June 03, 2012

A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska by Jane Jacobs

I have mixed feelings about this book. While I feel that Hannah Breece, a schoolteacher in Alaska in the early 1900's did a remarkable job there I also feel that this book drug on a little bit and that she was a bit too prideful.

Hannah moves to Alaska on a teaching assignment to educate the "native peoples" there and also improve living conditions in the villages. She actually teaches in several different villages and travels around quite a bit. She has some experiences with the weather and animals in addition to her travels and it provides for an exciting time for her. Mix in poor supplies and schools, but an eager group of children who want to learn and she has her duties cut out for her, but she is eager to do all she can.

Hannah is the narrator of this story as it comes from her writings, so it is no surprise that everything centers around her. And she is pretty fair to herself, but I also feel that she probably gave herself a lot of credit for things she might not have even effected. And I did rather get tired of her preaching about how dirty the "natives" were on their own and her stand against alcohol. I realize that alcohol is a problem for a lot of people, but she seemed to take it to a whole new level. I truly believe she was probably for Prohibition in the States. Religion too she had a certain way she liked things done and by golly her ideas had better be followed by the villages she is in. But I am being a little harsh. She helped a lot of children learn and did improve living standards and brought in food for people in bad winters. So she's done a lot of good.

The book, as said before, is Hannah's journal of sorts, put together in a complete timeline. And while it was interesting to read, sometimes it was so bogged down in detail that the book ran a little slow. And she glosses over exciting events and tells more about supplies and such. I imagine she didn't expect for it to get published, but it boggles the mind that she would consider how many desks a school has a bigger priority than the brutal winters that she faced and her near death experiences. Everyone has their own priorities I guess. And it should be warned that some of her descriptions of the "natives" can be potentially insulting, as a result of the time period. The 2nd part of the book is a history and commentary on the book that helps explain the time period Hannah lived in and some the people she interacted with.

An interesting book, about an interesting woman, but a little dry at times. Definitely a good read for someone interested in Alaska and rural teachers.

A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska
Copyright 1995
288 pages

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