Thursday, August 21, 2014

Two Sisters In Kansas - Part 1, Far From Home

I suppose it could be said they were out of their element but I'm not sure if either one of them felt that way. Two sisters from New Hampshire attended college at Washburn College in Topeka, Ks during the late 1920's. Emma Currier, the oldest, was born in 1906;  her sister Alice was three years junior in age.  Both were born and raised in rural New Hampshire in a small village called Alstead, a hefty 1400 + miles from Topeka.  Both of their parents had demonstrated their interests in education in their own careers. Marshall Currier had worked as a teacher in rural schools in Alstead and neighboring towns while their mother, Florence, had trained and qualified as a nurse. The two sisters were thus encouraged by the examples of their parents and, most likely, spurred by parental advice to continue their educations beyond the high school level. Years later Emma confided to her daughter that although she had graduated from high school, her father felt she needed more schooling in order to qualify for and attend college. Marshall Currier arranged for his oldest daughter to attend Northfield School For Girls in Franklin, Massachusetts to help prepare her for furthering her education. Prep school must have worked to her advantage because Emma enrolled as a freshman at Washburn in the Fall of 1926. She was twenty years old. Alice was admitted the following year at the age of seventeen, apparently not in need of anything more than her high school education. 

     Washburn College (now called Washburn University) was a small liberal arts college with ties to the Congregational Church. The Curriers of Alstead, New Hampshire did have affiliations with Universalist and Congregational churches back home but that's probably not what influenced the two sisters to attend a college so many miles from their home. More than likely the draw was, quite simply, family connections. And family connections might have gone beyond "home-away-from-home" accommodations; the relatives residing in Topeka were, it turns out, rather distinguished citizens of the State Capital of Kansas, holding positions with local government.  If nothing else, their prominent political service to Topeka may have lent credibility to the admission applications of Emma and Alice Currier.
Alice Currier
Emma Currier 

It is not known what Emma and Alice might have anticipated about what their lodging with family would be like. But many years later Emma shed some light on the matter with her tales of  housekeeping chores, some of which were rather distasteful, that she was required to perform. She had to work in exchange for her room and board. If Alice had the same types of responsibilities (they resided in different households) she apparently did not voice the same disdain; her only comment of record was to say that she "lived in Uncle Henry's house while she was attending Washburn College." 

Besides parental encouragement and their family connections in
Kansas, there was something else that may have left an imprint on Emma and Alice that affected their decision to attend school so far away from home. You would think that young girls from rural New Hampshire might find relocating to the middle of the country to be a daunting proposition, even with relatives in place to greet them. But if you were a young girl from rural New Hampshire and you knew that your mother had trekked (actually, she went by rail) across the entire country from New England to California when she was single and in her mid-twenties with the intent of finding her way to the Klondike to check out the gold rush in the Alaskan frontier? In that case you might have a different take on the challenges of moving away from home, about being bold young women and thriving in a new environment, and what parental expectations you might need to try to live up to.  Florence Webber was an adventurous young woman when she started her journey west around 1897. When she reached California she received some very wise advice and revised her travel plans. She decided to undertake training as a nurse in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, her legendary courage displayed during her road to a career in nursing had to have made a big impression on her two daughters. Had they not taken advantage of a college education in Topeka, they surely would not have lived up to the standards of  at least one legendary woman in the Currier family; their mother! 
Florence (Webber) Currier

Next: Part 2, Topeka Relatives

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