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Morice, Flora White: In the Vanguard of Gender Equity.

Serendipity for educational biographers might best be redefined as a quick right turn off of Highway 2 to Heath, Massachusetts; a nodding postal worker; a President of the Heath Historical Society; and a curious educational historian following leads about a distant relative. Linda C. Morice is that educational biographer and Flora White (1860-1948), her great grandaunt, was a child-centered Progressive-era educator brave enough to critique G. Stanley Hall, who stridently argued against educating women. White lived a life that others should learn about and Morice has produced an exquisite telling of that life.

Flora White: In the Vanguard of Gender Equity is comprised of an introduction; eight chapters; an epilogue; an appendix of sources and methodology; acknowledgements; a bibliography; a detailed index; and a blurb about the author. Readers will not want to skip any page contained within the book as each offers a wealth of insight not only about the main subject, Flora White, her time period, and her influence as an educator, but also about the work of educational historians pursuing biographical projects. Given my own biographical work on 19th century educators Emma Hart Willard and her sister Almira Hart Phelps, (1) I had a keen interest in the relationship between Flora White and her sister Mary White. Both sets of sisters were educators who worked together at various stages in their lives and careers. And they all were participating in a rather revolutionary move at the time for women educators to move physical education into the curriculum against a strong cultural critique. (2)

Gender equity was a driving force behind most of Flora's educational work and Morice's inheritance of Flora's private papers, which included a treasure trove of letters, speeches, newspaper clippings, published articles and books, photographs, brochures, school booklets and catalogues, advertisements, and local and institutional histories made it possible to demonstrate that equity work in detail. Morice identified a particular notebook titled "Life Facts of Flora White and Family Recorded Mar. 18, 1939" that proved especially meaningful and was written by Flora shortly after her sister Mary died in 1938. We learn from Morice that Flora and Mary White worked together until 1885 when Flora left for South Africa to teach English at a private boys' school and Mary remained in Springfield teaching at a public school. Upon Flora's return, the sisters reunited in a joint venture, opening a small home school in Springfield. They later relocated to Westfield and eventually to Concord, where they placed a stronger emphasis on physical culture classes for their students.

Vanguard was an apt word to use in the title of the book as it captures the manner in which this educator carved out her own path and was on the leading edge of many important educational advancements. This educational biography was replete with surprising connections between past and present. For example, Flora White founded the Heath Historical Society in 1900. The historical society was the very entity that later helped to preserve bits and pieces of her own life and influence. Perhaps she was especially pleased when her great-grandniece decided to take a quick right turn off of Highway 2 and take up the task of transporting her life story forward to a new generation of readers. We can now all say her name: Flora White. And as a result, her legacy will move out of the shadows and more substantially into the historical record. I am eager to introduce this book into the graduate course I teach on Women, Gender, and Education and I encourage others to consider the potential for their courses as well. But before you add it to your course booklist, first make a cup of tea and enjoy a full read of this book. It is written so eloquently that you will be inspired both as a reader and writer of educational biography. I feel enriched by coming to know Flora White and grateful for Linda Morice's acumen for shaping such a compelling narrative.

Notes

(1) Thalia M. Mulvihill, "Hart to Hart: Sisters Working in Tandem for Educational Change in Nineteenth Century America," Vitae Scholasticae: The Bulletin of Educational Biography 18, no. 1 (1999): 79-95.

(2) Thalia M. Mulvihill, "The Powerful Collaboration Between Deans of Women and Directors of Physical Education: Syracuse University's Contributions to the History of Student Affairs, 1930s-1950s," in Empowering Women in Higher Education and Student Affairs: Theory, Research, Narratives and Practice from Feminist Perspectives, eds. Penny A. Pasque and Shelley Errington Nicholson (Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2011), 47-60.

Thalia M. Mulvihill

Ball State University
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Author:Mulvihill, Thalia M.
Publication:Vitae Scholasticae
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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