From Reading to Seeding


Hear the narration:

This text will be replaced

I was twelve years old when we moved to the territory of Southern Wisconsin. My father, the preacher, traveled from community to community and was never home. In his absence, I stayed home, working on our farm and taking care of my family. Work, for me, began way before the sun came up and did not finish until after dark. With a mother, five sisters and two younger brothers to take care of, I had time to read my books only late at night. I anxiously awaited the arrival of Sunday each week because no work was done on the day of the Sabbath, and I could venture off to read or explore. Big George would send me botany, zoology and geology books to read since I did not have access to many books at the time.

In the fall of 1850, my father was pushing hard for me to enter the ministry, but I announced that I was leaving the farm and the family in order to continue my education. Without receiving any help or financial support, I walked 20 miles to the closest secondary school in order to study. I would come home during the summers, but spent as much time as I possibly could studying. When I was 18, I got a job teaching in a one-room school house in Wisconsin with the hope of saving up enough money to enroll and attend college. My plan worked, and I spent the next 10 years taking college courses, in both Illinois and Ohio, in Greek, Latin, advanced mathematics and all of the natural sciences. During this time, I also explored the countryside. I embarked on rowboat expeditions the length of the Ohio River, journeyed down the Mississippi from St. Paul, Minnesota, to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. I also explored Wisconsin and Michigan on foot, all the while collecting and keeping various objects from nature. In June 1858, the Natural History Society of Illinois was formed and I donated my entire collection to the organization. The specimens that I had collected were identified and displayed at State Normal University, a college where students studied to become teachers. Through my efforts, my reputation as a naturalist was spreading, and on one of my various expeditions to Michigan I met a bright, beautiful young woman named Emma Dean. I knew that I loved her from the first moment I spoke to her. She encouraged me to follow my dreams, which is all that I have ever wanted to do.