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Mary Ames, 1831-1903
From a New England Woman's Diary in Dixie in 1865
Springfield, Mass.: [s. n.], 1906.


From a New England Woman's Diary in Dixie in 1865 relates the experience of two northern white women, Mary Ames and Emily Bliss, who were employed in 1865 as teachers by the Freedmen's Bureau and sent to South Carolina to open a school for the benefit of former slaves. The account is told through excerpts from the diary of Mary Ames. It follows the women's journey to Edisto Island, South Carolina, formerly a region of cotton plantations, where many liberated slaves had been settled by the Reconstruction government. Miss Ames tells us of the poor living conditions of the former slaves, and the widespread decay and squalor of the homes on the island--including the abandoned plantation house in which she and her companion settle. Despite inconveniences such as a leaky roof, insects, snakes, and inconsistent rations, the women manage to establish a school with an enrollment of well over one hundred students, both children and adults.

The women remain on the island for a little over a year. Miss Ames' diary entries tell of her dealings with the former slaves, and document their social and religious life. She also tells of the difficulties of day-to-day life in the Reconstruction South, including the lack of food, water, and other necessary supplies. By May of 1866, the Freedmen's Bureau announced that they would no longer support the school. The women close the school in July, then return to Massachusetts in September, a little more than a year after they had arrived.

Christopher Hill

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