A SCHOOLTEACHER IN OLD ALASKA: The Story of Hannah Breece by Hannah Breece


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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.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Random