Ella Abbott Arthur

Honored by:Rachel Elder
Brick location:E:7  map

Ella Amaretta Abbott Arthur was an Iowa pioneer woman who came to Dickinson County, Iowa, as an eight-year-old child walking behind the covered wagon from Wisconsin, a long walk that began early in the spring so they could cross the Mississippi River before the ice thawed.

She was a descendent of Governor William Bradford and other pilgrims who came to New England on the Mayflower. She was also a descendent of several Revolutionary War patriots. She was related to both the Coffin and Mott families, who are best known by the Quaker woman Lucretia Coffin Mott who began witnessing for equality for women when she discovered that her favorite teacher was paid more than women teachers. She married the man and both of them kept a life-long commitment to the movement for equality for women. Lucretia was also an early and vocal abolitionist before the Civil War and an agitator for world peace.

With this heritage of activism and tradition of being teachers, Ella became an Iowa farm woman who lived a life larger than the geographical space she occupied on the prairie. Ella was naturally left-handed but this was considered a disgrace by her school-teacher parents so she became ambidextrous, tackling problems with both hands. Even in her last years she kept her accounts with a pencil in each hand.

Her mother died when Ella was a teenager, leaving her as the mother of her younger siblings. At sixteen she passed the teacher's examination and began teaching in a log cabin school house. Her salary was $20 and her father was severely criticized because he "allowed her to buy a sewing machine which meant she would probably grow up to be a lazy good-for-nothing woman." She married one of the largest of her students who had been helpful in insisting that the boys, many of them older than the teacher, obey the tiny young girl who believed in the importance of "book learning."

Together Henry and Ella Arthur farmed the Arthur homestead on East Okoboji Lake, where the earlier settlers had been massacred by Indians. The Arthurs were pillars of the community. Ella continued to participate in the literacy movement and to assert the rights of women by leaving her family and traveling over northwest Iowa to sell books. In her last years, she was often asked to come to the Spirit Lake Consolidated School to talk about pioneer days. She often could tell the pupils facts about their grandparents that the children didn't know. She remembered not only the dates when people were born, married and died, but often would name the day of the week.

I, as her granddaughter, honor her as a pioneer woman teacher and activist. She introduced me to the pleasures of mental arithmetic inspired me to become a teacher and believed that "where there is a will there is a way."