Abby Locke’s diary continues.
The first entry is April 14, 1866
Sat. Went to a grammar exercise in the morning by Miss Palmer. W. Frye came up in the evening but Wesie and I didn’t see him. Emie Coffin came up after school. He (W.F.) came and sat on the stairs and talked but after a while I went down.
Sun. Went to church in the morning. Text “Take care of him.” W. Frye was up in the afternoon. He looked real handsome.
Mon. School. In the evening, for a wonder we were alone.
School. Hattie Baker walked with me after school. In the evening went to dancing school. Danced with Oliver Perry and Bob Means. Came home with Frank. I was sorry for I might have had more agreeable company. Mr. Bates stayed all night for Father didn’t come home. We also had a lecture by Prof. Northrup on “Observation.” It was very good.
Wed. Very cold in the morning but at noon the sun came out and it looked quite pleasant. Hattie Baker came up after dinner and we went down and had some tintypes. They are very good. Mother, Hattie and I went to ride afterwards. We had a very pleasant ride. Father and Mother went down to the “Teachers Institute” and Frank Clarke and W. Frye came in the evening. F. was quite elated at some money he had made.
The Teachers Institute was a five day conference organized by a committee in Andover under the direction of state officials for the purpose of providing professional instruction to public school teachers. The conferences, held across the state, were first organized by Horace Mann, Massachusetts’s first Secretary of the Board of Education in 1843 and funded by the state legislature in 1846. Teachers were both required and paid to attend (the opening of the summer term was delayed to Monday April 23 in accommodation), but all lectures were opened to members of the public. In Andover, the event was hosted by a hospitality committee which was charged with housing, feeding and entertaining the featured speakers.
The lecture Abby enjoyed was given by Dr. Birdsey Grant Northrup, who was then the commonwealth’s “state agent,” but who went on to a long and varied career in education and conservation. He left Massachusetts in 1867 to become the head of the Board of Education of Connecticut, and from this position became a powerful advocate for both beautification of the nation’s towns and villages and the role of nature in children’s development.
Drawing on the ideas of Emerson and Thoreau, he believed that “Nature is the great educator. Birds, flowers, insects and all animals are our practical primary teachers. In God’s plan, facts and objects as best seen in the country are the earliest and the leading instruments of developing the faculties of the juvenile mind. They cannot be fully trained when cooped up within brick walls, witnessing only city scenes. “ Although he was a supporter of the new “Kindergarten system” from Germany, he believed that “the best sort of Kindergarten is the open fields and varied objects of the country, if only the eye is trained to habits of careful observation.” He was not the original inventor of Arbor Day but was responsible for its spread of popularity in schools by offering prizes to teachers and pupils in Connecticut who planted trees. Besides beautification, tree-planting, he believed, gave a “needful lesson in forethought to the juvenile mind.” He eventually studied forestry in Europe and travelled throughout the United States, and as far as Hawaii and Japan, spreading the ideals of Arbor Day. He became known as one of the fathers of the holiday, traditionally celebrated on a Friday in April.
Northrup was also the originator and organizer of the Village Improvement Society movement in the United States. In his speeches and his 1882 book, “Rural Improvement,” he urged towns to emulate the 1853 example of the pioneer Laurel Hill Association in Stockbridge, Mass in organizing “Improvement Societies” to promote planting and beautification. His ideas struck a chord in Abby’s Andover where industrialization, traffic and trains were beginning to encroach on the town’s rural charms. On Friday April 13, 1866 the Andover Advertiser published a letter signed “Civis” bemoaning the “cutting and slashing “of elms, maples and flowering apples ordered by the town’s selectmen and highwaymen, and protesting the proposed sacrifice of the “Great Andover Elm” for the Civil War Memorial Hall in the heart of the town’s center. Formal efforts to organize A.V.I.S. were still two decades away, but the impulse for preservation in Andover had begun.