Brown, Hallie Q.
|MARIA LOUISE BALDWIN -- 1856--1922|
Once a great teacher called a little child unto Him and set him in the midst of His hearers and said, "Whoseoever shall humble himself as a little child the same is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, and who shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me." These words are spoken reverently and applied to the subject of this sketch: Her gentle manner, her brave simplicity, her loving recognition of children in the name of her own Master manifested her greatness and prompted grateful memories of her service.
Miss Maria Louise Baldwin was born September 13, 1856 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was the oldest daughter of Peter L. and Mary E. Baldwin.
All of her school days were spent in Cambridge. At the age of five years she entered the Sargent Primary School. She attended the Allston Grammar School and finally the Cambridge High School, graduating from there in June, 1874. She entered the training school for teachers in the same city and graduated from there in June, 1875. Her first teaching experience was in Chestertown, Maryland where she did excellent work for two wears. In 1881 she was appointed as teacher of primary grades in the public schools of Cambridge. In 1889 after teaching in all the grades from the first to the seventh, Miss Baldwin was made Principal of the Agassiz School. She hesitated about accepting this position for a long time, her native modesty making her feel herself not worthy to step into the place held by so fine a person as her predecessor. But upon being urged she decided to take it on condition that if at the
In April, 1916, when the school was torn down and a new building was erected at a cost of $60,000, its grades made higher and a Master was needed instead of a Principal, Miss Baldwin was made Master of the new Agassiz School, a position of great distinction, as there are but two women Masters in the city of Cambridge. The position of Master she held for forty years. The school, including all grades from the kindergarten to the eighth, is one of the best in the city and is attended by children of professors and many of the old Cambridge families. The teachers under Miss Baldwin numbering twelve and the five hundred pupils were all white. Miss Baldwin thus, without a doubt occupied the most distinguished position achieved by a person of Negro descent in the teaching world of America. Miss Baldwin was always a student. She took many courses from professors at Harvard and other colleges. She was a great reader intensively and extensively to which her fine library bore witness.
Miss Baldwin numbered among her many friends from whom she had autograph letters such noted persons as Elizabeth C. Agassiz, Alice Freeman Palmer, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Mrs. Ole Bull, Alice M. Longfellow, Edward D. Cheney and Edward Everett Hale. Miss Baldwin passed very suddenly and unexpectedly from this to a better world on January 9, 1922 "The Agassiz," the school paper has a Memorial number in which tributes from teachers and pupils acknowledge her worth and work and the high regard in which she was held by the community where she had so long rendered unselfish service.
A Sister's tribute:
"With a heart big enough and warm enough to embrace all with whom she came in contact, she gave of her love unstintingly
Their successes were her joy; their failures her sorrow. What an empire is to a queen and what a family is to a mother that was Agassiz School to Miss Baldwin.
Said a Senior Pupil:
"The news of Miss Baldwin's death came to our school as a shock, an impossibility. Such a hush and reverent solemnity fell over it that all life seemed stopped for the minute. Laughter died on the lips and eyes that were dry filled with tears.
Miss Baldwin, our friend, our teacher had passed from this world to a far, far better one. We at school will realize more and more as we grow older that Miss Baldwin was one of the greatest beings that ever breathed. Her memory will always be a thing sacred. We loved her, loved her with a love that will never die."
About a year after her death the Agassiz School people unveiled a tablet to her memory. The tablet was the gift of the Class of 1922, the last class she taught.
The ceremony was conducted under the auspices of the Agassiz Parent-Teachers Association of Cambridge. The inscription on the tablet reads:
"In grateful memory of Maria L. Baldwin, 1856-1922. Forty-one years inspiring teacher, wise and beloved Master of this School. A scholarship has been founded and this room has been named Baldwin Hall."
The subjoined testimonials are culled from many that were voiced at the Memorial meeting:
"Baldwin Hall in Agassiz School,--I love to think that these two names are hereafter to be associated in the minds of all pupils of the school of which she was principal
From the first day I saw her I realized that she was a rare character. I was then serving on the Cambridge School Board and she was teaching in one of the lower grades in the Agassiz School which was in my care. Her poise and dignity, her calmness and beautiful voice struck me at once and I felt that her mere presence must be a valuable lesson to all the children. Several parents told me their children realized this and always spoke of her in admiration and affection, but never spoke of her color.
When the principal of the school was changed the superintendent told me it would be my duty to appoint a new principal. "Why," I said, "you know as well as I do there is only one suitable person, Miss Baldwin." "I think so too," he said, "but I was not sure about the color." "It is not a question of color," I said, "it is a question of the best." So she took the place and for forty years filled it with gentleness and capability, and in all those years, with all the changes that come in city governments, I am not aware that there was any dissatisfaction or any suggestion of change. With such a record it is most fitting to honor her memory and to hope that her memory may always remain to serve as an example to all future teachers in the Cambridge School."
She was conscious of her ideals. She was conscious, too, of her powers and of the difficulties that were around her and around the people of her own race. Yet it never led to any self-consciousness and bitterness. She would take no praise for herself, no recognition in this or in any community which could not be given to every one of her own race. She was like the Shunamite woman, who, when asked, "What can I do for you?" answered, "I dwell with mine own people." That was her spirit all through life.
Many a time I have talked with her in regard to those deep and tragic problems of all of us. I never found
I am glad she lived in Cambridge, for her sake, for the recognition she received here, and glad for our sake that we had her with us. She gave herself to teaching, teaching the young, but she was more than a teacher of the young. She had a civic spirit, a high idealism, which inspired to that nobler America being wrought out of all the races here, slowly wrought out, but through infinite sacrifice actually working.
I cannot think of her as passed out of life or ever forgotten by those who have come under her influence. Her radiant personality, her ready sympathy, deep wisdom, are a part of our civic possession. This school must ever be connected with her name and her example. Her death was just what she would have asked--the completing of her life without break or absence from her place. She dropped as a good soldier on the battlefield. She had "fought the good fight"; she had "kept the faith."
Miss Baldwin always made us believe more and more in the ideal America. I never heard her say anything harsh, but once she did say something which revealed her deep feeling, her sensitiveness to the wrong done to those to whom she belonged and loved. It was during the time of the presentation in Boston of the "Birth of the Nation," and she felt an insult had been offered to the race itself. I asked some of the colored race to meet with me one afternoon just for an expression of good-will and so I said to
I knew how she felt, the deep restraint, the strong sense of duty, which kept her from giving way in moments of depression.
It is our duty as citizens, proud and glad for what she did for our children, to acknowledge our debt to her. Among the great citizens of Cambridge there are few that have been greater and no one who held such a unique position; and I am glad that we are here to testify that we are aware of that great soul, great mind, beautiful spirit which for so many years ministered to the children of this community.
The death of Miss Baldwin came as a shock not only to the people of Cambridge but to the people of the United States, for she had become well-known as a result of her activities in behalf of teaching. I believe Miss Baldwin is a severe loss to the people because of the great work she accomplished since she has been in charge of the Agassiz School. She was one of the most lovable women whom God ever sent to this earth with a mission to perform so well.
As a member of the Common Council I became acquainted with her in behalf of education. Later, when my children were attending the Agassiz School, I had the opportunity of meeting Miss Baldwin as principal and noted the spirit of the school expressed between Principal and teacher, teacher and pupil, teacher and parent. When the discussion of a new building for the school was under way, I discovered the great executive qualities of which Miss Baldwin was possessed. In many ways the building was a
Miss Baldwin's profession is one of the most honorable in the world,--educating our youth--because that which they receive when young makes or breaks them in life. Americanization was taught here by Miss Baldwin long before it was taken up by the state. The outstanding features of Miss Baldwin's character was her strict adherence to duty and her loyalty to teachers and pupils. I never heard of a serious difference arising between teachers and pupils in the Agassiz School. I never heard Miss Baldwin say an unkind work to boy or girl. Her lovable and amiable qualities commanded respect. Those who have attended the Agassiz School are a standing monument to Miss Baldwin's efficiency. I trust she will always be embodied in our memories to the end that we are better for having known her.
We parents can be unfailingly reached through our children. The poignant hold Miss Baldwin has upon our hearts takes on a special tenderness in our gratitude for the devoted service she gave our children. My first thought, when the news of our loss came to me, and it was probably the first thought of every mother here, was, "How can I bring up my children without her help"? It was not their intellectual training I felt the loss of, a hundred people could give them that, but it was the moral training which she was able to give in such measure, discipline in honesty, loyalty, devotion to duty, it was that that we mothers know cannot be easily replaced.
I have chanced to be in the office at the school when children were brought in for discipline, and have marveled at the wisdom and gentleness with which she dealt with each problem. She always brought out in the light any differences between the teacher's and the child's attitude, and then with sweet reasonableness set the matter right
She had a remarkable power of enlisting the child's co-operation in any disciplinary problems. She never felt, and she never failed to tell the child so, that it was any victory to impose her will upon him. The child must make the decision and take the action himself. She always made him feel that he and she were only partners in the effort to make the school one worthy of complete devotion. I never left her presence without wishing I were a better mother, that somehow I could be as wise and tender a mother to my five as she was to her five hundred.
It was my great privilege just before the completion of this building to nominate Miss Baldwin for principal of the Agassiz Grammar School. And it was the only nomination by any superintendent, so far as I know, that was instantly received with applause from the School Board, and not put over till next meeting but unanimously approved within two minutes from the submission of the name.
When I think of Miss Baldwin, I am reminded of the young soldier mortally wounded in the service of Sir Philip Sidney, who, when asked if he had any special desire for an epitaph, said, "Say I was a friend of Sir Sidney." It is our greatest honor to say that we were friends of Miss Baldwin. We have lost a great, sympathetic friend, a great adviser.
Just a little instance to show her wonderful quiet forcefulness. One day I was in the building when something happened in one of the rooms in the teacher's absence, and when I went into the room Miss Baldwin said to me, "Mr. Fitzgerald, we are sorry you are here today. Please don't ask us why."
Looking around the room I noticed a little boy trying very hard to get out of my sight. Miss Baldwin continued, "When you come in next week we will have all nice boys
The parents have lost a very wise, sane counselor and friend. Believing absolutely in her integrity the School Board had the utmost confidence in her and any suggestion that came from this district was very readily received. I have never known a destructive criticism to emanate from Miss Baldwin or from her teachers. We know that her memory will be christened and cherished in this district.
As a father, proud in the true sense of the old word, to have his children go through the classes of the Agassiz School, as a teacher and as a friend, I am glad to be here tonight and join in the words of tribute to Miss Baldwin.
I think I may claim to have been a friend of Miss Baldwin's for thirty years. It is exactly thirty years this month of February since I was invited by Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson to a small dinner party as he called it, in honor of a young teacher of English in whom he had become interested. I had just come from Scotland, being called to give some lectures in literature at Harvard College by my old friend, Professor Child, and to give one on English in reference to my old teacher, David Masson.
Colonel Higginson said to me, "I have a young teacher in English to meet you tonight who is carrying on her work very much in the spirit in which Masson seems to have carried on his."
He said nothing about Miss Baldwin, and shall I ever forget my feelings when I first met her--feelings of infinite interest which very soon deepened into infinite regard, which continued to deepen and strengthen through the thirty years we knew each other.
After Miss Baldwin left Colonel Higginson's that night, he turned to me and said, "I feel that she is bound to be one of the living forces in our Cambridge, for she
That was the secret of her extraordinary power over our children, a power that has, in many cases, been an ennobling inspiration. In the deepest, truest sense of the term, she was one of the most religious women I ever met. Without ever speaking about it, she simply lived it through and through, just as she became one of the potent influences for the upbuilding, as we have heard tonight, of a true ideal of citizenship. Without any talk about, one way or the other, by simply being, under those conditions and difficulties which have been referred to tactfully tonight, one of the truest and noblest specimens of womanhood you and I have ever known. That is the thing through life, more than talking that is going to break down all these barriers connected with race and denominationalism--to live a worthy life from day to day, from week to week, throughout the years. We are all talked to death. What we want is the good quiet living up to the highest and noblest ideals.
There is one word used by St. Paul with reference to his ideal of living, that again and again occurred to me when amid all the trial and talk and amid all the racial difficulties and church matter brought forward up and down the world. She realized the Pauline idea of studying to be quiet, and the great serenity she ever had in her heart was after all the secret of the wonderful influence she had over these children of ours.
The last time I ever talked with Miss Baldwin I told her I had found an epitaph for her. It comes to me now when I think of what happened so soon after. "Well?" she said, "You have found many things for me. What can the epitaph be?"
"It is a dedication that I came on long ago in a little book: "To him who first early in life's morning awoke
Nothing could be more wonderful, full of help and significance than that. I should like it to be said of me. I should like it to be said of every teacher.
Who early in life's morn awoke me--first opened the way to me! That is exactly what Miss Baldwin did. She awoke in the young that dormant spirit, the angel which is within us all.
Once I lived in another city in New England, and it was my habit in the morning and evening to pass another school, and over the portal of that building were the words of a master teacher: "Come, let us live with our children." And I have been thinking these last few days of a paraphrase of that immortal inscription, since we parents are lacking in ability to fulfill that meaning, "Come, let Miss Baldwin live with our children."
You are parents as I am a parent, and I give you my testimony that next to the immediate home surroundings the influence of Miss Baldwin has been the most potent influence, the most beautiful and inspiring influence in our home and household, and no words could possibly be spoken that could give more than a shadowy idea of the substance of feeling in my heart when I think the most beautiful of Miss Baldwin's special gifts was that she lived with our children.
The greatest thing that can be said of her personality is that that personality had power. Power is the sun of our ambition, it is the object of all our creeds, even up to our adoration. Power is the ability to persuade people to do what you wish them to do, and the more silently and subtly and indirectly one exercises that power, the higher is it to be praised, the nearer is it to be called immortal.
Miss Baldwin had order without discipline because she loved the children. To have abundant love of children is to have the most powerful thing in the world. It was the privilege of Miss Baldwin to give that nameless quality
This life, this power, this permanent spirit that has dwelt among us has made us think only of things that are permanent. It seems to me entirely desirable and inevitable as the natural expression of our common wish that we do something that will serve as a memorial, to this immortal personality.