Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Extra! Extra! The Story of Mary Ronan

I have exciting news, history buffs! As of this morning, you can download Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan as an eBook. (Update: Kindle users can get the book here.) Mary Ronan grew up in the early Montana gold camps. In 1865, her father moved the family from Virginia City to Helena. They settled into a cabin on Clore Street (now Park Avenue), just up the block from the Pioneer Cabin. In this excerpt from the book, Mary remembers going to school in Helena.

Professor Stone and his brother opened a private school in August 1867, on Academy Hill not far above the first little Catholic Church where the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was later built. At one end of the long room Professor Stone taught the primary grades. We sat in prim rows on long, rough benches. This was the largest and most interesting school I had ever attended. Professor Stone began a Latin class and I was a member. This gave me a feeling of great importance; I felt I was standing on the edge of real intellectual achievement! Most stimulating was the lesson each day in Webster's school dictionary, with strange sounding words to spell and define. Before school closed each afternoon the older students would pronounce words; we would each in turn rise, repeat the word, spell it, and sit down. Sallie Davenport always spelled down the school. One day Professor Stone's brother was conducting this drill. It was Raleigh Wilkinson's turn. Raleigh was the son of E. S. Wilkinson, Peter Ronan's partner in the Rocky Mountain Gazette. He misspelled the word.

"Try it again, Raleigh," said Mr. Stone.
"I don't think I can spell it," Raleigh replied.
"Well, try it," insisted Mr. Stone.
"I told you I don't think I can spell it," growled Raleigh.
Mr. Stone, himself young, large, and athletic looking, flushed angrily and repeated his command. "Well, try it, I tell you." Raleigh repeated his refusal. For several times more command and refusal were bandied back and forth in rising crescendo until a tempestuous climax came in an exchange of blows. Suddenly up jumped all the big boys and precipitated a melee. We girls fled from the schoolhouse to our homes. This free-for-all fight was the occasion of much talk among the patrons of the school for many days.
Professor Stone encouraged dramatic reading. One of my boy schooolmates and I practiced a dialogue, without any coaching, which we gave at a public "entertainment" in the schoolroom. Our stage was the little platform where the teacher had his desk. I was a Roman matron encouraging her husband:
"Have the walls ear? I wish they had an tongues, too, to bear witness to my oath and tell it to all Rome."
"Would you destroy?" my opposite intoned.
Fervently I picked up my cue, "Were I a thunderbolt! Rome's ship is rotten! Has she not cast you out?" The applause thrilled me and fired my ambition to be an actress. Professor Stone added fuel to the flame by complimenting me warmly.
I learned the part of Lady Anne in Richard III. I practiced at home in the little sitting room before the mirror, trying a variety of interpretations from mincing to flamboyant. My stepmother, who often admonished me for my vanity, became now positively alarmed for the salvation of my soul and forbade me to go on with the practices or to present at school what was to have been my "big performance."

From Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan

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