How We Created On The Line

Weaving the 1890s Biography of Mabel White

I first encountered the story of Mabel Florence White in the basement of the Hartford Public Schools central office at 960 Main Street in 2010, thanks to an historically-minded custodian and my Trinity research assistant, Jasmin Agosto. White graduated from Hartford Public High School in 1890, then worked as a kindergarten teacher in the city schools for the remainder of the decade, until she married and moved to Michigan. Her daughter donated these photos to Hartford Public Schools in 1976, with notes on the back of each one and a background letter that relayed memories from her mother. Additional materials were made available by Luke R.J. Williams at the Hartford Public High School Museum and Archives. All of these images now appear in an online collection.[1] This essay illustrates how we used these and other sources to weave together Mabel White’s story for the chapter, A Golden Age for City Schools, in this volume.

Mabel Florence White, standing at the center, looks straight into the camera in this close-up of the Class of 1890 senior photo at Hartford Public High School. Behind her is the principal, Joseph Hall. Source: Donated by her family to Hartford Public Schools.

In this full view of the Class of 1890 senior photo at Hartford Public High School, Mabel Florence White stands at the center, wearing a flowered hat, and looks straight into the camera. Source: Donated by her family to Hartford Public Schools.

Mabel Florence White and members of the Hartford Public High School Class of 1890 sat for senior portrait photos. Source: HPHS Museum & Archives.

According to the Hartford Public High School Register, Mabel enrolled as student number 6053 in May 1886. She was fifteen years old, and had completed her studies at South Street School in Hartford, located near her family’s home at 148 Seymour Street, near downtown. Her father, Alonzo White, worked as a paper dealer, according to school records, and her mother, Harriet White, kept house and also cared for Mabel’s younger brother, Alonzo P. White. *Calculation of the entering cohort attrition and graduation rates, to come*. See also Census manuscript records and city directory listing of the White family *to come*

For most of Mabel’s high school career, she took courses in the Classical department, the highest curricular level, which emphasized the study of Latin, Greek, the humanities, and mathematics. *Image of the Classical curriculum from school report or catalog, to come*

Student grades and rankings were publicly distributed when Mabel attended HPHS. During her junior year, she ranked around the middle of about 60 students in the Classical Department. But during Mabel’s senior year, her ranking fell near to the bottom of the 40 students who still remained in her cohort. In her final months, Mabel switched to the English Department, a less-demanding academic track, and graduated in the upper half of her new cohort of 20 students. In 1894, the school changed its policy and began to issue individual report cards to students, rather than publish their grades. Source: Monthly Reports, 1888-1890, HPHS Museum and Archives.

*To come: Analyze HPHS 1890 graduates and post-high school trajectories, by gender, from Catalog*

Soon after Mabel’s high school graduation, the head of the Hartford district schools in her neighborhood invited her to work as a classroom assistant and be trained as a kindergarten teacher. In 1891, Mabel was listed as a kindergarten teacher at South School, 36 Wadsworth Street, located near her family’s home where she continued to reside. This first classroom photo is probably from the South School, since district records list four kindergarten teachers here around this time. Mabel is seated near the clock and under the wall slogan, “Come With Our Children Let Us Live.” Source: Donated by her family to Hartford Public Schools.

By 1894, Mabel moved to a new kindergarten position at Charter Oak Avenue School in Hartford. This second classroom photo is probably from Charter Oak, where district records listed two kindergarten teachers. Mabel is standing in front of the door. Source: Donated by her family to Hartford Public Schools.

In this third Hartford classroom photo, probably from the same kindergarten at the Charter Oak Avenue School in the late 1890s, Mabel is the teacher in the dark dress, seated on the far right. Source: Donated by her family to Hartford Public Schools.

This 1976 letter from Mabel White’s daughter, Phyllis Holbrook, to a Hartford Public Schools administrator accompanied the photographs and relates more of the story. According to wedding announcements, Mabel married in 1899 and left her teaching position to move with her husband to Michigan.[2]

  1. “Mabel Florence White, 1890s photos,” Flickr, 2016,; “The Hartford Public High School Museum & Archive,” 2015,
  2. “Yesterday’s Weddings: Marriage of Miss Mabel F. White and Dr. Holbrook,” Hartford Courant, September 7, 1899,

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