This Mother's Day, I would like to pay tribute to an ancestral mother - my great-grandmother Ella. I never knew her, and neither did my own mother, but we have family stories that testify to her impact down the generations.
Born during the Civil War in rural New York, she was the first in her family to go to college. It was rare for young women coming of age in 1870s farm country to attend college. The same was true for men - neither her husband nor any of her male siblings received more than a high school education.
Ella became a teacher after graduating from St. Lawrence University in the early 1880s, teaching in New York City and Youngstown, Ohio, before returning to northern New York, where she taught math and French and became a vice-principal. One of her former students, a newspaper columnist, shared this recollection in 1933:
In 1889 the writer shook the dust of Canton post office from his shoes and entered Canton Union School, Ellen T. Lynch was the preceptress — Oscar H. Perry — not Oliver Hazard Perry — was the principal. The writer thought then and has continued to think through the upwards of forty years that have passed that Ella Lynch was the ideal teacher. She was remarkably successful in the classroom. While other teachers might be storm centers in the school at that time, Ella Lynch ruled not with a rod of iron, but she ruled nevertheless—She had a faculty of turning the mind of the student in on itself. For instance when she entered her room, the class in session but she was absent for a moment, and found a particularly frisky young lady sitting at the desk in her chair with her feet perched high up on the desk, there was no storm—it was just, "Why Fannie D. -" The way she said it was in the nature of a tonic that saved the situation. Daughters of Ella Lynch have come to St. Lawrence, graduating therefrom. Ella Lynch was a member of the class of '84.
She held her own children to high standards. Family lore recalls her making them stay at the dining room table after dinner until their homework was completed. All of them went to college, including two to Harvard and one to the U.S. Naval Academy.
But her children also recalled her love of family and her talents in the kitchen, including making wonderful doughnuts, preserves, and pickles.
Happy Mother's Day!