Harriet Bishop

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Harriet Bishop engraving.jpg
BornHarriet Bishop
(1817-01-01)January 1, 1817
Panton, Vermont, United States
DiedAugust 8, 1883(1883-08-08) (aged 66)
Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
OccupationTeacher, writer, activist
Alma materNew York State Normal School
GenreNaturalism, History
Notable worksFloral Home; or, First Years of Minnesota, Published 1857, New York
SpouseJohn McConkey

Harriet E. Bishop (January 1, 1817 – August 8, 1883) was an American educator, writer, suffragist, and temperance activist. Born in Panton, Vermont, she moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1847. There she started the first public school in the Minnesota Territory, the first Sunday school in the territory, was a founding member of temperance, suffrage and civic organizations, played a central role in establishing the First Baptist Church of Saint Paul, and was an active promoter of her adopted state.[1][2][3][4]

Education and career[edit]

Bishop received her teacher training at the Fort Edward Institute, and the New York State Normal School in Albany, New York under the instruction of renowned educator Catherine Beecher of Boston, Massachusetts. She spent about the first decade of her career teaching in Essex, New York.[2]

Given the growing demand for teachers on the expanding frontier, and the limited number of opportunities in New England for young women to find teaching positions, the newly formed Board of National Popular Education in Cleveland, Ohio developed a program that encouraged young women teachers to move to the western territories to found schools.[2][3] When news came of an opportunity in the Minnesota Territory, Bishop was eager to pursue it as an exciting adventure. Of the protests and arguments her family and friends made against her decision, she later wrote that they "were to me as so many incentives for me to persist in my decision."[3] Her inspiration for adventure was partly influenced by reading the memoirs of Baptist missionaries Harriet Newell and Ann Judson during their missions in Burma.[3]

The first school house, which she opened in a former blacksmith shop on July 19, 1847, was a "mud walled log hovel... covered with bark and chinked with mud" at what is now St. Peter Street and Kellogg Boulevard in the relatively isolated fur trading post of Saint Paul.[2][3][5] Within less than a year, she organized the Saint Paul Circle of Industry to raise funds to build a new structure for the students. The new building also served as a church, meeting hall, courtroom, and polling place.[2] Of the seven students in her first class, only two were caucasian. She had to rely on a student who was fluent in French, Dakota, and English to translate for her classes (which she taught in English).[3] To further aid in the education of Minnesota children, Bishop established the Minnesota Women's Seminary in Saint Paul in 1850.[5]

Fitting with her deep religious faith and devotion, shortly after her arrival, she also founded first Sunday school in Minnesota.[2][5] Bishop is considered the de facto founder of the ecumenical church movement in Minnesota.[4]


Bishop was actively involved in many public concerns, most notably the temperance movement and women's suffrage. She helped organize the Sons of Temperance and encouraged her students to pledge to abstain from alcohol. In 1867 she helped found the Ladies Christian Union and spearhead the construction of the Home to the Friendless, which is now Wilder Residence East.[2] In 1877, she became the first organizer of the Minnesota Women's Christian Temperance Union, working to help form chapters all over the state. Bishop is also recognized as one of the founders of the Minnesota women's suffrage movement.[2]

Personal life[edit]

While Bishop quickly established herself as a dynamic public force in the soon-to-be new state of Minnesota, there is little information about her private life. She was the third daughter of Putnam and Miranda Bishop of Panton, Vermont.[3] She was engaged to marry a young Saint Paul lawyer who was younger than her, but the engagement was called off by the man's sister who believed the age difference between the two to be improper.[3] In 1858 she married John McConkey, a widower with four children. This marriage lasted until 1867 when, having evidently been broken by experiences as a soldier in the First Minnesota Regiment in the Civil War, McConkey had become an alcoholic.[2][3] She successfully sued for divorce and petitioned to have her maiden name restored.[2]

In the early 1870s, Bishop was a defendant in a civil suit charging that she had made unauthorized land purchases on behalf of a New York land speculator.[2] Shortly after this, in 1873, she went on a lecture circuit in California. She returned to Saint Paul in 1875 where she continued to work as a lecturer, writer and activist until her death on August 8, 1883.[2][6] She is buried at Saint Paul's Oakland Cemetery.[6]

Partial list of works[edit]

  • "Floral Home; or, First Years of Minnesota", published in New York, 1857[7]
  • "Dakota War Whoop, or Indian Massacres and War in Minnesota of 1862–63", published in 1863[8]
  • "Minnesota Then and Now", published in 1869[9]


Bishop is the namesake of the Harriet Bishop, a riverboat operating out of St. Paul.[10] Harriet Bishop Elementary School in Rochester, Minnesota and in Savage, Minnesota are also named for her.


  1. ^ "Harriet Bishop Biography". Minnesota Historical Society. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Norma Sommerdorf. "Harriet Bishop: A Doer and a Mover" (PDF). MNHistory Magazine, Minnesota Historical Society. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Morton, Zylpha S. "Harriet Bishop, Frontier Teacher" (PDF). Retrieved March 6, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Stright, Hayden, "Together: the Story of Church Cooperation in Minnesota", Denison, 1971, p. 21
  5. ^ a b c "Harriet Bishop: History Players". Minnesota Historical Society. Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
  6. ^ a b "Oakland Cemetery, Saint Paul, Minnesota: Harriet Bishop grave stone (Block 10, Lot 29)". Retrieved March 6, 2011.
  7. ^ Bishop, Harriet. Floral Home; or, First Years of Minnesota. New York : Sheldon, Blakeman and Co., 1857. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
  8. ^ Bishop, Harriet E. Dakota War Whoop, or Indian Massacres and War in Minnesota of 1862–63. St. Paul: D. D. Merrill, 1863. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
  9. ^ Bishop, Harriet. "Minnesota Then and Now". Saint Paul : D.D. Merrill, Randall & Co., 1869. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
  10. ^ Felix Winternitz & Sacha DeVroomen Bellman (2007). "Insiders' Guide to Cincinnati". Globe Pequot. p. 157. Retrieved May 8, 2013.

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