Notes from a
The Diary of Robert C. Bishop, Kinney's Corners, New York
Robert C. Bishop was twenty-four years old when he began his diary in September, 1871. Two volumes of this unpublished diary, covering the years 1871 to 1874, are in the Special Collections sections of the Lightener Library of Keuka College, Keuka Park, New York. Bishop recorded his day-to-day routine as a young schoolmaster in various one-room schools in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
He was born on March 19, 1847, and for most of his life his home was at Kinney's Corners in Jerusalem Township of Yates County. He graduated from the one-room school at Kinney's Corners (Jerusalem No. 3), and after attending a brief training institute in Penn Yan, taught in several one-room schools in the vicinity of Keuka, Seneca, and Canandaigua Lakes. Between terms of school he hired out as a farm laborer or worked at home.
The diary is written in a flowery, sentimental style with several original poems interspersed between the daily entries. The quality of the poetry may be deduced from the fact that the Yates County Chronicle refused to print his first contribution and the Bath Advocate wanted $4.00 or one half its usual advertising rates to publish it. Poet or not, young Bishop was a sincere teacher who taught the pupils in his care how to read, write, spell and do figures to the best of his ability.
References in the diary indicate that he lived and probably taught in Rushville in 1868-1869, and that he taught school in Gorham, Ontario County, during the winter of 1869-1870. In the fall of 1871 he attended the Yates County Teachers' Institute in Penn Yan. The two-weeks Institute consisted of lectures by Professor D. H. Crittenden and others on such subjects as "Mood Language," "Mental Forces," "The Senses," and "Words." The participants declaimed, read essays, and, on the last night, "Select Readings & Declamations and music by the choir, also calisthenics, was the program of the evening."
From November 13, 1871, until February 16, 1872, Bishop taught at District School Number 7 in Barrington, Yates county, boarding with different families in the district. He was extremely conscientious. On November 30, 1871, he noted, "Thanksgiving today," and added that he decided "to have school because I thought it was not necessary to dismiss school for one day only." On December 7, he went to a dance and recorded for the following day, "Halfway sleepy to-day. The day seems long and it seems as if it would never come night." His social life also included a protracted meeting (a continuous prayer meeting), games of Authors, and a spelling school.
He hired out as a farm laborer for the seven months in 1872 at $20.50 a month, and plowed, dragged for wheat, cut corn, dug potatoes, cut wood, and helped with the threshing. At the same time he was trying to get a school for the winter term. His social life that summer included attending a Grape Fair in Hammondsport, being "humbugged" when "P. T. Barnum's grand show" came to Penn Yan, and several days at the Yates County Fair. In spite of such activities, it must have been a dull summer. Day after day the entries in the diary read, "Nothing of any importance," "Nothing unusual to mark the event," and "Nothing of any importance occurred today."
In the fall of 1872 he got his teaching certificate from the Yates County Commissioner endorsed by the Commissioner of Steuben County and got the school at Keuka Landing to teach for $1.25 a day and board in the district. Certification to teach was issued by the County Commissioner and usually could be transferred to another county by having one commissioner write to another. On November 23, 1872, Bishop wrote in his diary, "I am once more situated in an intellectual fort." He taught there for a term ending March 25, 1872, and continued in the same school for a summer term from May 5 until August 19.
His next position, that fall, was in Kinney's Corners at the school from which he graduated. Here he was paid $2.25 a day because he could live at home instead of boarding with various families. The last day of this term was on February 27, 1874, and the diary ended with an entry on April 10 of that year.
The entries in the diary, made over a three-year period and covering four terms in one-room schools some 120 years ago, tell little about the routine of the school day. They do reveal something about the young teacher's educational philosophy, record some incidents that were out of the ordinary, and some problems and his method of solving them. Excerpts from the diary are presented in chronological order:
In addition to such recording of his educational philosophy, Bishop commented in his diary about celebrations of holidays, and current events of local interest such as a major fire that destroyed 52 buildings in Penn Yan, the hanging of Edward H. Rulloff, and a meeting to discuss a proposed railway from Branchport to Potter Center. He noted the names of the books he read and his social activities. On March 13, 1872, he wrote, "Oh dear! I am so tired that I can hardly wiggle for I have been playing base-ball most of the afternoon. Excuse me dear friends if ever you should happen to see these whimsical lines and perhaps are not worthy of a place in this journal."
Not much about Robert C. Bishop's later life has yet been discovered. He owned a small house in Kinney's Corners and lived there with his wife, Helen. They had no children. He was a member of the Bluff Point Methodist Church. He died on September 20, 1917, in Memorial Hospital in Canandaigua of typhoid fever, leaving no will and in debt. Cazenovia Seminary petitioned to have its representative appointed as executor of his small estate. He was buried in Penn Yan's Lake View Cemetery but there is no record of his burial or of that of his wife. His diaries were given to Keuka College in the late 1950's. They open a window on the thoughts and activities of a young school teacher of 1872 to 1874.
This article is a revision of one by the same title that appeared in New York Folklore Quarterly, XV, No. 2 (Summer, 1959).
(c) 1993, Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.