Meet Lauren Pidgeon, a Hanover High student from Norwich who is interested in our community’s history.
She is exploring the world of Mary Slack, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who kept a diary here in Norwich in 1865. NHS has just one year of her diary, but there is a story to be told.
Mary Slack probably received her diary for Christmas and records her daily activities for the entire year. The Norwich Historical Society was given a transcription of this diary from Mary’s great-great grandaughter, Jessica Winslow.
Monday January 2
Have been to school all day to day. It has been dreadfull cold. Hope it won’t be so cold tomorrow for we shall freeze up to school. There was a gentleman by the name of Mr Trask at our school this p.m. I guess it is one of the teachers old beaux.
For Mary her first week back at school after the holidays was “dreadfull cold”. She didn’t seem to enjoy school that much and even wrote that “going to school is not very pleasant…there are so few scholars but we have a very good teacher”. This made me wonder where she went to school and who might be her teacher? The second question was easily answered as I kept on reading, I learned the teacher, Miss Sawyer, actually boarded with Mary and her family. To find out what school Mary went to, I first had to figure out where she lived. After consulting the Beers Atlas map of Norwich from 1869, I soon discovered there were Slacks everywhere– especially in the areas around Bloody Brook and Union Village Road.
It seemed I needed to look somewhere else to find exactly where she lived. I looked through some other files in the Slack family records and found nothing related to her house or where she might have lived. I then looked in the 1865 Town Reports for Miss Sawyer and voila! I narrowed my search to the Slacks living in School District #17.
Here’s a photo of the Sproat Schoolhouse #17. You might see it on your way to the dump! Below is an image from the 1890s with some Slack children, probably nieces and nephews of Mary.
Friday January 26
Warm and pleasant to day. Have been at school all day. I have got all-most through my arithmetic. Guess I shall finish it by next week. The teacher has gone home tonight. I wish she was here.
Friday June 16
Down to Mr Booths after tea. Miss Sawyer rolled my hair and then she came home with me to stay all night. She told me a funny story and I told her one.
After reading more of her diary, it appeared that Mary continued to feel the same about school as she did in the beginning of the year. She did, however, become better friends with her teacher who she began to call by her first name, Jennette. I then wondered how much of an age difference there was between the two young women so I looked up Miss Sawyer on Ancestry.com. I soon discovered that Miss Sawyer was born around 1844, about 6 years before Mary, so Miss Sawyer was around 21 yrs old at the time of the diary. As I kept on reading, it seemed like Mary’s brother Homer and Miss Sawyer spent a lot of time together and finally on Sunday, October 8th, Mary wrote that they were to be married. She thoughtfully writes “good luck to them”. Here’s their marriage certificate.
William Lewis, who signed the certificate, was the town clerk at the time. His office was located right where I’m working at the Historical Society today! Homer and Lucy (Jennette) stood in this exact room 154 years ago!
Tuesday March 21
Sewed in the fore noon and went up to Mr Sproats in the afternoon and stayed to tea. Pleasant today.
Next time I’ll be looking at how Mary spent her free time outside of school with her family and friends.