The following are letters written by Ellen D. Witherbee Atwell in 1899 and 1900 to her nephew Tyler Reed Woodbridge of Victor, Colo. She was age 64 at that time. She tells of her family life, traditions, and some facts of history relating to the Witherbee family, handed down by her parents and grandparents, written at Port Henry. The nephew typed these up in 1900 and inserted some comments.
These letters were sent to me from Bill Knowlton of Liverpool in 2002. Ellen Atwell was his great aunt.
"A man was hired for the winter term, as the large boys only went in winter. In summer a woman was hired as she was considered capable of governing girls and children and she did not expect the same pay. Inconsequence of this arrangement, a scholar was obliged to begin at the beginning of her books every term until the teacher found out how much she knew. One advantage of this system was that we knew quite thoroughly what little we did know. We were able to advance a little every term and, if bright, we were able in the course of time to get to the end of the book. The common English branches only were taught - Reading, Spelling, Arithmetic, Geography, Grammar, and Writing. Later Algebra and Rhetoric were suffered under protest. Quill pens were used and the teacher was expected to make them.
One feature of the schools were the Spelling Schools which were held in the evenings in the school house, the parents attending as spectators. Two bright scholars were selected to choose sides, first one leader choosing a scholar and then the other, alternating until all were chosen. The words were given out by the teacher, going from side to side, and when a word was missed the unlucky one had to sit down and had no further part in the spelling. It continued till all were down or only one left. Often there was a tie.