numbered fifteen of the largest pupils, whose ages are from 23 to 13, and who are very anxious to learn.

A large proportion of our scholars live three and four miles from Murfreesboro, and yet very few comparatively are tardy. There is a constant change going on in the school owing to the parents’ frequent change of residence in search of work. This is a source of discouragement to the teacher, but then there is a satisfaction in being able to do a great number a little good…

We have 136 names on the roll, and with few exceptions, the progress of each pupil is quite satisfactory. Some of the children are restless, but I think (judging from the little experience I have had) that they are much more easily governed than white children.

Thus far we have no reason to regret coming here, and we are much more pleasantly situated than we expected to be.

There are six teachers at present occupying the “Teachers’ Home,” two of whom are from Vermont, one from Maine, and three from Pennsylvania. The weather is very unpleasant, it having rained or snowed almost every day since the 2nd inst. As soon as it becomes settled, we intend visiting Stone River battleground, and many other places of interest in the vicinity of Murfreesboro.

At some future time I may possibly be able to write a more entertaining letter.


H.M. Streeper

With our interest in the Civil War, we are excited to eventually share these Pennsylvania women’s opinions of a battlefield that saw more than 23,000 casualties in fighting around the New Year’s holiday 1863.


We’ll see you next week for our next update from the Pottsville Freedmen’s School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Featured Image: Freedmen’s School in 1866 (LOC)

Read more of our series on the Pottsville Freedmen’s Relief Association

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