Gen. Samuel G. French, a Southern officer born in New Jersey, wrote postwar of the extreme sacrifices Americans in the South had made in their drive for political independence. Speaking to a group regarding their memorial efforts, he said:
“I am not unmindful, ladies, of the power you possess & can exercise in preserving the true story of the war & the memory of the South’s soldiers. Tell the true story to your children. Because if you don’t, their teachers will tell them their version.”
Shaking the Instincts of Our Youth
“She arrived in Wilmington, North Carolina before dawn on December 30, 1866. Had she been superstitious, Amy Bradley might have felt that even the elements were trying to tell her that “the mission was doomed, for “the snow was falling fast, making the prospect cold and cheerless.” Undaunted by her chilly reception in town, she got to work shortly after light.
She first presented a letter of introduction to Rev. S.A. Ashley, a New Englander who represented the interests of the American Missionary Society, the Freedman’s Bureau and who was described to her as “the superintendent of Wilmington Schools.”
Their conference was followed by a tour of Dry Pond, one of the city’s poorest white neighborhoods. Amy then paid formal calls upon several local carpetbag politicians, men of substance who might be empathetic to her “mission,” because of a shared New England background or identification with Republican party politics. These gentlemen, “though courteous in their reception, frankly, told her it was impossible for her to succeed.”
Their pessimism sprang from an understanding of Wilmington’s attitudes rather than any personal distaste for Amy or disdain for her proposed school. However, they knew full well that in the emotional aftermath of defeat and devastation of Reconstruction, Wilmington’s old-line Conservatives would not be so charitable. “Do-gooders from the north were not held in high esteem. As one observer put it:
“Following the destruction of the Southern States by armies of northern radicals, swarms of the riffraff of northern cities, the dregs of northern society, poured into the South. Among them were the female “missionaries,” as they styled themselves, with a “holier than thou” attitude. “How much better it is to do it our way,” said those arrogant New England schoolmarms.”
Amy soon became a familiar Wilmington figure as she went house to house drumming up interest in her proposed school. Despite many town women pulling their skirts aside when she passed, or spat on her, she held her head high and continued the rounds. In early January 1867 one local carpetbagger capitulated to her badgering and gave her the key to the old Dry Pond schoolhouse, abandoned in 1862. Within four days she had the school cleaned and welcomed the first three students.
After two months Amy had sixty-two members of the Benevolent Society meeting there to sew book satchels for prospective students. On March 1, 1867, she brought in teacher Miss Claribel Gerrish from New Hampshire to assist in school. Amy now had someone to talk to, walk with and share the teaching.
To make it clear that Bradley and company were unwelcome, the Wilmington Dispatch ran a front-page article:
“Equally obnoxious and pernicious is to have Yankee teachers in our midst, forming the minds and shaking the instincts of our youth – alienating them, in fact, from the principles of their fathers and sowing the seeds of their pernicious doctrine upon the un-furrowed soil. The South has heretofore been free from the puritanical schisms and isms New England, and we regret to see the any indication of the establishment here of a foothold by their societies professing the doctrines of Free Love-ism, Communism, Universalism, Unitarianism and all the multiplicity of evil teachings that corrupt society and overthrow religion.”
Although Amy considered herself a woman of the world, she was probably too naïve to realize why her school merited such an attack. Her background as an active member of the Unitarian-Universalist establishment probably made it impossible for her to understand how a religion so well-accepted in Boston was such an anathema to Wilmington. The editorialist’s more accurate charge that she was teaching a doctrine offensive to her pupils’ forefathers did have merit, for Amy never missed an opportunity to promote her political philosophy.”
(Headstrong: The Biography of Amy Morris Bradley. DC Cashman, Broadfoot Publishing, 1990, pp. 159-176).