Mrs. Harriet Stevens.
Extracted from the book: Some Dayton Saints and Prophets 1
By: Charlotte Reeve Conover,
MCMVII (1907) UB Publishing House.
No member of the Women’s Literary Club held quite the place Mrs. Stevens did. She ws the object of our corporate pride. To the effort at individual self-improvement for which the club stands, she seemed to exist as a visible proof of what one woman could make of herself by study and concentration. The pages of the Year Book, upon which her essays appeared, represented red-letter days in the winter’s work. She was listened to with interest, mingled with the deepest appreciation.
To have reached the age of eighty years, with mental faculties not only unimpared, but sharper still than many a younger; to grasp a subject with insight, and deliver it with clearness and force; to hold her trained, her self-trained mind always at the service of the club, were some of the reasons why Mrs. Stevens possessed our staunchest and most effectionate esteem.
Some years ago, while enjoying an afternoon reception in Sandusky, I was told that some one in the next room wanted very much to meet Mrs. Conover. Flattered by this urgent demand, I went and was presented to a charming old lady on a sofa. She had not, however, the slightest interest in me; the object of her regard was Mrs. Stevens. If I lived in Dayton I must know Mrs. Stevens; to which I replied proudly that I certainly did. Then followed many questions and much interesting talk. She had been, in her girlhood, a pupil at Painesville, in Mrs. Stevens’ classes, and love for her teacher and enthusiasm for the quality of the teaching were poured forth in a way that was both touching and delightful. It was the outburst of fifty years of pent-up devotion, for never before, since her school-days, had she met any one to whom she could speak of her old teacher. When we parted, I did not in the least mind the unconscious inuendo expressed in her gratified hope that we might meet again!
Harriet Barney Stevens came to Dayton about 1835, and in 1846 was invited to assist her brother, E.E. Barney, as a teacher in the old ‘Academy.’ Her love for her profession and her success in it were unbounded. Like her brother, she was a born teacher. Young people were a delight to her; they filled her with enthusiasm, and since enthusiasm is the most contagious of qualities, it will not be found surprising that her pupils adored her.
Mr. E. M. Thresher says:
“Her clear ideas and thorough knowledge of the subject were equaled only by her comprehension of the needs of the pupil. She had the faculty of seeming to put herself alongside of young learners, lifting them up by the force of her sympathetic insight; concerning herself not with the subject matter of the lesson alone, but using it always as a stepping-stone to the formation of character. The nobility of her own nature was one element in her success. Sympathetic and sincere, her influence was always toward that which was true and beautiful. * * I never knew a pupil to tell her anything that was not true. The customary little fibs of the school-room were never uttered in Mrs. Stevens’ presence. Absolutely truthful herself, she unconsciously compelled truth in others.”
Mrs. Stevens was especially strong in the teaching of arithmetic. Her patience was unbounded. She would explain a point four or five times until quite certain the pupil had seized it. Speaking of her love for literabure, and her teaching of it, Mr. Thresher again says:
“I can recall how she led me to the subject as to a beautiful garden. A pupil who surrendered himself to her guidance could not fail to receive an impelling power towards books that was a lifelong blessing. * * * It was the subject rather than the text-book which Mrs. Stevens presented to her pupils. She did not teach branches so much as character.”
Mrs. Peter Robertson, an associate for many years at the Seminary writes:
“Mrs. Stevens delighted especially in awakening minds hitherto pronounced dull. Original in her methods, she oflen aroused the wildest enthusiasm over such dry subjects as grammar or elementary arithmetic. * * * Her genuine love for knowledge, and for the art of teaching, made her a power in the life of every young teacher who came within the sphere of her influence. I well remember with what untiring zeal, and at what personal sacrifice she aided me in my early attempts to prepare chemical experiments in my classes at Cooper Seminary. Regarding her wise custom of making calls at the homes of her pupils, Mrs. Stevens once called herself “Principal of Outside Influence,” saying that that should be her title in the school. She was a lover of Botany, patiently studying the habits of individual plants from year to year. An instance of her remarkable receptivity was her attempt, late in life, to learn to appreciate classical music, spending afternoons listening carefully to Mr. Roberts’ painstaking interpretations and elucidations of masterpieces.”
Before the subject of Mrs. Stevens as a teacher is laid aside, one fact must be noted. It is stated, by one who knew her best, that she was not an educated woman; not educated in the sense either of the present day, or in that of her own. But she had the wisdom to keep just ahead of her pupils, and the faculty of passing on to them her own avidity for learning. In the study of Latin, she met work as new to her as it was to her classes, but by the help of her brother, and much midnight oil, she grasped the subject-matter just in time to pass it on. Will it be surprising that she was conceded to be more widely informed than the average college woman?
The first and last impression you felt, on coming into contact with Mrs. Stevens, was that of her firm religious faith. Yet she scarcely ever spoke of it, except to close friends. It emanated from her like a perfume. Her church was the object of her love and her service; she worked for it and she gave to it. The Linden Avenue Baptist Church was to a great extent the result of her efforts. Love for the church meant, as a matter of course, love for missions. In this connection, Miss Isabel Crawford, who was closely associated with her in this work, writes:
“Perhaps no subject was dearer to Mrs. Stevens heart than missions, and no objects of missionary work appealed as much to her as the work among the North American Indians. While she was writing intellectual papers of a high order, for the Woman's Club, she was also keeping in touch with the work at Saddle Mountain, giving valuable and practical advice on gardening, farming, house-building, chicken-raising, and a variety of other homely topics which showed the breadth of her knowledge and practical grasp of details. All her life she kept in the closest sympathy with every agency that had for its object the uplifting of the ‘Ruined Race of America.’”
"To serve with lofty gifts the lowly needs
Of the poor race for which the God Man
Died, and do it all for love,
Oh, this is great!"
Mrs. Stevens gave liberally to the Murrow Indian Orphanage, and built a cottage home for the resident missionary.
Possibly it was the latter charity which came near getting her into trouble with the fiscal authorities of Dayton. At one time she was summoned before the Board of Tax Commissioners to answer for a delinquency in her returns. An over-zealous official, unacquainted personally with Mrs. Stevens, said to her: "We notice you have not returned as much by a thousand dollars as you did last year"; the inference being, of course, that an attempt was made to defraud the State. Mrs. Stevens took the matter very calmly, as was her manner; agreed that there was such a deficit, and then explained that the thousand dollars in question had been given to the Missions of the Baptist Church! She was not incarcerated!
The story of her benevolences would create the impression that Mrs. Stevens was a rich woman. Such was not the case. Simplicity of life and dress enabled her to be luxurious in giving.
Once, when she was a much younger woman, a group of cousins and nieces were gathered in a certain parlor, where the conversation wandered, as it is apt to do, from people to spring bonnets. Having discussed their relatives with not unkind freedom, some one remarked:
‘Well, I wonder how long Aunt Stevens is going to wear that Neapolitan bonnet!’
They had scarcely finished agreeing as a family, that its usefulness and beauty were quite at an end, when the owner of the bonnet came up the steps and rang the bell! It may be that millinery, as a topic was in the air, for suddenly Mrs. Stevens startled them all by announcing naively, as a gratifying discovery of her own, that with just a little alteration here and there, her Neapolitan bonnet, ‘such a good bonnet too,’ would do perfectly well for another season!
If the price of a new one went to the North American Indians, let us hope they appreciated it!
Mrs. Stevens and her brother E. E. Barney, were typical instances of the best side of Puritan training; in their personal selves they proved that those personalities who surrendered most fully to the requirements of their Bible were, in their influence, most sympathetic, most genuine, and most inspiring. To love God and one's fellow-men, the first and great commandment, and the second, which is like unto it, bear ripe fruit in such natures.
In 1874 a group of people assembled three times a day around the family, table of Mr. and Mrs. Stevens. They were Mr. and Mrs. Robert, Mr. and Mrs. Wilt, Mr. Keating, and Mr . Clatworthy. The eight made a symposium of intelligence, of which one often hears, although years have passed since its breaking up. All were people of wide interests, and of fine conversational ability. They discussed topics of then public interest, and much beside. All were readers and thinkers, the women equally with the men. At the head of the table sat Mrs. Stevens, and those in the group around would grant her also the leader of the conversation. Never urging her opinion’s; she nevertheless expressed them readily. She led the discussion into all fields--Science, Art, Tilden's candidacy, the Beecher trial, the resumption of specie payment, the Philharmonic's "Messiah," Foreign Missions; only to hear of it makes on wish to have been there. The talk was absolutely impersonal. Mrs. Stevens never discussed people; other subjects were welcomed with mental hospitality. Calm, unruffled, unassuming, her eyes are said to have sparkled at the introduction of a topic which contained a problem. Heated discussions she avoided, nor did the others desire it. The talk at that table was like that which we read of in books; the fair and candid interchange of the thinking product of a group of able minds. The luxury of good conversation Mrs. Stevens was rich enough to purchase, the price being the stimulus of her own abundant nature.
There can be no fitter close to this sketch than the encomium of a member of that family circle, Mr. A. D. Wilt, who knew her from close association, and gladly pays his tribute to her character. He says:
'Hers was a radiant nature in many ways. A sense of sweetness and light pervaded her presence, and few ever enjoyed her intimacy without realizing her gentle yet highly stimulating influence.
"While her standards of life were the highest, a most abundant charitableness and tolerancy characterized her judgments of others.
"Her intense enjoyment in the acquirement of useful knowledge was contagious, and large numbers, who were fortunate enough to enjoy her friendship, realize their great debt to her.
"Few women, if any, have ever lived in a community, whose lives were so beneficent, or whose memories are more tenderly cherished than is that of Harriet Stevens."
1 Inscription inside of book reads Property of Margaret S. Rowe 108 E. Hudson, Ave. Dayton 5 Ohio Bought it May 13 -- 1938 Mr. McClair’s[?] book store $1.50.
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