Refinement and Romance

Chapter 2: Starstruck Lovers

chapter illustration

Mary Hawks created this hand-held fire screen in 1816-17, while a student at Deerfield Academy. A small figure can be seen on the roof looking through a telescope. Image courtesy of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association/Memorial Hall Museum.

In 1813, her education complete, rather than go home to live with her parents, Orra moved to Deerfield to teach at Deerfield Academy. She taught the females only, who ranged in age from their mid-teens to mid-twenties. Only 17 years old herself, Orra was already an accomplished young woman, and she tried to stimulate her students' intellectual aspirations beyond the usual expectations for girls. 

She instructed them in mathematics, cartography, the sciences, and drawing and painting. Students in her art classes copied historical and biblical scenes and drew flowers, trees, and shells from actual specimens. Some of their drawings were purely ornamental, but Orra taught them habits of observing accurately with a scientist's eye.

At 20, Edward was not yet teaching at the academy when he and Orra first met. Long nights outdoors with the telescope had damaged his health. He had once hoped to attend Harvard College to become an astronomer, but his poor eyesight put this out of the question. Health problems dogged him for the rest of his life. For two years, from 1814 to 1816, he worked at manual labor on land his brother rented and studied on his own as he slowly recuperated. He took the time to think and write.

When he could rouse himself to action, he gave signs of the extraordinary productiveness that was the hallmark of his entire life. He traveled with friends to Amherst to attend talks on natural history by Professor Amos Eaton, which inspired him to become expert in the sciences. Poor health certainly did not keep him from becoming smitten with the brilliant Miss White. Here was a young lady of high moral character who loved astronomy and had a sharp intellect to challenge his own! 

Next chapter: The French Connection

Dig Deeper