1879 - 1880

Martha W. Sprague

Hired in 1879 with the help of a commercial employment agency, Martha Sprague’s tenure as principal seemed doomed from the start. A Midwesterner, she was not sympathetic to New England’s Puritan traditionalism and failed to create a cohesive atmosphere among the teaching staff. In fact, she unintentionally offended teachers by asking them to lead morning and evening devotions and perform other tasks for which they had never before been responsible.

Sprague’s greatest mistake, one that incurred the displeasure of Mrs. Wheaton as well as most of the Trustees, was allowing study during the morning and evening “half-hours,” making private devotion optional. This was viewed as detrimental to the Seminary’s “Christian atmosphere.”

In December of 1879, the teaching staff rebelled. Clara Pike 1866, science teacher, and A. Ellen Stanton, French teacher, acting as spokeswomen, approached the trustees’ committee of instruction. They charged that Sprague discouraged the use of the library, probably because she was not well educated herself. Her rough, unladylike and ungrammatical speech were deplored, but her worst offense was suggesting that Mrs. Wheaton overstepped her role by reviewing and approving the appointment of teachers.

To everyone’s surprise and satisfaction, Martha Sprague voluntarily resigned in March of 1880.