Winnebago County, Illinois
It is fitting, when a life of great power or great usefulness passes from the visible into the invisible realm, that some history or memorial of it should be written besides that recorded in its outward and visible results. Especially is this true of the teacher, whose work is to a great extent impalpable to the senses, and whose life lives largely in the lives and characters influenced and moulded by it. And yet such lives are generally least able to be separated in their integral elements from those into which they pass. The daily routine of constant, and too often unappreciated and unrewarded toil, passes by like that of the sun in the heavens, unnoticed until it disappears, and is known only, or chiefly, by the blessings it silently sheds, and the fruits it slowly developes. To such the divine words preeminently apply, " Whoso loseth his life shall find it." But the finding is often deferred till it has passed from the earthly to the heavenly state.
The life here briefly delineated was identified in a remarkable degree with the Institution to which she devoted its greater portion. This renders it appropriate to weave together the history of the two, as far as they can be recovered and outlined in a memorial sketch, rather than a biography.
It is much to be regretted that Miss Sill did riot live to complete a MS. begun a few years ago and found among her papers, the design of which is thus recorded in a prefatory statement :
"After laboring in the cause of Education forty-six consecutive years, forty -two years in Seminaries for young women, and more than forty years as Principal, and nearing the age of three score years and ten, I have been asked to write a book. What book shall I write? The world is full of books, and I have no great ambition to be an author. I have hitherto been writing on the tablets of human hearts by spoken words, which may prove more ineffaceable than the printed page. But it may be said, books have a vitality when human life goes out. So does the influence of spoken words. Then it has been suggested to me `to write a history of RockfordSeminary, and a sketch of your own life.'
All this leads to earnest thought, and I seek to know, `the greater good,' the motto of my life. I have decided riot to write and publish a book, but to do what I can in gathering the scattered fragments of the history of the Seminary within my reach, a work which no one else can do, and to make a record of them in a journal, and at the same time write a sketch of my own life, each illustrating the other, and revealing the Providence of God ; and so leave this MS. for friends and old students who may have any interest to read it."
Only the first chapter of this history was written, entitled "Ancestry, Childhood and Early Years." From this we gather and compile in condensed form the following outline:
ANNA PECK SILL was born in Burlington, Otsego County, N. Y., on the 9th day of August, 1816. She was theyoungest of ten children, and inherited the qualities, intellectual and moral, of a long line of Puritan ancestors.
The family was descended from John Sill, of England, who with his wife Joanna emigrated to this country in 1637, and settled in Cambridge, Mass., only seven years after the settlement of the town, and the same year in which Harvard College was founded.
About 1789, her grand parents removed with their families from Lyme, Conn., to Otsego county, N. Y., at that time a wilderness, and settled in the picturesque neighborhood of what is now Burlington. Her grandfather, Deacon Andrew Sill, a man of revered and sacred memory, was a prominent member of the Congregational Church in Lyme, and held the office of deacon for thirty-one years. He was a patriot soldier in the Revolutionary war, and lived to the ripe age of 90 years and 6 months.
Her father, Abel Sill, was a quiet, industrious and intelligent farmer, who died prematurely of typhoid fever in 1824, in the 50th year of his age, when Anna was but seven years old.
Her maternal grandfather, Hon. Jedediah Peck, whose name is recorded in the history of New York State, was a man of great influence and usefulness in his day, and filled several high positions as legislator and judge. He was also a teacher; was skilled in the sciences of navigation and surveying, and was the first to urge legislative action for the establishment of common schools and the abolition of imprisonment for debt. He died in 1821, at the age of 73 years.
Her mother, eldest daughter of Judge Peck, was a woman of great energy of character, a good scholar in her day, especially in mathematics, a woman of piety, industry and taste, and trained her children in the homely virtues of honesty, economy, industry and strict moral and physical integrity. She was left by the death of her husband with the care of nine children—one having previously died —six sons and three daughters, of whom Anna was the youngest, and died in 1860, at the age of 86.
With such ancestry and domestic training, it was not strange that she should inherit something of the practical energy, principled piety and love of learning that have ever distinguished the puritan character. Her early life was a free and happy one. The physical surroundings of the home in which her childhood was spent, were such as to nurture the purest and best sentiments, and awaken that love of nature which is not only a perennial spring of happiness but a sure safeguard of the moral being. The house " stood on a high elevation surrounded with hills mid valleys, with the Catskill mountains in the blue distance at the east, a deep valley on the south, and far beyond rose hill after hill with curves of sky and changing cloud between." On the west was a deep ravine with sheer rocky walls overhung with trees and bushes and spanned with a rustic bridge, below which ran a clear stream of rippling water.
Amidst such scenes her childhood was passed; " often rambling with her cousin along the wild ravine to gather moss and ferns, wild flowers and winter-green berries, or stopping to catch the tiny fish, with pin for hook and angleworm for bait ; or climbing a long, steep hill with winding cow path, through the meadow land and orchard to the old mansion with its sheds and barns, its long well-sweep and oaken bucket; and near by the trim and fenced garden with its beds of pansies, bachelors buttons, pinks and caraway, its currant and gooseberry bushes and its vegetables of every name."
Within the house was found what corresponded with this rustic scenery. "It was a home of industry, of early morning hours, simplicity in living and the abode of health, In it you could hear the loud buzz of the large spinning-wheel and the hum of the smaller one, with distaff in hand, or the clack of the weaving loorri, and see the flying shuttle and the varied occupations of farm life."
She was sent to school when not more than four years old; and the daily walk through summer's heat and winter's cold, over steep hills and through valleys and plains one mile away to the old red school-house, stamped impressions on her memory more indelible than those made by the drilling in Webster's Spelling Book, Morse's Geography and Murray's Grammar, which she committed from beginning to end with no thought of its value,' or scarcely of its meaning. Daboll's Arithmetic was finished when about thirteen years old ' with the aid of a key.' But what was more valuable, and was itself a key to higher wisdom, she was taught 'reverence to teachers and to all strangers by the way to and from school.' She was carefully trained in all household duties, including spinning, weaving and setting cards for carding wool and tow. She also found time to braid bonnets made from June grass, and for some kinds of embroidery.
Thus life passed in those early years between school and home duties, till the age of reflection awoke a deeper longing which this superficial book-knowledge and even the kindness of a mother's love could not satisfy. Intellect and soul both awoke from their dreams with a dim but earnest presentiment of a higher life. Her mind ' craved better school advantages,' and her soul `cried out for its God.' She 'groped in the dark but did not find Him.' Her cousin's attainments and conversation was a constant stimulus and inspiration, but, little was said to her about being a Christian, nor did she care to talk about it. Like most thoughtful children of .Christian parents, she had been the subject of religious impressions in very early life. "I could not remember the time when I did not pray ; and in addition to Now I lay me,' composed a prayer of thanks to God for his care including the petition that God would make me a Christian before I died. Prayer seemed to be innate and not taught to me by others. My father was Episcopal in preference, and one of the first books I remember to have read aside from the Bible in the Sunday School was the Episcopal Prayer-book. There were but few books in our library, and I was hungry for knowledge."
With these hungerings and thirstings after knowledge and religion, "I was conscious of being opposed to God's will. I can now see that again and again the Spirit of God came to me through the truth and urged an entire surrender of all to Christ, and I would promise to myself on some definite time named I would do so, and thus delay. I felt quite willing, as I thought, to go on a painful pilgrimage, if that would make me a Christian, but to yield my heart to do all the duties of a Christian and to be saved by Christ alone, I could not. If I must be lost forever, then I will be rather than do this.
Thus I passed along until in my fifteenth year, in the spring of 1831."
Here this interesting autobiographical fragment terminates, and for the remainder of her personal life and experience, only brief records in her private journals and letters are afforded.
It is known that the year 1831, was memorable in the religious history of the country for powerful and widespread revivals ;' and New York and New England were swept by a wind from the Holy Spirit,' which seemed to shake whole regions and brought thousands, as on the day of Pentecost, to enter on a religious life. It is probable, and almost inevitable, that so earnest and spiritually susceptible and already awakened soul would be effectually reached and swayed by such an influence, and that she dated her real conversion from this year of grace and salvation.
Of the next five years of her life no record is found, but it was probably spent mostly at home in the quiet occupations of domestic industry and in struggles after intellectual and spiritual progress, aided by such helps as home and school and church afforded. One result is very apparent. Her religious life and experience seems to have grown to a remarkable degree, and to have become the absorbing thought and element of her being. The ' opposition ' of which she was conscious previous to this period, gave way to a submission and consecration of heart and will to God, and a desire to be used in His service, which is rare even in religious biographies. Self seemed henceforth to be laid on the altar of sacrifice, and to be more and more consumed in its flames. This will be more manifest in her subsequent life. The type of piety thus early stamped upon her character was largely due to the revival preaching of those days which made much of religious experience, and led to deep searchings of heart, and which manifested itself chiefly in efforts for the conversion of souls. This deep, earnest and spiritual religion characterized her to the end ; and rarely has it been combined with such unswerving principle, practical wisdom, radiant cheerfulness and winning gentleness as in her.
She left Burlington in the fall of 1836, when about twenty years of age, and taught a district school at Barre, in the neighborhood of Albion, for about seven months, devoting the intervals of her school hours to other employments, such as spinning and weaving, to eke out the slender wages she received of two dollars per week, and obtain the means of support and further education. About six weeks of this time, during the school vacation, she attended a school at Albion, and in November 1837, entered Miss Phipps' Union Seminary, (one of the first female institutions of the State), as a permanent scholar.. About one year later we find her employed in the school as a teacher, probably persuing her studies at the same time. Here she remained for more than five years, till July 1843.
Her success both as pupil and teacher, is evinced not only in the high rank she afterwards attained in her educational work, but in her journals and letters during this period. It is especially interesting to trace the way in which Providence was preparing her, both by inward conflicts and outward trials and successes, for the great work of her life. Her consecration and whole-souled devotion to the tasks before her, and her prayerful labors for the spiritual interests of her pupils are revealed in her diary, as a sacred fire ever burning on the altar of her soul ; and she records with tearful gratitude how one and another, during a season of revival, were led by her earnest words to seek and find the Saviour.
The early part of the last year at Albion, (1843), was marked by a great mental conflict concerning her future work. From an early period she had been exercised by a strong desire to devote her life to doing good ; but in what sphere her work was to be, she had no definite apprehension, or even choice, save only to serve God in serving and blessing humanity. She now had her thoughts directed anew to the Foreign Missionary work, as that which she most ardently desired, if she could but be accounted worthy of such a calling. In a letter to her pastor, Rev. G. W. Crawford, to whom she opened her heart on this subject, she says : " I think, if I know my own heart, the primary motive which led me to acquire an education was that I might lay it at the Saviour's feet, and thus be of some service to his cause." And the intensity of her feelings is thus expressed : " I have hardly dared to ask my Heavenly Father so great a privilege, but have prayed that at least I might be permitted after death to go as a ministering spirit and whisper sweet words of peace to some poor heathen soul."
As if to test the character of this desire, and purify it from all unpractical enthusiasm, an opportunity was very soon after offered her of going as companion to an unmarried missionary about to sail in a few months for India. The result was, after sufficient time for acquaintance and reflection and prayer for divine guidance, that the solicitation was declined 'and she decided not to go—for the present,—exemplifying, what is not always the case, the exercise of that womanly instinct and practical wisdom which no missionary zeal may dispense with or overrule, and which equally with religious faith and devotion should be allowed to determine the question as to the will of God.
Having determined to leave Albion, in hopes of finding a field of still greater usefulness, her thoughts were turned toward "The West," as a field of missionary and educational labor. She wrote to Rev. Hiram Foote, then in Racine, Wisconsin, with whom she had some acquaintance, inquiring if he knew of any opening for such work. "I have thought perhaps I might be useful as a teacher, and if possible establish a female seminary in some of the western states. Pecuniary considerations would have but little influence in such an undertaking. My principal object is to do good."
Not receiving any favorable reply—the time for such an enterprise had not yet come—she went alone and almost unfriended, to Warsaw, and there, after many discouragements succeeded in opening a Seminary for young ladies, October 2nd, 1843. This undertaking, the first Seminary entirely under her own control, she speaks of in a letter to Mr. Crawford, as "succeeding much better than I anticipated, and exceeding entirely the most sanguine expectations of my friends." Before the close of the year, the school numbered 140 scholars. She continued this seminary about two and a half years, and closed it in March, 1846. It is not known what reasons determined this step, but it was evidently not in consequence of any lack of outward prosperity. Probably a want of spiritual sympathy in her higher religious and educational aims may have led to its discontinuance.
In August, of that year, after much anxious thought and inquiry as to the path of duty, whether to go to the West, or to offer herself to the Foreign Missionary field, she was invited by the trustees of the Cary Collegiate Institute, in Oakfield, Genesee county, to take charge of the female department in that institution. This invitation she accepted, and taught there as preceptress till the spring of 1849.
But scanty record is made in her journal of her work at Caryville; but the school is described as 'prosperous.' She "had the care, some of the time, of about eighty ladies; had probably over 200 different ones under my care. During the winter a number was hopefully converted in my bible-class."
While here, she had many applications to go elsewhere; one to take charge of the Seminary at Albion, and also to go as Principal at Le Boy; 'but duty, looking at the prospect of greater good', decided her course to remain in Oakfield another year. During that year she had applications from Michigan, Vermont, Lockport, and again from LeRoy. All these she declined. She had long desired to labor in a more ' destitute' field ; if not on heathen soil—a hope which she cherished to the last—among the wide and more uncultured prairies of the West. And this desire was now about to be fulfilled.
Before speaking of her introduction to this field, it may be well to glance briefly at the preparation which Providence was making for her advent and work.
While Miss Sill was prosecuting her educational work in western New York, the pioneers of Christian civilization in the Northwest were planning how to carry out their views of higher education both for young men and young women by establishing collegiate institutions of the best New England type.
The co-education of the sexes, as carried on at Oberlin, had not at that time proved a complete success ; nor was the idea of furnishing exactly the same education for both sexes then entertained. The diversity in mental constitution and in the sphere of life and employment appointed to each, seemed at that early day to require a somewhat different curriculum of study and method of training, for which separate institutions were demanded. Accordingly they resolved after a series of conventions, representing especially the Congregational and Presbyterian ministers and churches of the Northwest, to establish a College at Beloit,Wisconsin, and a Seminary in Northern Illinois. This was afterwards located at Rockford, and a Board of Trustees was elected to whom was committed the development and care of both institutions. The College began its corporate existence in 1845, and the Seminary in 1847, although it did not go into operation until a few years later.
The selection of a Principal for such a Seminary was a work involving no little care and responsibility, since its success would be largely dependent on her character and ability. But Providence had wisely prepared the way and the person.
Friends of the enterprise in Rockford, who had heard of Miss Sill's success and reputation as a teacher, prominent among whom was the Rev. L. H. Loss, then pastor of the Congregational Church, wrote to her concerning the new enterprise and invited her to come to Rockford and open a school for young ladies as preparatory to the future Seminary. " I listened to the cal]," she writes in her journal, "and consented to leave long cherished friends and go. I bade Caryville farewell May 10th. It is a dear spot."
Her motives in accepting this western call may be gathered from what has gone before. It opened a larger field of usefulness than any she had heretofore occupied. It was believed to be a missionary work, the laying of Christian foundations for future generations ; and it was clearly a call of Providence, in answer, as it seemed, to her earnest prayers for guidance.
She reached Rockford, May 24th, 1849. A few brief extracts from her journal may here be interesting, as affording a glimpse into the past, and also into the heart of the young teacher.
"May 29. Sent my advertisement to the press. My success is yet to be known, for my times are in the hand of the Lord.' I trust I am prepared for whatever cup He in His all-wise providence may mingle. May I but glorify God and serve humanity while I live, and then go home. "July 11. To-day commenced school, and laid the foundation of Rockford Female Seminary. Opened with fifty-three scholars. 0 Lord, fit me for my work and glorify Thyself thereby."
"To-day numbered sixty scholars. Oh, the responsibility of teachers! 0 Lord, aid me."
A nearer view of this first beginning of her work in Rockford is afforded by one of her first scholars, who thus recounts her reminiscence of Miss Sill's opening day:
"The scholars were drawn up in a row on the lawn the first day, forming a gauntlet of happy faces, and as the teacher passed through, each gave her name. After they had entered the room, Miss Sill made a. few remarks in which she said : Well, well, young ladies, this is like the sunshine of this beautiful day, dropping light into our hearts.' She then remarked that it might seem strange to them to find one from the East away out in tie West. She came there for a purpose, and that purpose was to establish a school in the wild Northwest. The children became impressed with her earnestness. They realized that they stood in the presence of a devout Christian woman. In those days a person direct from the East commanded especial respect. The fact that this young woman came hundreds of miles to do good had its effect upon them, and they went to work with a will. The discouragements were manifold. The seats were low and uncouth affairs, and the sun came in from the unhidden windows, causing much complaint. But the teacher had an iron will. She opened a modest boarding-house, and with the funds thus gained improved the school-room, bought the books needed, placed curtains in the windows, and prevailed upon the scholars to supply desks. They learned to love her, and to this day, carry her image in their hearts."
A few months later, Nov. 4, she records the trial she experienced at the leaving of her pastor, who had been her chief counsellor and friend in this land of strangers.
"I feel that I shall indeed be shut up to the faith, and left to trust in God alone for the prosecution of this work. And thus it has always been when I began to lean on earthly props. I feel that God would discipline to faith. My desire for usefulness is an insatiable thirst which increases as the field widens before me. It seems to nerve every energy of my being; but how shall I obtain the desired object? Oh, for more holiness of heart, for entire consecration to God. What can I, a feeble finite creature do? I feel in want of all things. How much wisdom, prudence, zeal, tempered with moderation, is requisite to fill my station! I do see and feel the leading, guiding hand of my Heavenly Father reached down to help, and this does sustain me. I am sure of this—yea, as sure as though it were visible to the senses. Then what-- need I fear though He take away all earthly support. Only, O God, extend my influence for good ; make me more sacrificing, more prayerful, more and more devoted to humanity."
With such faith and heaven-kindled aspirations did Miss Sill enter upon her work in Rockford ; and its whole subsequent history shows that her faith was not delusion or mere enthusiasm, but that there was a Divine guidance of her way and a divinely ordered connection between the work and the instrument.
The immediate and large success of the school, which soon outgrew its accommodations, demonstrated the felt need and demand for higher female education in the growing West, and it was very soon recognized as the germ and beginning of the Rockford Seminary.
The subscription by the citizens of Rockford of over $5,000 for buildings, and the pledge by the ladies of $1,000 more for the beautiful grounds upon which the Seminary now stands, together with the school in such successful operation, were all that was needed for its inauguration as a permanent institution for the higher education of young women.
In 1851, the first class, fifteen in number, entered upon their course. On the 18th of July, 1852, the corner stone of the first edifice was laid by the President of the Board of Trustees, Rev. Aratus Kent, of Galena, who may be called the father of the Seminary, since to him, more than any other man, it owed its inception and development. The text of his address : "That our daughters may be as corner-stones polished after the similitude of a palace," suggests both the place and the power of woman, as the essential and purifying element in Christian whose center is the home and whose crown is righteousness and love.
Miss Sill, in entering on her life work, seems to have had from the first a true and practical idea of the end in view and the work to be accomplished. This is evident from the manner in which she entered upon it and the steadiness with which she pursued it. She had intense sympathy with the educational work of Mary Lyon, and early set before her Mount Holyoke Seminary as the model after which this new Western Seminary was to be built. The aims, the methods and the whole spirit and character of the former were adopted by the latter, and there was a . corresponding energy and devotion in the character of the two women.
There was a remarkable fitness also between the character of the new teacher and the work before her. The freshness, enthusiasm and wholesome vigor, physical and mental, which impressed all beholders, and was a constant inspiration to her pupils, found a congenial element in the free air, the wide-sweeping praries, and especially in the fresh, ardent, unsophisticated minds of the young West, unknown to the narrower and more cultivated fields of New England. She longed to meet this uprising strength and eager intellectual thirst with answering strength of mind and heart, to satisfy this craving with the intellectual and moral culture which was in her to bestow.
Above all, she realized the immense power and influence for good latent in the young women of the West—the future mothers of this new country, and she yearned to quicken and develope this power of womanhood in the interest of Christianity and humanity.
The ideas which she sought to incorporate in her work as Principal, and which became the organic ideas of the institution, were:
To reach especially the poorer and less favored classes of young women, hitherto debarred from the higher education—farmer's daughters growing up in their wild beauty like the prairie flowers that bloom around them ; daughters of Home Missionaries, and other pioneers who had left cultivated homes in the East to plant Christian civilization in the West.
To combine, to a limited extent, domestic and industrial training with the intellectual culture imparted by classical and literary study; realizing that the chief end of woman's education is not simply to shine in society, but to elevate and purify and adorn the home. Hence, she aimed to make the Seminary in the truest sense an educational home where certain 'domestic duties were daily required of every pupil.
To infuse as the inmost spirit of the school, moral and religious culture, recognizing what should be a first truth in every educational institution, that character is the end of knowledge, and the culture of the heart is the true spring of all intellectural culture, since out of it are the issues of life; and that the Bible is the only true textbook of practical morality.
With this, and as the blossoming of this beautiful rod of culture—to inspire a missionaryspirit, or a spirit of self-denying benevolence toward all, especially the ignorant and the sinful ; to teach the great Christian lesson, that the true end of life is not to acquire the most good, whether of happiness or knowledge, but to give oneself most fully and worthily for the good of others.
For a young woman of brilliant talents and rare personal attractions to consecrate herself to such an aim and ideal as this, is no slight commendation. That she realized this ideal in its perfection, would be too much to affirm ; but that she held it continually before her, resisting all temptations to lower or abandon it, that Rockford Female Seminary became what it was and is under her guidance and fostering care, is her enduring praise and memorial.
To build. a College or a Seminary, is obviously something more than to erect its walls, or to furnish a place and means of instruction. Being a living thing, an institution, and not a mere fact, when once planted it must continue to grow and enlarge its life, demanding continually increasing resources, or it will fail to realize its true idea. The history of all of our large Colleges and Universities illustrates this. It would have been a comparatively easy and pleasant thing, when the new Seminary was once started and put in running order, when the new building was finished and filled with pupils, for the Principal to have given herself wholly to teaching, and superintending the work so successfully begun. But so vigorous was the life here planted, that, its wants soon outgrew its resources, and new demands for additional buildings and enlarged appliances pressed themselves on those who were responsible for its maintenance. But the burden of this pressure, and to a great extent, the plans and the executive force needful for meeting these demands, were borne and supplied by the one mind and will at the center. It is an old proverb, "Where there's a will there's a way." And when that will is a woman's will, with heart and purpose and unfailing energy within it, and Christian patience and wisdom to support and guide it, the way will not be long in appearing. It belongs to the history of the Seminary and of its first Principal to say, that every improvement and enlargement proposed by Miss Sill that seemed essential to the prosperity and normal growth of the institution, was sooner or later accomplished, at least in germ and potency, though their full realization may await the coming time.
In this age of progress the science of education is and must be progressive, and female education, a birth of the present century, has been quick to catch the spirit of the age. It was inevitable that the idea of the first founders of Holyoke and Rockford Seminaries, limiting and defining the education of woman by the boundaries separating her `sphere' from that of men, should be enlarged if not outgrown by those of later date, which tend to obliterate and confuse these boundaries; and that the scope and area of female education should thus be enlarged and assimilated to that of other Colleges. The change of name, now so common, from 'Seminary ' to 'College,' is a significant indication of this tendancy. Miss Sill early perceived,-if she did not share, this tendency, and wisely prepared for its ingress. The progressive aims she had ever cherished were stimulated by the rise of other female Colleges richly endowed and offering the highest educational advantages, especially those of Vassar and Smith and Wellesley. The problem before her and before the Trustees, was how to preserve the original idea and aim of the Seminary, as an institution of the highest order for all, but especially for young women of slender means (requiring therefore the terms of board and tuition to be kept as low as possible), and also to raise the standard of education to the advanced and advancing level of other competing Colleges. This problem was practically solved by providing a full Collegiate course, similar to that of the best Colleges, for those who were able or wished to take it, while a Seminary course, less advanced in respect to the higher, (or rather more extended) classical and mathematical studies, but better adapted to the ordinary needs and tastes of those for whom the Seminary was specially founded, should be continued; which, requiring less time and expense, would meet a larger and more practical demand. Thus the true idea and basis of the institution is preserved, as is witnessed in the preservation of the name, Seminary; while it furnishes all the advantages of a College for those who desire them.
It remains to be seen in the future, whether this less ambitious character of a Seminary for Young Ladies, to fit them most thoroughly for the sphere in which most women are called to act, is not a better and more practical. solution of the educational problem, than those of higher name and pretension, which aim to compete in all respects with Colleges for young men. Since too, the Universities are now opening their doors for the admittance of women, the question may be asked, whether these older and more amply endowed institutions may not furnish more richly all those special opportunities of advanced science and arts which comparatively few women care to pursue, leaving our Seminaries with their more secluded and domestic but not less studious atmosphere, to train the young women of the future for the high and sacred if less public duties of their calling.
From this ideal survey of the character and aims of the Institution, we now return to the practical work and difficulties involved in their realization.
The first few years of the Seminary—what may be called its nursing period—like that of other children, were years of weakness and peril; and nothing but the assiduous care, the untiring zeal and energy, and the wise and self sacrificing motherhood of Miss Sill could have carried it safely through. The inward life of the institution was strong and vigorous from the first, but the means for sustaining this life and the building up of its body were scanty and hard to obtain.
In June, 1852, the corner stone of the first Seminary building was laid, and it was completed in the fall of 1853. It was at once filled to overflowing, some four or five occupying a single room, and about one hundred applications were refused. The resources of Rockford seemed exhausted, at least of the few who were able or willing to give, and means for enlargement must be obtained, or the enterprise ignominiously fail. Meanwhile Miss Sill's health was giving way under the accumulated pressure, and she was constrained to go East in December, 1853, for the double purpose of recruiting her strength and obtaining funds. She visited Boston and other centers of wealth and influence, and returned in the summer of 1854, having secured some $5,000. With this the foundation of another building was laid, which was erected slowly and 'in troublous times.' Money was borrowed to complete it, the debt being secured by mortgage on the property. Repeated efforts were made to raise funds in the West, and the amount of $10,000 was pledged, to be paid in annual installments, a large part of which Miss Sill secured by personal effort. A few years later another effort was made to pay the debt and enlarge the accommodations. So great was the necessity, that -the teachers from their own meager salaries pledged $1,000 of the $20,000 needed. Appeals were sent out to friends of Christian education, and Miss Sill again visited New England and secured funds for the completion of another building, a much needed Chapel with connecting wings.
This page from the early history of the Seminary may indicate a few of the difficulties and struggles under which the institution labored and grew in its earlier years ; and in all these struggles and burdens she bore a personal and principal part. It may be truly said of her that she builded her life into the walls of the Seminary as well as into the character and lives of the pupils.
During these years of labor and often of trial and discouragement, and while burdened with the business cares of the institution, she not only continued the personal instruction of her classes, and superintended the whole management of the school, but she took an active and often a leading part in the social and religious life of the community, attending regularly the prayer meetings and other meetings of the Church, teaching a Bible-class in the Sabbath School, mingling in social circles and contributing her personal influence to every good movement and undertaking. She was felt to be a power for good, not only in the immediate circle of her influence but everywhere.
That she was able to accomplish and endure so much without fatigue or failure, is one of those marvels in human life which we sometimes witness, where the greater and more multiplied the labors undertaken, the greater the facility and success with which they are performed.
One reason of this may be found in her rare combination of physical, intellectual and spiritual endowments. Her physical constitution was sound and strong, and inured to labor by early training and constant exercise. Her mind and spirit was elastic and free, open to all the
inspirations as well as the pressures and burdens of life. In a letter written from Boston in 1865, while engaged in her ' mission' to the East, she writes :
"Just fancy me in the ' Hub of the Universe,' the center of all right motion, the sun of civilization, enlightenment and refinement—and one of the ' Western Beggars.' Do you envy me, or do you pity me?' One thing I am resolved to do, that is, to make just as much happiness and refreshment out of the effort as may be. God has given me the safety-valve in my temperament of susceptibility to the ludicrous, and has also made me hopeful. I find occasion for the exercise of these faculties, sometimes quite to my relief, like rays of sunshine coming through misty clouds."
Her character and success as a teacher may be in part explained by this happy combination of qualities. The wholesome vigor of her mind and heart, expressed strongly
yet kindly in her bright and cheery presence, her clear musical voice and kindling eye, penetrated, quickened and inspired her pupils, so that her teachings were not words or ideas simply, but spirit and life. This subtle, magnetic and personal power was exercised also in her government, a power which many teachers lack. A testimonial from one who knew her as a teacher in Western New York, speaks of her having " won for herself an enviable reputation as an able and accomplished teacher, and at the same time an uncommon tact at managing and controlling those under her care, possessing the faculty of governing those committed to her charge, while the pupils themselves do not seem to realize they are controlled."
But perhaps her greatest power and success as a teacher lay not in her intellectual or moral discipline, but in her influence over the character of her pupils. Recognizing that the springs of character lie not in the intellect or the forms of conduct, but in the heart, her first and deepest concern was for their spiritual culture through the power of religious truth. And here, too, it was preeminently true that "It is the Spirit that quickeneth," and not the mere word or doctrine, though the Bible was a daily text-book. The spirit of the teacher, imbued with the spirit and love of the Saviour of souls, was the medium' of a quickening and saving power to nearly all who came under her influence, so that she was able to say in a letter to a benefactor, in May, 1865: "There has not been a year, nor one term of the year, without hopeful conversions, so that we hope several hundred have found peace in believing."
This manifold and marvelous success in the various departments of her work was not unappreciated by those who had the clearest and truest insight into the character of this work.
One whose words were never fulsome or insincere, and who stood in closest relation to the Seminary, wrote to her in 1864, for her encouragement :
"I do but embody what has ever been my feeling, and what I regard as the common sentiment of the community, that your laborsand successes have called forth the approbation and admiration of all who have traced the history of the Seminary.
As a Christian minister, I can only admire and wonder that in addition to the intellectual culture wrought, there should have been such an amount of moral and evangelical influence brought to bear upon that buzzing hive of young ladies drawn together from so wide a district. It is humiliating to me to reflect that I have done, and am doing so little to bring sinners to a reconciliation with God, in comparison with the success which has uniformly crowned your efforts."
It would of course, be impossible to trace or measure the influence for good which Miss Sill has exerted through the pupils she has educated and trained for usefulness during the thirty-five years she was Principal of the Seminary. Of the thousands who have gone from its halls, a large proportion have been teachers, scattering the seeds of truth and character which they received. Nearly all have become wives and mothers, diffusing sweetness and light in thousands of homes ; while many have gone to heathen shores as missionaries, carrying the gospel in their hearts and characters, as well as in their hands.
The relation of Rockford Seminary to the Foreign Missionary field, is perhaps not often considered, but it was one very close to the heart of its principal and founder; and the prayers and aspirations of her younger days were answered in a way that then she little anticipated. In a letter to Mr. and Mrs. William E. Dodge, written Nov. 1865, she relates some of her personal history and early struggles for an education that she might become a Missionary: "I asked my Heavenly Father that if I was not permitted to enter the foreign field, I might see one of my pupils go in my stead. And one of our first class that graduated went to India. Since that time we have been represented in Jamaica, W. I., in China, in Egypt, in Burmah (by a teacher), in Constantinople, in Turkey and Micronesia." Who can doubt that the motto of her life—"the greatest good," has been abundantly and wonderfully fulfilled ?
These life-offerings from Rockford Seminary to the cause of Missions were not sporadic or without antecedent causes. The spirit of Christian benevolence and self-denial for the good of others was not only inspired in the institution by the influence and example of its Principal, and inculcated as a duty specially required of woman, if she would fill worthily her sphere, but was practically cultivated by Missionary Societies, whose object was both auxiliary and educational. As a result, during a single year-1864--when special efforts were in progress for the enlargement of the Seminary and the paymTit of its debt, when the war was draining the resources of the country and most of the pupils were poor, $353 was contributed to Foreign Missions ; $369 to the Christian and Sanitary Commissions in behalf of the soldiers; $50 to the Freedmen, besides $1,000 pledged to the Seminary, of which $321 was paid ; making a total of benevolences for the year, of $1,093. With such sacrificial offerings did this young institution, with scarcely the means of self-subsistence, consecrate itself and its work of education to the cause of Christ and humanity.
We have said that most of the pupils who came to the Seminary, were poor, or at least in very moderate circumstances; and the design of the institution was to afford to such the advantages of higher education. Hence, the terms of tuition and of board, and also the salaries of the teachers, were kept as low as could consist with the necessary expenses and the high standard of education proposed. Great reduction was made to the daughters of Home and Foreign Missionaries. But notwithstanding this, many came who were unable to continue and complete their education without assistance. For such, Miss Sill had special sympathy, and freely gave of her ability, and beyond her ability, when other aid was wanting. Through her efforts an Education Society was formed at an early day by the ladies of Rockford, as a much needed form of Christian benevolence. Among the papers of Miss Sill is found one entitled, "A Memorial to the Rockford Female Education Society," the date of which is not given, but which bears evidence of having been written at a very early period in its history. A few extracts from this paper will show her deep personal sympathy with its object, and the wisdom of her . views regarding the practical value of female education :
"From the commencement of this Institution, I have frequently met with those who are very anxious to be educated, but cannot command the means. With tearful eyes they have repeated again and again—` I do want an education, but I am poor;' or, I do feel. I must be educated, I want to be useful in the world.' `I want to do good ; it is all I want to live for, I have no one to look to ; what shall I do? Can you take me and wait until I can teach ?' How could I listen to such a request without sympathy—deep sympathy? How could I say `No!' How could I turn away one thirsting for knowledge, that she might be fitted for more usefulness, when the tear and sigh added eloquence to the appeal? I say, how could I, with the Golden Rule before me? I could only say to such, You may be educated if you will; go on, trust in God, and the way will open before you.' For two years I said nothing to others, but aided this class of scholars as far as practicable, keeping all within my own heart, being fully aware of the state of public opinion regarding the importance of systematic, thorough female education, and consequently that it would be difficult to obtain aid for those in indigent circumstances, and that our organization for this purpose might not, and probably would not, meet with as much public favor as other benevolent enterprises. I feel called upon, therefore to state more fully my whole views to this point.
"Looking first at some of the objections which may arise to this form of benevolence: It may be urged that there is no need of so thorough and systematic education of young ladies to fit them for extensive usefulness unless they purpose to make a business of teaching; that woman's sphere is primarily in the domestic department, in the family circle. I reply, woman's sphere is in the home-circle, truly, primarily so, and that is why I would have her educated, thoroughly and systematically educated,. for this her heaven-appointed orbit, that she may be qualified to perform the duties and to meet the responsibilities of this sphere. Is not woman the presiding genius in the family circle, the fixed center of attraction to the family solar system,' controlling and regulating the movement of all the planets ; and is it not necessary that her habits of thought be such as will enable her to perfectly systematize the family life? Who that has ever resided in a family where order was wanting, each acting under the impulse of the present moment, regardless of the wants or wishes of others, has not been reminded of the chaos of nature when all things were without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep? or perhaps of the tower of Babel, after the confusion of tongues. Does not the guide of a household need discipline to patient endurance, that she may cheerfully meet the many petty trials incident even to the best regulated families? Now what will better induce the habit of order, or better discipline the mind to patience, than a systematic, thorough education, developing aright all the powers of the mind ? Do I hear you say, I have seen well regulated families without what you call a systematic education of the mother?' I reply, we may differ upon the point as to what constitutes a well-regulated family. Can that family be called well-regulated whose arrangements do not recognize the whole of our nature, as physical, intellectual, social---and religious beings; where proper time is not allotted daily to the cultivation of each department of our being? Who has the power to give the faculties a right direction in the morning of life, as the mother? How few realize the extent of the moulding influence of a mother upon the maturing character Does she not daguerreotpye her own characteristicts of mind and heart indelibly on the plastic mind of childhood ? Who is so well qualified to make home a paradise as a well educated lady at the head of the household ?
"Again, though this is her peculiar sphere, her province is not limited to the home-circle; her influence will be felt in whatever circle she May move, scattering around her the sunbeams of virtue and cheerfulness and ever winning grace. With her own mind expanded and liberalized, she is prepared to guide others,
" Again, it is said, ' If we educate all our young women, where shall we find domestics?' I reply, if they be rightly educated, they will be better fitted for the work of this department ; and if they are not educated for this department, their education is radically deficient.
Do we not deny to young women their lawful rights, when we do not provide for their education? A young man who desires to do good in the world, and needs a preparatory mental discipline, is taken under the fostering care of the Church of Christ and aided by the Education Society. That is all right—just as it should be. And why, I ask, should not the same privilege be granted to our own sex? Especially when a young man can help himself to means so much better than a young woman, whose labor is valued so much less. Why? I again ask. Is not the answer found in the estimate made of educated female influence? But who makes the most permanent impressions on the youthful character, the father or the mother? And the education of which should be neglected, if either? I answer, not that of the mother, who is emphatically the most responsible teacher in the world.
If I rightly understand the design of the founders ofthe Rockford Female Seminary, it is this. First—That an Institution shall be built up furnishing advantages to our own sex equal to the College, or as that furnished to the other sex. Second—To bring the expenses so low that all classes shall be able to avail themselves of its privileges. Third—That the property of the Institution belong to the public; that it be not local simply in its interests and influence, but a public benefit. Fourth—That it shall be founded by benevolent contributions from the Christian public, consecrated to the work of doing good to the world —an object for the prayers of all who love the diffusion of truth in its highest forms.
"Who would not rejoice to aid in hastening that day when ' knowledge shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea?' How much, then, is yet to be done; and `the laborers are few.' And shall these few, now in the Seminary, who would live for a world, be hindered for want of aid, from doing the work they so much desire to do? I can but trust in God, that aid will come from some quarter; and they who shall give a cup of cold water to a disciple, in the name of Christ shall not lose their reward."
It would transcend the limits and the design of this memoir to write the whole history of Rockford Seminary, or of the entire life and labors of Miss Sill in connection with it, Such a history would require adequate mention of the many devoted and accomplished teachers who entered into and aided her in her work with like consecration and self-sacrificing spirit—some of whom now rest from their labors ; of the efficient and faithful Trustees, who stood by her in her trials and discouragements, staying her hands and giving freely of their time and counsels and help, to build the Institution of which they were the guardians ; and of the many hundreds of pupils who have gone out from this cherishing mother, some to fill places of honor and distinction, and all, places of usefulness and Christian service, in the homes, or the schools, or the sanctuaries of the land.
All that will be attempted further, is to gather and group together a few last things; to watch the clouds as they gather with 'sober coloring' around the setting sun, and the declining shadows as they fold in the tranquil evening of her life.
It is said of one of England's greatest men, that ‘nothing — so became his life as the leaving of it.' To leave a life, that has been filled with honorable and useful labor, gracefully and well, leaving behind it nothing to regret, is a rare and beautiful thing. Especially to leave the active labors of such a life before the time of rest has come, and retire to a private sphere while the consciousness of strength and the enthusiasm of mental activity and ability is still felt—this is still rarer and more difficult, and requires more of Christian grace and humility. And yet nature teaches this lesson in many of her parables. The summer, while yet in the glory and fulness of its foliage, and while its flowers are still in bloom, ceases from its labors of growth, and enjoys a Sabbath of rest and stillness, unbroken but by the plaintive chirp of the cricket, telling that autumn has come. And the later ripening of the golden October fruits, and the fading and the falling of the rainbow-tinted leaves, is only a revelation of the hidden glories, the sweetness and beauty of the life that has accomplished its work, and patiently waits to be garnered.
In the summer of 1884, after thirty-five years of active and unremitting and successful labor, Miss Sill resigned her position as Principal of the Seminary, and retired to the more quiet, but not less honored position of Principal Emerita. She had long contemplated this step as inevitable, from her advancing years and the increasing demands of the Institution on her time and thought and labor; and the way for such a transition—almost always a difficult and embarrassing one—bad been thoughtfully prepared for her by her pupils.
Several years previously, the Alumna of the Seminary had raised by subscription among themselves, aided by other Maids of the Seminary, a fund of $10,000, which was afterwards increased to $12,000, called the 'Sill Endowment Fund,' the income of which was to be appropriated to her support during her life, and afterwards go to the endowment of the chair of the Principal of the Seminary. This was now sacredly applied to the use for which it was raised. Her own rooms in the Seminary were reserved for her exclusive use and occupancy, and that which had been her home of labor for so many years was still to be her home of rest so long as she might live, or desire it.
That this retirement from the activities and occupation of a life-time, though unavoidable and voluntary, should be a severe trial to Miss Sill, was inevitable from the constitution and quality of her mind. She, whose life was labor and whose joy was imparting and doing good, to find herself, with nothing to do ; she whose mind and will had been the directing and moving force of the Institution which she had founded and built up, to quietly resign her place and power to others ; she who had taught for more than forty-five years, and had lived surrounded by a circle of admiring and devoted pupils, to live henceforth outside the circle, a passive spectator, and no longer the center, of this young and growing life—was perhaps the hardest and severest trial of her life. But she met it with rare fortitude and serenity. She accepted the situation, as she had all others where Providence had placed her, as that which her Heavenly Father had appointed, and therefore what was best. But her interest in the Seminary, as the child of her love and care, suffered no abatement, and she still sought diligently to know how she could best promote its welfare and do good to the young minds and hearts she could no longer control and teach.
She had taken much interest in the growth of the Art department, then and still in its infancy ; and some of her friends proposed to her a European tour, for the double purpose of recreation and health and of collecting pictures for an Art gallery. But the way did not seem to be open, and the tour and collection was left for other teachers, while she gave herself to more quiet, domestic occupations.
Another department which she had long hoped to see provided for—a gymnasium, she now had the happiness of seeing realized in substantial form. A building was erected for this purpose in the rear of the Seminary Chapel and amply furnished and equipped with all the modern appliances for the most perfect physical development and health of the young ladies, and placed under the care of a scientifically trained directress. This building was named " Sill Hall," in honor of her who had almost built with her hands the other three edifices.
Next to the trial of relinquishing a position, long held, of high and honorable trust, is the attendant one of witnessing new methods and new ideas superseding those to which one's life has been devoted ; of standing silent by, while the new age and its young and bold spirit irreverenly pushes past the old—a trial which not only educators, but men of all professions who have lived for fifty years, are called to experience,—which is indeed the Providential law of growth and progress. Yet the same meekness of wisdom which submitted gracefully to the former, accepted silently and without a sign of impatience or irritation the new regime with whatever of change it might bring. Her faith was so steadfast, her confidence so serene in the Divine guidance of the Institution in all its previous history, and in the principles on which it was founded, that she could still trust it in His hands for its future career. Moreover, her silent and benignant presence, and the spirit of calm, sweet dignity and venerable repose that streamed from her, with all that it suggested of tried experience and matured wisdom, was itself a conservative power, the more potent because of its gentle and unobtrusive character. All felt the softening, subduing and hallowing power of her unconscious influence, and deemed it a privilege to minister in any way to the wishes or happiness of one so worthy of their reverence and love.
Whatever anxieties she may have felt in consequence of the change of administration, were happily allayed during the five years that succeeded. During the four years of Miss Hillard's administration, the Seminary more than sustained its previous reputation for high scholarship and earnest Christian character, which has increased rather than diminished under her successor, Miss Anna B. Gelston. To both she felt and expressed the warmest sympathy in their work and gratitude for what they had done for the school, and especially for their kindness toward herself. It is pleasant to believe that her confidence grew to the last, that the work of her life would be perpetuated on the same high and broad plan of thorough Christian education on which it was founded.
Other afflictions, now began to gather like clouds in her evening sky, and to darken her horizon, though irradiated and gilded with the light beyond.
In the spring of 1889, her last surviving brother, his wife and two children, died of pneumonia within a few weeks of each other. This sudden and sweeping blow had undoubtedly its effect in weakening the life-tenure which had always seemed so strong and tenacious in her physical constitution. This soon revealed itself in a slight attack of the same disease while on a visit to her niece, Mrs. A. M. Chapman, at Ridgeland, near Chicago, where she was accustomed to make her home chiefly when away from Rockford. She, however, rallied from the attack, and seemed to be regaining her health and strength. But these repeated loosenings of the roots and sunderings of the fibers and ties that held her to the earth were followed by one still nearer and more deeply felt. In the family of this niece, who had ever been to her as a daughter, and for whom she felt and exercised a mother's care, was a darling boy of four years, a namesake, who was a special favorite, and whose bright intelligence and ardent affection drew forth in large measure the child-love and child-care which had been the element and inspiration of her life. While recovering from her illness, and just as she was beginning to be herself again, this child sickened and died. A blow so crushing to her affection and hopes, and so overwhelming to the heart-broken mother and invalid father, could only add to the burden of sympathy and physical ministration already as great as she could bear, and she very soon began to sink under the weight. By the advice of her physician, about the middle of May, she returned to Rockford and to her rooms in the Seminary. But the springs of life were already ebbing, and there was not strength or supply enough to fill them again. Still she maintained her usual calm and cheerful demeanor, and hope was dominant to the last. She rode out a few times at the invitation of friends, and moved about the halls with her accustomed freedom, speaking words of cheer to all who greeted her ; but her step was slow and her voice had lost the resonant vigor and blitheness of its tone.
On 'Founder's Day," June 11th, she kept her room, and did not go to the Chapel for the evening exercises, but instead retired early to bed, from which she never rose again.
The physicians saw from the first, that there was little hope of recovery. The disease which had before yielded to remedies and a remarkably strong constitution, now returned with renewed force to prey on her already exhausted vital energies. She spoke little during her illness of eight days. She seemed strongly desirous of recovery, and repeatedly inquired of her physician what was his view of her cake. When told of its probably fatal termination, she received it calmly and silently. She gave no directions concerning her funeral or other temporal matters, and sought no opportunity to speak any `last words.' She felt, probably, that her work was done, and her last words were already spoken ; and she desired only stillness and peace for her last communings with God and her own soul, before going forth to meet the invisible and eternal.
She died calmly and peacefully, about 7 o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, June 18th, but a week before the Anniversary or 'Commencement,' as it was indeed to her —close of the temporal and beginning of the eternal life—with the 'innocent brightness of a new born day,' and the sweetness of the summer air without, and the brightness and fragrance of young, hopeful hearts around her. Not otherwise, or elsewhere, could she have wished to die, if the time and place had been given her to choose.
The funeral was held in the Seminary Chapel, on Thursday, June 20th, at 10% o'clock. A vacant chair with a wreath of white flowers upon the back, stood upon the platform ; and below lay the casket, on which rested two large sago palms, emblamatic of victory. The introductory services were conducted by the Rev. Walter M. Bar-sows, pastor of the Second Congregational Church ; the sermon was preached by the Rev. H. M. Goodwin, her former pastor, for twenty years ; and the funeral prayer was offered by the Rev. W. W. Leete, pastor of the First Congregational Church.
The body was interred in the West Side Cemetery in a grave profusely lined with flowers and evergreens which beautifully symbolized the sweet fragrance and perennial greenness of her memory. While the clouds, that had wept throughout the morning, suspended their falling drops, Miss Sill's favorite hymn was sung above the open grave by voices that had often joined with her's in the Seminary Chapel :
Father, whate'er of earthly bliss Thy sovreign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne of grace Let this petition rise;
Give me a calm, a thankful heart, From every murmur free;
The blessings of Thy grace impart, And make me live to Thee,
Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine, My life and death attend ;
Thy presence through my journey shine, And crown my journey's end.
Thus lived and died one of the consecrated ones whose work on earth still lives only as it is part of that Divine work and plan which extends beyond our sight and comprehension, and into whose larger .unfolding she has joyfully entered. H. M. G,
Julie 18th, 1889.
IMMEDIATELY after Miss Sill's death, the following card was issued and sent to the Alumnae and friends of the Seminary, expressive of the feeling of the Principal, which reflected those of the other teachers and the entire community, in view of this bereavement :
ALUMNAE AND FRIENDS OF ROCKFORD SEMINARY :
After her long and useful life, our honored friend, ANNA P. SILL, has gone from us. At the Seminary, in the room so dear to her by many associations reaching back forty years, she entered upon that part of her life which though hidden from us, will go on through the eternal years.
Miss Sill died at half-past six o'clock Tuesday morning, June eighteenth, and will be buried from the Seminary Chapel on Thursday morning, June twentieth, at half-past ten o'clock.
Although having laid down her duties at the Seminary five years ago, she has since been an ever welcome guest with us, and with her saintly and dignified presence has been an inspiration to teachers and students alike. Her interest in the Seminary has never waned, and her prayers and efforts are a part of our richest inheritance.
It has been a beautiful ending of her life, that her death should be here where her work has been. She has gone to her rest and her works do follow her. "Whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it." "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament ; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever."ANNA B. GELSI'ON,
Principal Rockford Seminary.
REV. HENRY. M. GOODWIN.
" And I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors ; and their works do follow them."—Itay. xiv:13.
HIS voice from heaven—how it hushes all human voices, silences all questionings and murmurings of human reason or of human sorrow, as all the noises of earth die in the calm and infinite depths of ether. Let us listen, my friends, to this voice, spoken anew to us to-day, and written, as it were, in marble on these pale and moveless features.
We all know something of the comfort and refreshment of rest, little of it as there is in this busy and restless world, especially in this fast and breathless age. But its full blessedness, its deep and calm and infinite repose, is given not to the living, but to the dead—who die in the Lord.
We all know the necessity, and something of the rewards of labor ; for life is one long day of labor and toil. The world rings with the incessant strokes of the hammer on its million anvils, and trembles with the jar of its ceaseless mills and factories, its impetuous and on-rushing trains. The world's history is a history of toil, of struggle and endeavor, often defeated, sometimes rewarded, but never ended. All' of good we possess in our high and complex civilization, is the fruit of persistent human labor and achievement. Hence, we are very apt to magnify work, as if it were the only good. We do not often think of the relation between labor and rest, and how much greater, proportionally, the latter is than the former. Consider the momentous fact, that of all the countless millions that have lived on the. earth since the beginning, the greater part have passed away into silence and oblivion, and only a small proportion are still alive. Not the `toiling millions,' as we often hear, but the sleeping millions, form the great majority of mankind. They lived their little day, wrought their great or little works, and now rest from their labors ; and their works, whether great or little, good or evil, do follow them.
Of the only perfect life ever lived in this world, thirty years were passed in silence and obscurity, amid the restful scenes that surrounded his humble home at Nazareth ; and only three of these years in public ministrations. Yet the work of those three years, with what lay behind and within them, has revolutionized human history and redeemed and new created the world, showing that it is not the duration or the quantity, but the quality of the life and work that counts in the divine arithmetic. The relation of rest to labor and its proportion in the divine plan, may be seen in the ordering of nature in reference to our earthly life. On an average, only half of each day of twenty-four hours, does the light permit man or nature to work. Night duly remands nature to repose, and man to slumber, reminding us continually of the solemn admonition to work while it is day, since the night cometh when no man can work.
Rest is not, as we often imagine, a mere cessation or interruption of work, a necessity owing to the frailty and weakness of our human nature. Rather is it the complement of labor, and so necessary to its perfection. It is like the background of mountains in a landscape, o r shading in a picture, giving relief and balance and support to the whole. Or it is like night completing and rounding in with its arc of darkness the circle of the day; opening also deep vistas into other worlds not seen in the garish and blinding light of the sun. " Our little life," says the poet, is "rounded with a sleep,"—as an island is rounded with the ocean, or the earth with immensity.
Work without rest is weariness and bondage, as rest without work is idleness and sin. And so God has graciously mingled both in our daily and weekly life, giving us in nature a law of alternation necessitating physical repose, and in grace a moral and Sabbatical law requiring voluntary rest, with the sanction of His own example of rest from the work of creation, and furnishing a type of the heavenly rest into which all who die in the Lord have already entered.
The rest of Heaven, while it is rest from labor, is not a cessation of activity, but a serene, joyous and restful activity, in contrast with that which we call labor, which wearies and harrasses mind and body with its servitude. Would you see a type of it in nature? Look up into the blue sky on some clear day in summer, and see the depth of peace and rest that is imaged there. The discordant noises of this world all die and are buried in its vast silence. The smoke and dust that so often pollutes our atmosphere, cannot reach or stain its azure purity; while the mists and vapors that obscure our vision here are converted there into floating tabernacles and pavillions of the light. And this over-arching sky, so calm and deep and pure, which enfolds the earth and all things upon it in its all-embracing arms, is the fitting symbol of Heaven and of that peace of God in which the soul rests from its labors. Contrast the noises, the bustle and confusion of a great city, with the silence and repose of nature-
" The silence that is in the starry sky, The sleep that is among the lonely hills,
and learn the difference between man's labor and God's rest.
This rest, too, is faintly symbolized in the peaceful home and cheerful fireside to which the tired laborer returns at evening. "Man goeth forth to his work and to his labor until the evening; but with evening comes rest from labor, yet not from all activity, still less from conscious joy and the delights of home and social communion. The hands rest from toil, but the heart and soul awakes to.a higher activity, and a purer and serener joy. Sleep brings rest and repose to the body, but is not needed for the soul. So when God giveth His beloved sleep, it is not the sleep of unconsciousness, but that higher repose of which this is but a symbol. The body sleeps in the grave. but the soul rests in the bosom of God, and partakes of His divine joy and peace and blessedness.
As Jesus once called his disciples away from the distractions and tumult of the thronging multitudes, and said to them, " come ye apart into a desert place (or more properly into the country, away from the crowded town,) and rest awhile," so with like compassionate sympathy, he says to the life-wearied and world-worn toiler, Come up up hither and rest from your labors. In my Father's house are many mansions—homes forthe lonely and weary ones—gardens and paradises of delight, more beautiful than the lost Eden, where you may rest or walk or run, and not be weary. There is society, more select and perfect, delights and entertainments more ravishing, employments more high and satisfying, and objects of beauty inure glorious than any which this earth can give. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
These thoughts, suggested by our Scripture, I have presented for the comfort and strengthening of our hearts in this hour of sorrow, when the too sensible presence and image of death hide from us its real meaning, and those eternal and blessed realities that lie beyond. We need to lift our thoughts and our low estimates of things from the seen to the unseen, to have them toned and chastened-, enlarged and purified by communion with God's thoughts. We need to correct our measurements of time by the horologue of eternity. Then will "Our noisy years seem moments in the being of the eternal silence."
With this dim yet comforting glimpse of the rest into which our sister has entered, let us now turn our view earthward and timeward to the works that do follow her, as her reward and our memorial.
A just estimate of the work that Miss Sill has accomplished would involve a full history of the Seminary of which she was practically the founder, and for so many years the honored Principal, and with which the greater part of her life is identified. This is her monument ; with this her name and memory will be inseparably associated, as the name of Mary Lyon is associated with Mt. Holyoke, its New England prototype.
Only a brief outline of this her life work can be here attempted, and that only so far as it may serve to illustrate her character.
The work of Miss Sill in connection with Rockford Female Seminary was twofold, requiring a twofold, or rather manifold endowment of character. First—The outward and visible work of organizing, building up and establishing the Seminary on a solid and permanent basis. Secondly—The invisible, moral and spiritual work of teaching, of training and moulding the mind and character of the pupils. Few are endowed with the qualities requisite for both these kinds of work—with the executive and administrative ability needful for the first, and the intellectual and moral endowments necessary for the second. In both these, however, Miss Sill was preeminently able and successful. None but thOse who have witnessed or borne part in the first beginnings of a College or Seminary in a new western community, without endowment and with few friends or patrons, can appreciate the difficulties of the enterprise, and only such can rightly estimate the qualities of mind and heart able to meet and overcome them.
Endowed with an energy of will that rose superior to all obstacles, a resoluteness of purpose which no difficulties could daunt, and a faith that could remove mountains, and above all and under all and through all as an illuminating and guiding light, an ideal of the end to be attained, Miss Sill entered on the work of building Rockford Female Seminary at a time when female education of a high order was almost a novelty ; before Vassar or Smith or Wellesley Colleges existed even in thought, and when the felt need of such an institution, as well as the means of building it, had in one sense to be created. True, the idea had been born, or rather conceived, simultaneously with that of Beloit College, as a twin-sister of that noble institution ; but the embodiment of this idea in visible and tangible form, its nurture and growth as a living thing, had all to be undertaken and carried on, without resources, and almost without precedent, by the wisdom and energy, the faith and patience and perseverance of one woman. How it was done, at least the outward results, the records and history of the institution will show. How it was really done, through what heart-struggles of prayer and purpose, of trial and perplexity, of long conflict and final victory, only the inward history of a heart and life can reveal. On her devolved not only the administration of its internal affairs, the providing of teachers and the entire discipline of the school, but largely the securing of means to carry on the enterprise. In her was found not only wisdom to devise what was needed and resolution to undertake it, but ability also to inspire faith and courage in others to accomplish what she had devised.
For years she was the animating soul, the organizing force, the controlling mind and will of the institution. When means and resources failed, and others were discouraged, she was never disheartened, but bravely put forth new exertions, devising new measures, and resolutely pushing the enterprise along the upward grade her skillful and engineering mind had laid for it.
Thus slowly, step by step, and year by year, the institution grew. One by one, new buildings were erected, planned by her thought and filled largely through her influence; and into their walls, as well as into the character of the pupils, her own life and character was builded.
Her work as a teacher, and the influence she exerted over the mind and character of her pupils was no less remarkable and successful. In this work and influence several characteristic qualities may be mentioned.
First, a pure and ardent love of knowledge, of knowledge for its own sake and in all its departments. I remember once hearing her say that she was not conscious of any preference of one science above another. All knowledge and all truth was attractive, satisfied a want and craving in her ever open and inquisitive mind. United with this was a deep and strong sympathy with the minds of her pupils in all their varied characters and experiences and a sympathy no less with their trials and difficulties. A bond of attachment was thus formed between teacher and pupil, deeper than intellectual, sympathy or that which mere instruction creates, which knit the heart of one to the other in a spiritual union.
Noticeable also, was the maternal element or feeling which embraced all her pupils in an impartial love. The motherly care and tenderness with which she brooded over her numerous charge often reminded one of the scriptural simile, "As a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings." And if any of her brood escaped her shelter and protection it was not for want of love, but because the wings were not large enough to cover them all.
I must not omit to mention her supreme regard to the spiritual and religious welfare of her pupils. This was the one essential point of culture to which all others were secondary ; rightly deeming a true education to be a culture of the heart as well as of the intellect, and that faith in Christ and obedience to His commands, is the foundation of all right and pure and noble character. Hence, the Bible was made a text-book out of which lessons were daily learned, and its truths and principles enforced both by precept and example. As a consequence, nearly all her pupils were disciples in the school of Christ, or became such through her influence and tender personal counsel.
I well remember the groups of young ladies led by her successively from successive classes to the altar of the Church to which I ministered and of which she was a member, and what strength and beauty was thereby added to it ; also what sympathy and encouragement was given to the pastor by her faithful ministrations in every good word and work. A devoted missionary spirit was also fostered and maintained, and not a few went forth from the Seminary to labor, and some to die, on foreign and heathen shores.
If now it be asked what was the secret of Miss Sill's character and the source of her peculiar power and influence, many answers might be given according to what is deemed most essential and central in her character.
I have spoken of her executive energy and will power as conspicuous in her life and work. This does not imply that her power resided or had its source in her will ; for a, strong will, if it be not mere wilfulness, is the energy of a great soul inspired by a lofty idea and purpose, and sustained and reinforced by the spirit of God, the only true source of all spiritual power. Hence, those of the greatest and loftiest faith, have the strongest and most indomitable will, able to do and endure more than ordinary persons, though they be the gentlest and humblest of men, because this will is -sustained and strengthened by divine springs, and so partakes of the divine power.
This soul power in Miss Sill, was expressed in the glow of her countenance, the thrilling yet gentle tones of her voice, the fervor and force of her words and the enthusiasm of her whole being. You felt at once that here was one alive all through and all over, and able to quicken life in all minds capable of being quickened. Here is the great secret not only of the true teacher, but of the poet, the artist, the orator and the actor; of all who see into the truth and heart of things, not through the understanding, or by means of words and notions and abstractions, but by the insight of a quick imagination and a living soul.
The secret of her power as a teacher lay in her personal power and influence; in the outflow of her spirit and character, and its inflow into the mind and heart of those open to receive it. True education is alWays largely a personal matter between teacher and pupil—not the mere reception of truth or ideas, or the storing of the mind with knowledge, as a dead mechanical thing, but the eliciting or drawing out (e-duco) of thought by the attracting, stimulating and inspiring power of another mind, wiser or stronger or better than itself.
This personal power or the power of inspiration which belongs to genius, was in Miss Sill inseparable from the moral power seated in the conscience and heart. Loyalty to duty, as it was given her to see it, consecration and steadfast fidelity to the work given her to do, this seemed to be the law of her life and character, and in the light of this principle all her acts and duties were performed. With such a purpose steadily pursued, with such a difficult work and such manifold and often incongruous and intractible elements to deal with, it could not be but that criticisms would arise and harsh judgments be formed and sometimes uttered ; and, moreover, even such awoman had her weaknesses and imperfections, because she was human. If sometimes she was more tenacious of forms and precise technical rules of conduct than some would deem necessary, it was the tenacity of a conscience wholly set in the way of right, and fearing to let down the high standard of duty to which she clung. If her method of discipline sometimes was more of a legal than a Spiritual order, and followed the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the gospel, it was because the law of duty was supreme, and and must be enforced outwardly by precept and commandment until it becomes an inward law of the heart. If she sometimes seemed actuated by policy and expediency, leading to management instead of simplicity in the attainment of ends, it was the wisdom of the serpent, which if not the highest wisdom is often as needful in this world as the harmlessness of the dove, and without which the highest aims and the purest and best endeavors would fail by being impracticable. That she recognized and owned a wisdom higher than expediency, and obeyed a law more supreme than policy, is evinced by the maxim often heard from her lips—" Duty is ours, results are God's."
One of the best proofs of her high and sterling excellence of character, and one most grateful to herself, was the devotion and the lasting reverence and affection of her pupils. However they may have esteemed her when , under her instruction, after graduation,their esteem ripened into reverence and love. And this love came back to her from far and near, wherever in the wide world they might be scattered, and settled as a crown of glory upon her head.
The Alumnae reunions at Chicago have become a classic custom, next to the Rockford anniversary itself; and now that that revered head, that serene and lofty brow is laid low and she will meet no more her beloved family at the festal board, how will memory run back and retrace with tearful eyes each overgrown path leading to this ' Alma Mater,' in a twofold sense, and seek to recover and keep as a sacred treasure each word of wisdom, each look of love and benediction that fell from the beloved teacher, and hasten to cast the tribute of homage and affection upon her grave.
I feel, my friends, that I have discharged very imperfectly the sacred duty and honorable privilege assigned me. Called suddenly and without time for the preparation suitable for such an occasion, I have spoken but poor and feeble words. May I trust to your clemency and loving kindness, so often experienced ; especially let me trust to your love and knowledge of the deceased, to correct what is amiss, and to fill up what is behind in my utterances.
After all, my friends, what are human words, even the best and most eloquent, to express the loss and the gain, the worth and the meaning of such a life ; the rest into which she has entered, and the works that do surely follow her? Calm and speechless meditation, 'when in the sessions of sweet silent thought,' we remember our beloved dead ; feeling, too deep for utterance or tears, and almost for thought; the infinite silences of the grave and eternity, unbroken save by God's whisper in the soul, or the voice that John heard from Heaven in the lonely isle of Patmos —these are fitted for an occasion like this. Truly, " Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." Her children rise up and call her blessed—blessed in her life, more blessed in her death ; blessed in her labors, more blessed in her rest from labor ; and most blessed in the works that do follow her in shining troops of minds enlightened and cultured, of hearts enlarged and sanctified, of characters regenerated and saved—all coming to crown her as the mother of their peace and joy.
I cannot close without a recognition of the kindly Providence of God in the time and place of her death. What place so sacred and so fitting in which to die, as here, in this sanctuary of her own room where she had so often communed with God in prayer ; amidst these quiet, rural shades, where she had often heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day ; and where the angels of God had met her and brought strength to her fainting heart when sinking under its burdens. And if we saw them not as they descended to receive her parting soul, they were visible to her enraptured vision, and she went forth gladly with them along and up' the shining pathway of the skies.
What time, too, so fitting as this anniversary season, when the brightness and beauty of summer is in the air and over all the earth, and the gladness of youthful enthusiasm is in all hearts; this coronal season which she had so often graced and honored with her presence and her benedictions?
What time so fitting for her departure from the scene of her labors to receive the honors and rewards of her long and faithful service?
This event comes not as a shadow to darken and throw a gloom over this festal season, but as an aureole to hallow and glorify it, and shed over its festivities the sanctity of a celestial light and joy. Henceforth the presiding spirit and genius of the place will be not a visible presence but a guardian angel, whose benediction will be felt, not heard, and whose name will live not only in these halls and rustic walks, and not alone in the marble monument that shall cover her grave, but in the hearts and memories of her children and her children's children to the latest generation.
Exercises at the Alumnae Reunion
At the close of the Commencement exercises on -Wednesday, June 26th, the Almnille reunion was held in Sill Hall, where the usual dinner was provided, at which a large number of the Alumme, drawn to their Alma Mater by this tender and cementing bond of sympathy in her sorrow, assembled, to dwell on sacred memories and associations made more vividly present by the absence of the revered one about whom they clustered.
After the dinner, Mrs. Mabel Walker Herrick, President of the Alumnus Association, introduced Mrs. Caroline Brazee, who had been invited to take charge of the memorial exercises.
Address of Mrs. Brazee
It is more than twenty years since this Association was organized; we, the members, have come and gone, sometimes here, sometimes elsewhere, when the day came around for the annual meeting. I doubt if any one of us has been present at all these gatherings. But until today all were sure of the presence, in this assembly, of her who organized and set us at work as an Association. Sitting at the head of our table she called for the divine blessing upon us and all our undertakings ; her words lifted our hearts in thankfulness. To-day, we miss her face, we miss her words and we are very lonely. We lack in ourselves that force and power of life which would help us to rise above these earthly changes—we are sad.
We will wait here a few moments where she was wont to gather with us, hoping to say to each other such words as shall fix our thoughts not upon ourselves but upon her life—a life whose work has been completed and crowned.
Do we realize what a privilege we have to-day, that of contemplating a crowned life?. Most workers who live even the alloted three score years and ten, pass over to the other side leaving much unfinished, little of results which they can see and from which they can gain satisfaction. Our revered friend had the exceedingly rare privilege of seeing her work a success, of knowing she had builded like an immortal. We hold a memorial service to-day, but if sad at all it is because we bring ourselves into it.
I have often thought, both now and in past years, how much life has been converted into what we call this Institution. " Whosoever will lose his life shall save it." Oftentimes this losing, or giving of life is not a conscious act of the giver.
We say justly that the woman whom we delight to honor founded this Institution, and by her peculiar abilities as a pioneer, she led it up nearly to where it now stands. With pride we mention notable acts of self-sacrifice and energy; we recall what she did toward raising money, her efforts to call in pupils, to maintain a corps of teachers, and in many other directions by which a school is bud up and sustained. But the Institution is something more than these things. You may throw down these walls so that not one stone shall lie upon another, you may scatter her art-stores, her library, her furniture to the winds ; you may send her pupils far and wide into other halls of learning; you may set each teacher at work a thousand miles from this spot, still there will exist in the world Rockford Seminary.
It is many years since, being then a teacher here myself, I knew and felt the power of the Institution, recognized it as a spiritual entity, a power that must be everlasting.
It is a correlation of forces derived from the lives which have been given here. Each of us, sisters of the Alummae,is a part of this life. Do the three or six years which you and I gave to hard study here count for nothing except toward
our individual development?- I believe there was a residue of life-force left by us and experienced by each and all who came after us. Each teacher and each pupil has given some life toward this other life or force which we name the Institution. The strong life, the self-devoted life, the entire life which Miss Sill gave to the school makes her share in the Institution greater than any of ours. She gave it tone, and form, and character, but we must not forget nor ignore our own share in it. It is difficult in words to realize
the actual existence of this force which is simply a spiritual entity. It exists in and with this school; but, again I say,if it were possible to destroy the school, still the Institution must forever remain a power. She who held the largest share in the Institution gave it to us. Do you not remember how she said many times, " My dear children of the Alumnue, this Institution is yours : in the future, it must be what you make it."
Dear Miss Gelston, permit me a word to you personally. Last year you came among us a stranger; by faith we reached out to you our hands, we elected you a member of our Association, called you one of us. During these last few weeks, your acts of love, of tender reverent care have made you dear to each of us. What more could all the Alumnae have done, that you have not done, to soothe and comfort the slow descending steps of our loved and honored friend as she passed through the valley of death and entered the other life? I know I speak for all our hearts when I call you to-day one of our very selves, a true Alumna, daughter of our cherishing mother, and we here pledge to you our support as you and we go forward still building this Institution. We shall gather fresh courage for this work while we sit here and recall some of the efforts, some of the results of our leader's life.
Mrs. Marie Thompson Perry will speak of Miss Sill as a teacher.
Address of Mrs. Marie Thompson Perry
When the final chapter of a noble life is written, and a great soul has left its tenement of clay, the completed work and the one who wrought it, rise before us, with a dignity and a grandeur hitherto unestimated.
We may give loyalty and reverence in life, but not until after death, does the clear light of transfiguration, fully reveal the true symmetry of proportion and the majestic scope of the finished whole.
We come to-day as daughters to pay a loving tribute to one who in our early, formative years, moved the very springs of our character and action, whose potent influence gave direction to our lines of thought; whose words and precepts like seeds, sinking deep into our hearts, have sprung up and borne that which the world recognizes as the noblest fruitage of our lives.
With her wondrous endowment of head and heart, and an indomitable will, she set up her standard in the wilderness, and with a courage that knew no faltering, a vigilance that was ceaseless, patiently, hopefully, prayerfully, wrought out the dream of her life—the school of her love.
How well she builded, He alone knows, who sees the full magnitude of her work : we can only estimate it, by considering what would have been the effect upon our lives, our city and the world as known to us, had her work been left undone.
If in search for the secret of her success, we shall find it in her single-hearted, untiring devotion to one great cause, in the giving of her till even as a candle gives forth itself in light ; and as we walk among these dear old places, hallowed by her prayers and love, this thought is inseperable from them—"A life has been builded into these walls," and they will henceforth be eloquent to us of heroic courage, _ grand endeavor and the "faith that can remove mountains."
We used to smile at her oft repeated truisms, but they have moulded and shaped us. Her "Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well," has many a time and oft redeemed our work, as under its persistent lashing, we have with painstaking, wearily retraced each careless step ; trite and common as it is, it has been the secret of whatever success we may have won. .
That plain, straight-forward, character-making assertion that "We are what our most cherished thoughts make us," has penetrated and renewed many a life to its very care; and urged it forward toward the ideal ever just beyond. Her strength as a teacher lay not in text-book lore and the ability to communicate it to others, but rather in the spirit she infused into her pupils.
She planted in them the deep conviction that true education was a5life growth, for whose strength and vigor each one was responsible ; and this thought "like the root in the rifted rock,' was so firmly set, that adverse winds and limitations of circumstances only served to deepen it in the hearts of her girls. Find them wherever you may, with few, if indeed any exceptions, they are growing as best they can—pushing out a lateral branch here, shooting up a terminal bud there, onward and upward—forward, not backward.
Her power over her pupils was rare and marvelous.
Day after day, by word, look and act, she forged the unseen chain that at last she riveted around them. The
impatience of youth might seek to shake it off and break it ; the pleasures of life and the dictum of the world might strive to undo its fastenings, but sooner or later, disloyal legions would wheel into line and do valiant service in the cause of truth and right. It was beautiful and fitting that she should die where she had lived and toiled so long, and as she sat serene and calm in the parlor we all know so well, the shadows of the evening of life fell softly around her and her spirit made ready for its flight.
Yet, in these days of weakness, we may measure her strength and it is not too much to say that her influence belts the earth ; for it stirs in the heart of China, lives and thrills in the new life in Japan, does Zenana work in India, seeks to lighten the darkness of Persia, Turkey and the isles of the sea, dwells in England, France and Germany, and stretches across our own beloved land from north to south and from ocean to ocean.
Gently, as one resting after the labor of the day is over, she fell asleep ; the heart that beat so long and lovingly for us was stilled, the shapely hands with their slender white fingers were folded over a finished work, and with palm branch, lilies and roses we reverently laid away the beloved form. Then rest thee, brave true spirit of courage and power, where thy peace floweth as a river amid the raptures of Heaven ! Thy long labor of love is over, thy work is done, and as the many thou hast uplifted and blessed come thronging home to meet thee where the great white rose of Paradise blooms, how will the living light leap along the jewels in thy crown as we stand with thee among the splendors of our God !
MRS. BRAZEE.—Mrs. Eva Townsend Clark will recall some traits in the woman's life which Miss Sill maintained running under and inspiring her whole public career.
Address of Mrs. Eva Townsend Clark
DEAR FRIENDS :
We have met to-day, almost as around a communion table, to eat and drink together in remembrance of one who is gone, in memory of a worn an—the secret of whose power we would gladly know, the potency of whose influence we wish we could make our own. There is nothing so great, says Emerson, as a great soul, and this memory of ours is of a great nature greatly consecrated.
Devotion to the ideal, to a hope, a dream, a thought, is harder for a woman than a man—but some women have attained it. With Deborah, her Israel ; With Joan of Arc, France; with Florence Nightingale and Dorothea Fry, the visitation of those sick and in prison; with Mary Lyon, Zillah Grant Bannister and Anna P. Sill, the education of woman, proved the animating thought, the quickening power of glorious living..
Devotion to the ideal is harder for the woman than the man, but the very thought of womanhood supposes a supreme devotion, hence marriage and motherhood ; for God knew us women, and how hard for most of us without these sweetly compelling ties would it be to live in another atmosphere than the stifling one of self. But what are marriage and motherhood but types dimly shadowing a supreme consecration and helpfulness, to which some day, somewhere, all women shall attain—which some without them, have already reached. It was the maid Minerva whom both Greek and Roman worshiped ; it is the Virgin Mother whom the Mother Church adores—but both wholly consecrate, the one to wisdom, the other to her Son, both reproduced and living in the life of others. For every true woman is a wife and mother though lover's love be cold and meaningless to her, though she never know birth throe or labor pang. Some thought she must espouse, though it bring no endowment of worldly goods, must love and cherish and obey, through life and death: some child of heart or soul or brain must bring with travail-pain into this unintelligible world, must shelter in strong arms, must nourish at full breasts.
What supreme consecration was that of our dear dead we know full well, but her zeal was never fanatical. Her life was symmetrical, rounded, developed on all sides ; "every duty seemed a privilege, every obligation an opportunity." From the days in the first flush of early womanhood,
"When all her hope and all her pride, Were in her village school,"
to those later ones when she knew " her lines had gone out into all the earth, and her influence unto the ends thereof," she never forgot that while a teacher, she was yet a woman, and owed womanly duty to society, the church, the world,
Some of us like to remember that she never failed in the external ladyhood. Burdened with a thousand responsibilities, perpetually giving out of her small salary, she was yet always beautifully and appropriately dressed from a wardrobe which though far from elaborate, was in its least detail finished as exquisitely as a bride's. Strength and honor were the garments of her soul, and her outward adorning shadowed them forth.
Those who knew her in early days, when the little prairie town greatly needed such formative influence, well remember what a social power she was; how her presence at church and prayer service was an unfailing inspiration to her pastor, and how skillful an organizer and leader she proved in any undertaking she entered upon.
The interest in missions so characteristic of her was by no means fostered merely by the knowledge that such an interest is greatly educative, and was of inestimable value to her students, but grew naturally from her worldwide sympathies, and from that " enthusiasm of humanity" which always possessed her, and, when at last, her long service ended, she laid down her work, with what marvelous adaptability she entered household life for the first time in many years, and proved herself the ever ready helper, the nobly tender friend of childhood, the thoughtful nurse and care-taker, and ah 1 supreme test of character, the ever gracious and graceful guest in that large household where for five and thirty years her will was law, her word control. To Rockford Seminary, home of her heart, to her own dear and sacred rooms, she often came to read, to rest, to write, to enjoy the bright young life about her, but never once to pass a word of criticism or of interference with methods which could not be her own.
What a record is this, and how great the woman of whom it can be truly written! Age, which seemed to increase her personal attractiveness, adding stateliness and grace to her dignity, and gentleness to her fine decided face, served also to render her increasingly hospitable to new thought and ideas variant from her own.
She never lost her eager love of knowledge, and in later years gave much of her scant leisure to study of the history of Art. She was fond of travel, and an eagerly anticipated guest in many homes from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, but latterly had postponed any long journey until her little Robert should be older. Ah ! she has gone on the fairest journey of all, and the little child she loved so well is with her forever.
In such a life, the human imperfection was like the mole upon her cheek, marking the grandeur of her general character as did that the rose-leaf quality of a complexion which at sixty-five an observant physician declared more delicate than that of any student in the institution.
But noble as was her life, it was no nobler than her death. With utter lack of self-consciousness, thinking only of others to the last, never even asking whether she was to live or die, simply and humbly as a little child, she passed on into the other life.
In that city whose streets the sea doth pave, and whose palaces still speak of centuries of splendor, there hangs that masterpiece of Titian before which women will kneel in wondering awe and adoration as long as line or tint of it remains And well they may! It is the apotheosis of womanhood. From many a shadowy niche and dusky wall smiles down upon you the fair girl to whom the angel brings Annunciation lilies, or the tender mother with her Babe. Often you find Our Lady of Sorrows fainting before the cross ; sometimes the glorious Bride of the Apocalypse clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars ; but only there in Venice, the simple mortal woman, who puts on immortality; mother of God perhaps, but surely your mother and mine. She is no longer young. She has known life and what it brings to a woman through all its glad, sad range ; she has known life, and death, and without one thought of self, of good or ill desert, but only of the love to which she goes, enters into the ineffable beyond. Beneath stand the disciples around her empty rose-crowned tomb ; but they heed it not, rapt and hushed they behold the heavenly vision.
So, to-day, dear friends, meeting as it were around a grave, the grave of our Virgin Mother, crowned with roses, and with the palm of victory, may we know that it is empty. She is risen, and on us women, on our various work and way, may "light from her celestial garments stream."
MRS. BRAZEE.—There are in this room to-day, two who were little girls forty years ago, and who on that bright June morning were present when Miss Sill began the school which has now become Rockford Seminary. We two, remember the kindly words of wisdom, the gentle counsels with which she strove to guide us in those early days and to give us watch-words for after years. Her care did not cease when her pupils left the school. First and last she was ever the same. Miss Olmstead, of the class of 1889, told me of her last conversation with Miss Sill, and she has kindly consented to rehearse what are like last words to us.
Address of Miss Adelaide M. Olmstead
I feel my inability to fulfill the task before me, yet in behalf of the class of '89, I am glad to add our testimonymto the already overflowing tribute, paid to one, whose memory will ever be held in reverence and love, by all with whom she came in contact. During our years here, Miss Sill has often been among us, and though we never—knew her as a teacher, her kindly face and cordial greetings have ever been an inspiration. We feel grateful for the interest she took in us, who cannot claim the dear relationship of pupil. We always found a warm welcome when ever we entered her room, and her calls upon us were esteemed a rare favor.
On one such occasion, but a few months ago, I was especially impressed with her gentle words of advice, and as she left my room, I wrote down a few sentences on the fly leaf of the book I was studying, thinking to preserve them as a memento of my senior year, not dreaming that they would be her last words to me. I can think of no more fitting tribute than to give these few words of her own, even though they lose half their force when separated from her quaint expression, and the loving spirit which shone from her face. She appeared to me the very embodiment of the thought which she told me had been the Seminary
motto since its start :—"Decus et Veritas,"—" Grace and Truth."
The three brief sentences with which our talk may be summed up, seem to me a key to the inner life of the one who spoke them.
"Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it."
" What the Lord wants you to do, He will give you power to do."
"Let His spirit be in you, andHe will direct you."
A halo rests upon the silver hair and lights up the soft bright eyes of one whose memory will rest upon the class of '89, as a sweet and solemn benediction.
MRS. BRAZEE.—Though dead she lives evermore. Miss Lathrop will turn our thoughts into that broader life where as guardian angel she may still serve us, her pupils, and this Institution.
MRS. BRAZEE—We will sing "Blest be the tie that binds," and go forth to duty.
Address of Mrs. Martha C. Lathrop
Miss Sill as a woman, and as a teacher commands our admiration and respect. The responsible position assigned her in life, she filled with highest credit, by unselfishly yielding all her powers for the well being of others. In her work and in the familiar intercourse of daily life, her aim was to make manifest whatever of good there was and to give opportunity for the fullest development of true character in those who came under her influence.
She has passed beyond the range of mortal eye, but she is present to the inner vision. And now it is not the erect form and kindly eye that attract and hold us, it is the stronger power of the pure and noble spirit which can never die.
On the walls of a far oriental home hangs her pictured face, and often has it proved an inspiration to faltering courage, stimulating to more earnest, persevering effort. For who that looked at that face remembering the character behind it, the struggles undergone, could think of yielding while power of resistence lasted. She fills this, her home, to-day and will continue here an inspiration and a benediction, and not here alone will her presence be felt, for who shall say that her freed spirit has not wider range and more exalted service from the Master in influencing the hearts and lives of those still this side the veil, engaged in the warfare against ignorance and evil. We who knew her best, realize something of the breadth of her sympathies, and one has well said : "A thousand million lives are his who carries the world in his sympathies."
Sisters, friends,—earnest consecrated lives such as hers, are appreciated, and from north and south, east and west, multitudes to-day rise to call her blessed.
From the many letters received from absent members the following are selected as voicing a common tribute:
MINNEAPOLIS, June 24, 1889. To the Alumnae Association of Rockford Seminary :—
A thrill of sorrow has touched all our hearts with the sad message that comes to us from Alma Mater. Can it be that we are invited to Rockford Seminary, but not to meet our dear Miss Sill! Whether our school days closed in the sixties or the eighties, our fond memories cluster about her, and find common ground.
We mourn with you, and would let our tears mingle with yours, as you gather on Wednesday to offer loving tribute to the memory of her whose sweet presence you had expected in your midst.
How fitting that she should go from the school home she loved so well, to the other home, still dearer to her heart. A real Commencement, and yet hardly that, just an enlarging and expanding of the life she has lived so long. " There is no Death I what seems so is transition."
May we all treasure her counsels and the lessons of her life, and let her influence flow on through us into all the channels in which our life currents lie, and it shall indeed be true that " she being dead, yet speaketh."
Yours in behalf of the Association of the Northwest,
GERTRUDE E. FOSTER, Vice President. 720 First Ave., S.,
MINNEAPOLIS, MINN., June 22, 1889. DEAR MISS GELSTON:-
It was a kind thought to at once notify the Alumna) and friends of Rockford Seminary, that our beloved Miss Sill has gone home.
An invitation to attend the memorial services after the annual lunch, June 26th, is just at hand. Will you kindly express to the Alummae Association my regret that I cannot be present.
To me, Miss Sill was more than a beloved Principal and teacher, she was a dear and honored friend; and so I doubly mourn her loss. But to her it is the entering into the joy of her Lord, and I rejoice that she has this blessedness.
Only the last day will reveal how great a work was hers in leading souls to Christ, and helping her pupils to an active Christian life.
Sorrowfully yours. LUCY HEATH PLANT. (MRS. HENRY PLANT.) CHATAUQUA, N. Y.
TO THE ALUMNI ASSOCIATION OF ROCKFORD SEMINARY:
To hundreds of hearts in our land the tidings of the death of Anna P. Sill came as a great shadow, and the many lives she has uplifted and inspired will be filled with sorrow at her passing.
As I was journeying northward from Florida, the sad intelligence met me in New York, while I was hoping soon to greet once more, on my way to California, this friend of many years—and such tidings could not fail to awaken many tender reminiscences.
It was in 1852, that I first came under Miss Sill's influence. She was then thirty-six years of age, a woman of such splendid physique and majestic beauty that any artist might have rejoiced to find such a model for a Greek goddess; but it was not her imposing presence that most impressed those under her influence. Her moral worth and lofty Christian teachings and ideals; her great dignity and a personal magnetism, as pure as it was powerful, swayed the minds of her pupils in a wonderful manner, while the warm regard in which she held them, and the genial welcome always given to those who returned, drew them to her by the ties of strong affection and reverence.
The combined financial and executive burdens which were laid upon her in the pioneer days of Rockford Seminary deprived her of the leisure for scholastic work__ toward which her tastes drew her, but she felt it her duty to take up the work which lay nearest her hand, and this she carried forward with an energy, cheerfulness and persistence rarely excelled.
In her religious standards of faith and practice she held much to the Puritan ideals, and by some was felt to magnify the law above the gospel. Had she lived in the time of Savonarola, she would doubtless, in her younger days, have been a devoted follower of the great Florentine.
She was a warm admirer of the work and character of Mary Lyon, and would have set Mt. Holyoke Seminary before her as a model had the needs of a pioneer community and of the growing city in which Rockford Seminary was established permitted it.
She was not without that appreciation of her work which is one of the elements of worldly success, and she prized the love and approbation of her friends and pupils to a degree that by some was thought a weakness.
To those who knew her best, Miss Sill's leading characteristic was benevolence. Every philanthropic movement met with sympathy from her, and hundreds of poor, struggling students will cherish her memory as that of a kind benefactor.
For more than a decade my life and work has been widely separated from hers, but the fifteen years during which I was permitted to share her companionship, and the toils of her prime, I count a rare privilege. Sharing the sense of bereavement which fills so many hearts, I can yet rejoice that from her life of noble usefulness here she has entered upon divine and blessed activities, over which sorrow, age or weariness have no power.
Yours in love and remembrance, MARY E. B. NORTON,
Rockford Seminary Endowment
Alumnae Essay by Miss Jane Adams
Rockford Seminary has an endowment which few people who come in contact with her fail to perceive, but which no one realizes so vividly as her own children. I hope in ten minutes to give tangibility to this endowment—to infect the rest of you with the confidence we have in it. All that is necessary is to voice what the Alummae have in common ; to articulate what I myself have felt more or less clearly since I was six years old, when on one momentous day I took my pennies from my tin bank and solemnly gave them to my sister Alice, that she might put them into a carpet for the new chapel. It was the green carpet with red spots. Blessings on its memory!
Do you chance to remember what Dean Stanley declared to be his ambition in life, when he became a Fellow of Oxford ? He said it was "to translate Dr. Arnold into English life and character." His first effort was to write Dr. Arnold's life, to preserve it in a form of the rarest literary excellence. He then proceeded to live it out, to talk it out, to diffuse it, until from that great coign of vantage, Westminster Abbey, he made Arnold a power throughout Christendom.
Had Dean Stanley been asked concerning Rugby's endowment, it is absurd to suppose that he would have given the number of pounds which supported the school each year. I doubt if he would even have said that it was Dr. Arnold himself; it was rather the determination to perpetuate Dr. Arnold ; the desire to be devoted to the principles to which he was devoted. That glow of feeling which it is the easiest of all things to excite in young people and which, alas! too often serves only to perplex and befog them, had, at Rugby, been directed to definite ends. Dr. Arnold not only aroused but controlled it, until his passion for righteousness was established, and his reform in classic education extended to every political, social and religious movement in England. That was Rugby's endowment, and it raised the school from comparative obscurity to secured honor. It made it a distinct power in -English life. It can hardly be a mere coincidence that its especial-college at Oxford is Baliol, and that from Baliol College has issued the movement which of all movements is at this moment holding the hopes of deep-hearted Englishmen Toynbee Hall of East London.
It has been said that the English Whigs owe their success to the public school at Eton, that through all the early days of the Whig party, Eton steadily became a political power and training school for statesmen. It trained Chatham; and Fox, and North, and Grenville. The Duke of Wellington declared that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, and his brother, the gentle Lord Wellesley, begged to be laid to rest in the bosom of Eton, that mother from whom he had learned everything which had made him wise and patriotic. From the beginning of the party until the Reform Bill, Eton school, and Christ Church, its college, had the monopoly of education for public life. It assuredly was not because somebody had given them a large endowment in money. They did not have exceptionally brilliant teaching, they did not then have a fine laboratory nor luxurious libraries crowded with bronzes and marbles, but they did have a distinctive character, and the youth of England who dreamed of a career in politics, came to them that they, perchance, might catch the spirit of it.
The endowment of Eton for many years was that ambition for wise and patriotic statesmanship, as that of Rugby was rational godliness, and a certain passion for doing good. Each taught but the ordinary college course. They simply focused a movement, made a certain kind of life possible.
In both cases they attracted to themselves what they already had. There are many instances of less note in this country. The most familiar to us, perhaps, is the missionary zeal associated with all the earlier history of Mt. Holyoke. We are all sensible of constantly looking for the distinctive trait,—the trend—the meaning of an institution. The mere congregating of people for study, the mere exhibition of talent and learning, fails to impress us. irhe accumulation itself, the result of a college course, is a mountain of mere straw and stubble, unless it is fused and held together by a moral purpose. It must have an animus to keep it from reverting, from going back into the mere classics and mathematics of text-books. It is not easy to establish such a thing. It can by no means be adventitious. It cannot be forced or imported. It must represent the strong convictions of at least one person, and the need of many others. It always has its struggle with doubt and self-distrust before its friends learn to believe in it and allow it to 'assert itself. Yet by certain educators, much given to quoting Comenius and Pestalozzi and Froebel, it is said that those schools which can give to their students a definite impulse and aim are the only schools worth considering at all ; that the others, in spite of brilliant endeavors, end too often in lowering vitality—in burying the young spirit itself under a mass of worthy things.
The first students of Rockford Seminary inherited from their fathers and from the new country, the ambition and training to overcome difficulties. They came here to get something—to add to their power, that they might have more to use. They were almost never impelled in those earliest years, by mere ambition, and even when moved by the pure love of study and desire for self improvement, it was soon modified by more practical and beneficent motives. It is interesting to trace this earliest characteristic under widely changed conditions. I have met my sisters in Dresden, in London and Chicago, still actuated by this primitive Seminary energy, curiously distinct and' recognizable.
From the very first we owe to her whom we mourn today with such heavy hearts, the highest grace any institution can possess. Miss Sill gave it that strong religious tone which it has always retained. She came to Illinois in an unselfish spirit—not to build up a large school, not to make an intellectual center, but to train the young women of a new country for Christian usefulness. She unaffectedly and thoroughly made that her aim. The spiritual so easily speaks over all other voices, it arrests us at once. We travel the world over to find the spots associated with a humble soul, singly striving to unite itself with the Unseen. Salisbury Plain, with magnificent Stonehenge, fails to stir us as does the tiny church on the edge of it from whose porch George Herbert mused and prayed. We are bound by the tenderest ties to perpetuate this primitive spiritual purpose—Miss Sill's life-motive. It will be easy to do this—we cannot otherwise; it is associated with this spot by her long life and made bright by her gentle death. Why did Thackery put dear old Col. Newcome into the Charter House School to die, but that he wished to give to his Alma Mater the most -exquisite finish, the most consummate grace his genius could devise—to associate with it forever the passing from earth of a gentle, unselfish spirit whose work was finished.
Providence has granted us this grace, and whatever good fortune the future may hold for us, nothing can be finer than that we have already.
The early school stood for the intellectual certainly, not only professedly but vitally, when Rockford Seminary was the only institution in the vicinity which furnished to women the higher advantages, and whose corps of teachers, from that vague region, "the East," gave to many a girl her first glimpse of the larger life. But with the intellectual and religous, was constantly combined the stirring, practical character, born of the condition of the country itself. The yearning of its young people to fulfill the law of mutual service, to yield to the strong impulse calling them to work was always recognized. It gave us from the first that balance in development which the foremost educators of England and America are now urging. We have instinctively recognized this, and endeavored to keep it. From our scanty means we have put up a gymnasium, elaborate, out of proportion to our other equipment, that the talk of manual labor which she urged upon students so long ago might be well continued after the best methods, our primitive energy still fostered. We are among the first colleges to have a night school, (though others are fast following) that the students may confirm by the deed those dreams of sacrifice and unselfish devotion of which young heads are full, and that they may test the practical religion and philanthropy which young people crave, and which, if they are allowed to live out freely, may bring an answer to some of our most vexed social problems.
We believe that our scholarship is each year more thorough and fine. It is advancing, as it always has done, in proportion to our character, and is made a part of that. Dear friends, it may be that this is our one opportunity, our road to distinction. We cannot rival Wellesley and Smith in their own field. We haven't the propinquity. We are not near enough to Boston or Concord. We are only near to the spirit of our fathers, and the unswerving purpose of our founder. Let us catch fairly and brightly the spirit of this endowment and trust it whither it may lead us. Let us be thankful for it. We are not a little Vassar, we are not the Mt. Holyoke of the West, we are Rockford Seminary with a history of forty years, with our own characteristics, finer than anything imitation can give. There is a German proverb of which I am very fond. It may be translated, "The Good is the greatest enemy of the Best." It may be that our poverty has preserved us from many good things—second-rate things—only that we might be able to cherish the best, that we might-preserve our endowment. We have been too poor for much , building. We shall, perhaps, never have a dining-room with beautiful plate glass windows looking out upon the river and a'huge sideboard glittering with cut glass and silver.
We can always be thankful for this, that we have never been buried under the second best, an accumulation of merely good things. We have not been stuffed with a content and shallow pride; we have escaped the curse of self-satisfaction.
What is, after all, the office—the function—of an institution like this, of the local college? Is it not to hold out to the eager young people of the vicinity its draught of water—to give them to drink? The cup which has been given us to hold is plain and unadorned. What matters it so that the water itself is pure? Colleges to the east and west of us may stretch forth a finer goblet, but they can contain at best nothing better than what we may have, and if the liquid they hold is contaminated by one drop of self-conceit or worldly ambition which shall dazzle the drinker and turn his head with a sense of his own attainment, it matters little of what.stuff the cup is made—the plainer the better. I should really despair if this should be our fate. Nothing short of this can turn our future black.
Resolutions on Miss Sill’s Death
BY THE TRUSTEES.
At the annual meeting of the Trustees of Rockford Seminary, held at the Seminary on June 25th, 1889, the following preamble and resolutions were unanimously adopted :
It having pleased Almighty God in his all-wise Providence to call home to her rest and reward Miss Anna P. Sill, the true Alma Mater or Foster Mother of this Seminary, and, for nearly forty years its honored and beloved Principal, it is due to her memory, and to the Institution to which her life was devoted, to put on record the following resolutions.
Resolved, That in the work Miss Sill has wrought for Rockford Seminary we recognize with devout gratitude the Wisdom and ordaining purpose of God in raising up such a woman, and endowing her so amply with the abilities and qualifications requisite for so great and important an enterprise. We also recognize with high appreciation the eminent intellectual ability, the earnest faith and devotion, the indefatigable patience, perseverance, moral energy and distinguished success, with which she prosecuted the work given her to do, in laying securely the foundations, intellectual, moral and spiritual, of this Institution and in carrying it forward to its present advancement.
While we mourn the great loss to this Seminary and the whole community of her benignant presence and potent influence, we acknowledge the good Providence of God in so long sparing her life and permitting her in its later years of retirement and release from labor, to enjoy in some measure the reward of her toil, and at last to die within the walls of her beloved Seminary, surrounded by the friends and scenes and memories of the past. Truly it may be said of her, "She bath done what she could." She rests from her labors, and her works do follow her.
Resolved, That a copy of this resolution be transmitted to the family and relations of deceased.
Rockford Seminary, June 25th, 1889.
BY TI1E FACULTY.
Since in the death of our former Principal, Anna P. Sill, our Heavenly Father has called to Himself a faithful Servant and removed from our midst a noble life, we,. he present Faculty of Rockford Seminary, wish to express our high appreciation of her character and her long, earnest and far-reaching work.
In the founding and building up of this Seminary, she showed great faith and strength of purpose, and recognized the responsibilities such a work- imposed. In the affectionate regard of the Alumme for her, we see the result of that strong personality which none who knew her could fail to recognize.
Acknowledging the inspiration of her faith and courage, and realizing our privilege and responsibility in being permitted to carry on her work, we would make this expression of our esteem.
Signed, ANNA B. GELSTON,
SARAH F. ANDERSON. LUCY A. BUSHEE; Committee of the Faculty.
BY THE STUDENTS' ASSOCIATION.
The following resolutions were adopted by the Students' Association at a special meeting called June 20th:
WHEREAS, We realize that in the death of Miss Sill, not only has the Seminary lost the revered and loved presence of its founder, but that we, as students, have lost a friend whose life was an ever present inspiration.
Resolved, That we, the members of the Students' Association of Rockford Seminary, hereby express our deep sorrow at her death.
Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be placed upon the records of the Association, and printed in the Rockford Seminary Magazine.
BY THE ALUMNA:.
WHEREAS, Since our last annual gathering, our revered Principal Emerita, Anna P. Sill, has joined
"The choir invisible of those immortal dead
Who live again in minds made better by their presence,"
And, WHEREAS, To us, the Alumm3e of the Institution she founded in faith, and built up with unceasing endeavor, it has been given deeply to feel the greatness of her consecration, and the power and steadfastness of her character, be it
Resolved, That while we miss unspeakably, and always must, her beloved and honored presence, we give thanks for the life, she has lived, and for that upon which, we believe, she has entered.
Resolution unanimously adopted by the Board at Trustees of Rockford Seminary at its annual meeting, June 25th,, 1889.
On motion voted, that the Board of Trustees request Dr. Goodwin to edit his address delivered at the funeral of the late Anna P. Sill, and that in addition thereto he supply such sketch of her life and services as he may be able to do ; and that the Executive Committee cause the same to be published for circulation among the friends of the institution.
BACK -- HOME
Copyright © Genealogy Trails