St Paul's first public school teacher
In an attempt to expand her teaching opportunities, Harriet Bishop was part of the first group of women to complete Catherine Beecher's teacher training course in Albany, New York. Beecher had established this school specifically to train women to teach in remote locations in the American West. Harriet Bishop accepted the challenges offered by this new role for women and responded to missionary Thomas Williamson's call for teachers in a place called "Minnesota." She arrived in Saint Paul in 1847, two years before Minnesota became a territory. Harriet Bishop was Saint Paul's first public school teacher.
Far away from her family in Vermont, Bishop soon learned that life in her new home could be both dangerous and delightful. Her first schoolhouse was a former blacksmith's shop that frequently housed more rats, snakes and stray chickens than students. She soon grew to love her adopted state, however, and wrote about its many wonders in several books, including Floral Home; or, First Years in Minnesota. A devout Baptist committed to moral reform, Bishop opened a Female Seminary in 1850 and helped establish many charitable societies in Saint Paul. She also promoted temperance and woman suffrage throughout her life. Bishop was married in 1858 to John McConkey, from whom she was later divorced. Harriet Bishop died in St. Paul in 1883.
Time Period Overview
In 1847, when Harriet Bishop arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota was not yet a territory. Most of the land still belonged to the Dakota and Ojibwe people, and the fur trade was still an important activity in the area. During the 1840s, oxcarts filled with furs rolled into Saint Paul from the Canadian Red River settlements. Once in Saint Paul, the furs were exchanged for finished goods that had been shipped up the Mississippi River by the American Fur Company. As the head of steamboat navigation on the Mississippi River, Saint Paul had also become, by the time of Bishop's arrival in 1847, the port of entry for people headed towards the unsettled regions to the north and west.
In March of 1849, President James K. Polk signed a bill that created the new Minnesota Territory. Settlers, eager to make money and put down new roots, began pouring across its borders. Minnesota Territory was a place of tremendous diversity that included Dakota and Ojibwe people, French Canadians, African Americans, New Englanders and mixed race people. In 1849, the total population of the territory was less than 20,000 people. After the 1851 Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota opened 24 million acres of Dakota land to white settlement, however, Minnesota's population exploded. By 1860, two years after Minnesota became a state, its population was more than 172,000.