Education

Emma Nielson's School Room Description, 1888


Historical Context
Prior to the opening of Ellis Island in 1892, most immigrants into the United States came through Castle Garden. Castle Garden functioned as the first immigration center for the United States from 1855 until 1890. Peter Nielson came through Castle Garden as an immigrant from Denmark in 1870. He made his way through New York and settled in Lansingburgh. He was a tailor and eventually owned his own dry goods store. Along with his wife Martena, he raised five children including Emma.

The story of American immigration is complex and diverse. It is a story best told through multiple perspectives using the evidence left by those who experienced it. Emma Nielson was the daughter of immigrants from Denmark. Her parents immigrated to the United States in 1870 and Emma was born in 1876. The story of the Nielson family is not unlike many immigrants from the Northwestern European countries. However, when compared to the experiences of immigrants from Southeastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America, the Nielson story is vastly different. A close look at the Nielson experience shows the relative ease in which this family immigrated and established a new life in the United States. Emma's student journal provides a glimpse into everyday life in Lansingburgh, New York. Her account of the Blizzard of 1888 shows a young girl's perspective regarding an extraordinary event.

 
Essential Question
What was life like for a child of an immigrant?
Check for Understanding
Based on the evidence in this document, draw two conclusion about Emma's life at school.
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Emma Nielson Student Exercise Book Page: Schoolroom and Schoolyard Description , Other, LHS_Neilson_ClassroomDesc
Document Description
Page from Emma Nielson's student journal describing her school, 1888.
Questions
  1. Who is Emma’s teacher? How does Emma describe her teacher?
  2. How many desks are in Emma’s schoolroom?
  3. How many yards does the schoolhouse have? How does Emma describe the school yards?
  4. List three items in the schoolroom.
  5. How reliable is this document as historical evidence? Explain your answer.
Transcription
My School Room

My teacher is Miss Cobden. She is very nice. She is good to me. In my school there are pictures on the wall, a clock and some blackboards. Then there are three doors, a desk and a basket under the table. There are six windows five rows of desks and nine desks in each row. Then we have maps on the door. I like this room. I think it is nice, both inside and outside. On the outside of this building, it is brick. It has three yards. One is the teacher's yard, the other the boys and the other the girls yard. In the teacher's yard there are flowers and grass and in the middle of the grass there is a path so the teacher may go out into the street.

Emma Nielson