Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: Story of Hannah Breece

Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: Story of Hannah Breece

Paperback

By (author) Hannah Breece, Volume editor Jane Jacobs

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  • Publisher: Vintage Books
  • Format: Paperback | 336 pages
  • Dimensions: 132mm x 201mm x 18mm | 340g
  • Publication date: 28 August 1997
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0679776338
  • ISBN 13: 9780679776338
  • Edition statement: Vintage Books ed.
  • Illustrations note: 31 B&W PHOTOS AND 3 MAPS
  • Sales rank: 785,145

Product description

When Hannah Breece came to Alaska in 1904, it was a remote lawless wilderness of prospectors, murderous bootleggers, tribal chiefs, and Russian priests. She spent fourteen years educating Athabascans, Aleuts, Inuits, and Russians with the stubborn generosity of a born teacher and the clarity of an original and independent mind. Jane Jacobs, Hannah's great-niece, here offers an historical context to Breece's remarkable eyewitness account, filling in the narrative gaps, but always allowing the original words to ring clearly. It is more than an adventure story: it is a powerful work of women's history that provides important--and, at times, unsettling--insights into the unexamined assumptions and attitudes that governed white settler's behavior toward native communities at the turn of the century. "An unforgettable...story of a remarkable woman who lived a heroic life."-- "The New York Times"

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Author information

Born in Pennsylvania in1859, Hannah Breece taught on Indian reservations in midwest America before accepting a government post to teach in Alaska. Jane Jacobs is the author of several books, including the "Death And Life of Great American Cities, Cities And The Wealth of Nations," and most recently, the bestselling "Systems of Survival." She lives in Toronto. "From the Hardcover edition."

Editorial reviews

The intriguing diary of a spunky middle-aged woman who represents both the best and the worst aspects of the Progressive movement. When Breece went to Alaska in 1904, she was a 45-year-old spinster schoolteacher with an indomitable will and the desire to do good. And if doing good meant elevating a poor and uneducated people, patronizing them when necessary, well, that was the norm of her times. Certainly, to modern ears some of Breece's casual pronouncements of white superiority sound unpleasant. But at other times, in her willingness to endure hardship to help others, for example, Breece is truly laudable, even heroic. The Alaska Breece encountered was a barren, blustery place, but it was not inhospitable. At least the people were not, often bestowing on Breece their most expensive and treasured items, although they were quite poor. These grateful people included Aleuts, Indians, Russians, and others, all of whose traditions Breece treated with care. The only things she would not tolerate were those that she felt were excessively superstitious or harmful - one man refused to bury his infant who had died from disease, and Breece used her enormous influence to force him to. She also could be extremely prim, although she was practical above all. Once Breece asked her dogsled driver not to curse, and the "dogs made a dive toward a hole in the ice. Ginnis called in vain, using very proper language, and [they] were getting ever nearer to an awful gap. [She] called, 'Swear, Ginnis! Oh, swear!'" realizing that sometimes propriety can be misplaced. Nicely and unobtrusively edited by Breece's grandniece and urban theorist Jacobs (Systems of Survival, 1992, etc.), this memoir of Breece's 14 years in Alaska is the revealing testimony of a woman who was typical of her times yet extraordinary in how she rose above them. (Kirkus Reviews)

Back cover copy

Hannah Breece braved the Alaskan wilderness nearly a century ago to teach native children how to become Americans. A proud and fiercely independent woman, she struggled against great odds to establish federally sponsored schools in remote settlements. This is her own story of her many adventures on the Alaskan frontier. Breece compiled a draft of her experiences from her diaries and letters, but never completed the project. Before she died, she entrusted the manuscript to her great-niece Jane Jacobs, and this delightful book is the results. Jane Jacobs visited the communities her great-aunt described to fill in some of the gaps in her story. Her original research complements Hannah Breece's story to give us a vivid picture of old Alaska, of the infant settlements of Juneau, Kodiak, Seward and Fairbanks, and of the amazing woman who conquered its frozen wilderness, loved its children and, for nearly fifteen years, made it her home.

Flap copy

Over fifty years ago Hannah Breece bestowed upon her great niece, Jane Jacobs, her manuscript, roughly culled together from diaries and letters from when she was a school teacher in Alaska and the Yukon. In the summer of 1994, Ms. Jacobs traveled to Alaska to do the research necessary to complete her great aunt's book. In 1904, Hannah Breece set off for Alaska, where she was sent by the American government to teach Aleuts, Dina'ina, Athabascans, and people of mixed-European and Native blood. She remained in Alaska until 1918 and in this book tells her story. Diary-like in is mingling of domestic matters, work, public events and chance encounters, Hannah Breece's narrative is spiced with litany of adventures, for she was a women who went anywhere and stood up to anybody. What Hannah Breece could never have guessed was just how relevant her story is today, both in its study of an independent woman and in its early clues to white North America's treatment of the Native populations. In her introduction and comprehensive notes on the book, Jane Jacobs examines her great aunt's story and reveals and illuminates the mysteries behind this most unusual life.