Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff
Abby Winch Christensen
Housemother (Far House) 1924 – 1928;
Teacher, English Folk Dancing 1927-1949;
Teacher, Weaving, and Mechanical Drawing 1944-1949
(Born 1887; Died 1969)

1947 PMSS Calendar. Painting by Abby Winch Christensen. [1947_calendar_005.jpg]


TAGS: Abby Winch Christensen, Abby “Winnie” Christensen, Abbie Winch Christensen, landscape architect, folk dancers, English Country Dance, Radcliff College, Appalachian music, Appalachian dance, abolitionists, Neils Christensen, Abbie Mandana Holmes Christensen, Neils Christensen, Andrea Christensen Patterson, race relations, Denmark, Quakers, activists, teachers, mechanical drawing, weavers, botanists, vegetable dyes, MIT, Monica Tetzleff, Fred and Esther Burkhard


Born February 7, 1887, in Beaufort, South Carolina, Abby Winch Christensen (“Winnie”) was named for her remarkable mother, Abbie Mandana Holmes Christensen (1852-1938), a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, an abolitionist, and a woman suffragist. Her mother left a high bar for her daughter and a lasting confusion regarding her name. Both Abby Winch, the daughter and Abbie Mandana her mother, may sometimes be found incorrectly conflated as one as they both refer to “Abigail.”

The gravestone for Pine Mountain’s Abby confusingly reads, ” Abby Winch Christensen, Daughter of Niels & Abby M.H. Christensen Feb. 7, 1887 – Sept. 6, 1969.” While many official records list Abby M.H. Christensen as “Abbie” and many references to Pine Mountain’s “Abby” are recorded as “Abbie,” we have tried in this record to retain “Abby” Winch Christensen as the name of record. That version of her name is how Abigail Winch Christensen signed all her letters and assigned her stationary letterhead. “Abby” also appeared on official documents at Pine Mountain Settlement School. The use of Abby “Winnie” and Abbie Winnie is often associated in friendly references to this one and the same “Abby” though the reader may find lapses throughout this record to “Abbie” which, in association with Pine Mountain, is a reference to daughter Abby Winch and not Abbie Mandana Christensen.

Abbie Mandana Holmes Christensen, Abby Winch’s (Winnie) mother, a native of Massachusetts and Neils Christensen (1840-1909), a Danish sea captain, arrived separately in Beaufort, South Carolina, near the close of the Civil War. Beaufort, a small town on Port Royal island, one of the coastal Sea Islands in South Carolina, was home to many individuals of abolitionist sympathy. Known as the Port Royal Experiment, Abbie Mandana Holmes’ father joined the growing number of like minded “Yankees” who sought to provide industrial training and education to thousands of slaves and Union whites who had sought refuge in the outer islands as the war intensified. Not yet fully freed, the slaves were protected by their geography and the flight of Confederate soldiers after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863. Large tracts of land belonged to the government and it was on this land, on the island of Coosaw that Abby Winch’s (“Winnie”) grandfather joined others in a charitable experiment to raise up the slave populations in the area through demonstration farms, Bible study and a mutual belief that all were doing “God’s work” and that rewards would follow.

One of the “others” who engaged “Gods Work” with Neils Christensen was R.G. Holmes. A dedicated abolitionist, Holmes nearly died from typhoid doing “God’s work,” that involved hands-on work in a quasi-plantation arrangement with the island African Americans. Holmes survived and undaunted returned to collect his wife Rebecca and the family in the North. The entire family arrived in Beaufort in 1864. Abbie Holmes, Abby Winnie’s mother, was twelve.

Near Christmas, when Sherman’s march swelled the population of Beaufort and the surrounding islands with desperate black and white refugees, the Holmes family watched with anxiety. But, by April of 1865, Lee had surrendered at Appomattox and the Port Royal Experiment rejoiced and the work gained new strength. Their celebration was, however, short-lived for even as Special Field Order 15 declared that coastal land from the Seal Islands to the St. Johns river was reserved for black settlement, there were negotiations intent on reverting ownership to whites as the agricultural experiments developed by the abolitionists and the local African Americans became more and more profitable. 

The Port Royal Agricultural School of 1870, was originally conceived by Abbie Mandana Holmes’ father, R.G. Holmes and like-minded abolitionists including Neils Christensen. Most of those associated with the Port Royal school were abolitionists and Quakers from Pennsylvania who were familiar with the Sea Islands as a sanctuary for African Americans seeking safety from slavery. Their school was established in the Port Royal sound area, just a short distance from Beaufort which was taken by the Union Army before the war’s end. The Confederates were forced to flee during the War Between the States so the islands became a safe sanctuary for African Americans and abolitionists. The school, founded shortly after the close of the war, had as its intent to offer support for the Sea Islanders who were struggling to survive in their new-found but often illiterate freedom. The name “Port Royal” alludes to the Quaker heritage of the residents and to the Quaker activist William Penn. Monica Teztlaff’s book Cultivating the New South: Abbie Holmes Christensen and the Politics of Race and Gender, 1852–1938, fully describes the early life of Abbie Mandana Holmes Christensen and the Port Royal school. Published in 2002, Textlaff’s book outlines the work that Abby Winch Christensen’s parents and grandparents completed in Beaufort, SC. The brief book “blurb” notes

The story of a Yankee reformer and her life in Beaufort County, South Carolina; Born into a Massachusetts abolitionist family, Abbie Holmes Christensen (1852-1938) epitomized the Yankee reformer spirit of the nineteenth century. Well educated and passionate about human rights, she moved to Beaufort, South Carolina, with her parents in 1864 as part of the Port Royal Experiment. In 1870, as a teenager, she began teaching black students. During her life she labored to educate South Carolina’s African Americans, fought for women’s equal participation in politics, and eventually took a role in the Socialist Party of America. Monica Maria Tetzlaff’s biography of this activist reformer reveals not only the life of an intriguing individual, but also the history of the Sea Islands of South Carolina during a neglected era – from Reconstruction to the New Deal. Tetzlaff chronicles Abbie Holmes’s education at Mount Holyoke College, her return to Beaufort, and her marriage in 1875 to Niels Christensen, a Danish immigrant and former captain of Colored Troops in the Union army. Tetzlaff depicts the intensity of Christensen’s private and public life as the mother of six children …

One of those six was Pine Mountain’s Abby Winch Christensen. When her mother, Abbie Mandana Holmes came with her parents to the Sea Islands, she grew up in the rich Gullah culture. She listened to the folk tales, the unique language of the Gullah people and played with her African American neighbors and learned their stories. Many churches in Beaufort were integrated and as her relationships deepened through her life. Both she and her mother recorded their experiences in a series of diaries. These family diaries and journals held by the University of South Carolina archives are some of the richest historical accounts in South Carolina of life during the Reconstruction era along the South Carolina coast.

It was with this rich early immersion that Abbie Mandana Holmes departed to Ipswich Female Seminary in Massachusetts in 1866, where she excelled. She was back in Beaufort in 1867, when the need to provide care for her mother interrupted her studies. Her mother, whose mental decline had become precipitous. When it was clear that she could not be cared for at home, she was admitted to Bellevue Asylum in New York City, and died there in 1868. 

By 1870 Neil Christensen, Abby Winch’s father, now a widower, was deeply engaged in politics in the state of South Carolina and the family wealth was increasing. The census shows the family as one of the most prosperous in Beaufort, South Carolina. Also, during this busy time Abby’s father had remarried and Abbie Mandana Holmes was freed from household chores. At eighteen, she became a school teacher in the interracial school in Beaufort. Superintendent Landon Langley, who hired her was black and had worked with her father on the South Carolina constitutional convention. Under his direction Abbie Holmes stumbled but then thrived. Langley praised the work of young Abbie Holmes and her journal records the struggles and successes of this early experience. It was praise that shaped her future.

The abolitionist work of Abbie Holmes’ parents gave her an edge when she left to attend Mount Holyoke Seminary in 1872. At Mt. Holyoke, one of the earliest models for women’s colleges in the United States, Abbie Holmes was surrounded by strong women and motivated by the mission of the institution which declared that “The pupils were to be trained to help themselves mainly for the sake of helping others.” 

 This early family history was formative in shaping the life and outlook of Abbie Holmes Christensen and later Abby Winch Christensen. Abbie Holmes’ parents were drawn to coastal South Carolina before the birth of Neils Christensen, Abbie Holmes’ father. The two abolitionists married and helped to found the well-known Port Royal experiment known as the Port Royal Agricultural School, now known as Penn Center. This early school for African Americans sought to provide education to Freedmen following the war. Neils Christensen, Abby’s father, was a native of Denmark who fought in the Civil War on the Union side and led one of the most exemplary U.S. Colored troops. Both parents were following a path well-defined by other abolitionists around them. Beaufort was a haven for those devoted to human and civil rights and their efforts demonstrated the best of service to humanity during this time of conflict and inhumanity. 

Abby Winch had six siblings. Her older brother, Niels Christensen, III, was a Senator in the South Carolina Legislature, and owner and editor of the Beaufort Gazette newspaper begun in 1903. He was a lifetime supporter of human rights, particularly those of African Americans. Both he and his father, who had led African American troops against the South in the Civil War, were subjected to continual opposition from segregationists. The views of the family were often negatively introduced in Neils’ state campaigns for public office, but his fair and even hand kept him in his Senatorial office for nearly twenty-two years. Eleven years older than Abby, Sen. Niels Christensen III was a strong influence on Abby, as were their socially conscious mother and father. In 1940 Abby lost her brother Neils III (born 1876) in a tragic auto accident.


As a young woman, Abby served with the Red Cross in France during WWI from 1918-1919, as part of the Civilian Committee of the Beaufort County Chapter of the American Red Cross. Following the war Abby did not follow her mother’s educational footsteps to Mt. Holyoke College but, instead, marched off to Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she followed in many ways her mother’s educational interests and her Quaker beliefs. She became strongly interested in folklore. Her interest was not in the Gullah or the African American culture of the coastal Carolinas, but was, interestingly, English folklore. At Radcliff she joined the English Folk Song Society and the Appalachian Club. One of her strongest passions was for English folk dancing, which she taught at several summer camps before arriving at Pine Mountain Settlement School in 1924. Pine Mountain had become known as a center of English folklore and dance and it is where Abby grew to become a recognized leader in the English Folk Dance movement.

ABBY WINCH CHRISTENSEN: Pine Mountain Settlement School

At Pine Mountain, Abby found other Quakers and women with abolitionist roots but more importantly she found an extended family of folklorists. She began as housemother in Far House in 1924 and was teaching folk-dancing as early as 1927, according to that year’s March issue of Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School: “…dancing is an all-the-year pleasure for us, with Miss Wells and Miss Christensen to teach classes and manage parties….” Abby continued these roles throughout her years at PMSS, and was known for her “dancing” as she walked about the campus. The May 1941 issue of the Conifer paid tribute to her contributions to the School:

Miss Winnie Christensen, who has been in charge of May Day for some time, has brought with her this year many new dances which have won the hearty approval of the students. The dancers consider themselves fortunate to have an authority such as Miss Christensen with them each spring to teach better appreciation of the fine art of folk dancing.

One of several “Handkerchief Dance” offerings by Pine Mountain students with their visiting teacher, Abby Winch Christensen, to the far right. c. early 1940’s.

Her keen interest in dancing was also indicated by her life-long membership in the American English Folk Dance Society and her status as one of their leading experts on American folk dance, especially adaptations of English Country Dance styles. Possibly her interest and expertise were passed down from her father Neils, a Danish sea-captain, who would have been familiar with many of the Danish folk-school dances that borrowed from the English Country Dance repertoire.

In addition to her instruction in dance, Abby, a self-taught artist and trained in mechanical drawing, taught mechanical drawing from 1944 -1945 and weaving from December 1944 until June 1949. Many of the former children at the School remember her as their “weaving teacher” and many of her weavings still remain in the School collections. As a botanist, she was interested in vegetable dyes and apparently was instrumental in many of the experiments with natural dyes at the School. She is recorded as practicing the art of vegetable dying while at the School and, while not documented, the “rainbow” weavings may be the work of Abby Winch.

Her botanical interests often found her consulting with the staff at the School on landscaping projects and some of the lovely vistas including native plantings are the result of Abby Winch Christensen’s keen eye for landscaping. She was a good botanist and introduced many at Pine Mountain to the edible morel mushroom. She also “discovered” the so-called “climbing fern,” an unusual trailing fern (climbing fern ?) found in several locations at Pine Mountain and known for its rarity. She was a close friend of Ruth Gaines who is also credited with keeping a watchful eye on the botanical landscape at Pine Mountain. 

Her mechanical drawing skill may best be seen in her drawings for WWII aircraft. Some of her very elegant aeronautical engineering drawings remain at Pine Mountain. Produced as a part of her war effort, the drawings are highly detailed drafts and describe various parts of aircraft used in WWII.

Abby’s presence at Pine Mountain was well-received. Her contributions are lasting and in an early letter of February 28, 1928, to Abby’s mother, Abbie Holmes Christensen, Ethel de Long Zande, the School’s co-founder and co-director, wrote 

Winnie [Abby’s other nickname] runs in every day, and I feel very sensible of my blessings every time she comes. … It seems to me I couldn’t contemplate living here on our hill without her for my next-door neighbor.

In another letter, Glyn Morris wrote to Abby Winch on May 10, 1933:

May I take this method of expressing to you again our gratitude for the happy days which you gave us while here this past month [to teach folk dancing at PMSS]. You have left with us here at Pine Mountain many pleasant memories and we sincerely hope that you will come and stay with us again very soon. 

To view Abby Winch Christensen at work see the Esther and Fred Burkhard Collections – Dance which includes many photographs of the May Day celebration at the School in 1941 and other years. Abbie is shown dancing on the “Green” with other dancers and performing, for example, the girl’s “handkerchief dance,” (see above). A list of dances she recommended for the School to include in their repertoire can be found in her correspondence and includes many of the favorites of the genre.


Abbie Winch Christensen never married and spent most of her life traveling extensively in the United States as well as overseas, often with her mother. By 1940, she was living with one of her four siblings, Frederick H. Christensen, his wife Helen (Bun) Christensen, and son in Beaufort, SC, her birthplace. She is listed in the 1940 census as a “florist and artist” and the census indicates that she had her own shop in Beaufort, a lovely small village on the coast of South Carolina. During the 1940s she she continued to come to Pine Mountain to instruct in English Country Dancing. 

Just eight years before she died Abby Winnie wrote to Esther and Fred Burkhard, answering their Christmas greeting on January 9, 1961

Would you believe it — I’m still dancing! Just as I go once a year to the hospital for a physical check up, I go once in so often to dance with a group of English Country dancers. If I can still dance I am still sound and whole!

Abby Winch Christensen died in October 1969 at the age of 82 and is buried in the Beaufort Baptist Church Cemetery. The school on St. Helena Island that her parents helped to found, Penn School, is now the Historic Penn Center, and a National Historic Landmark District. Similar to Pine Mountain Settlement, it runs programs that feature the arts and also community farming and local crafts of the Gullah people in the area. Recently awarded a 1 million dollar Mellon Foundation grant that is focused on the humanities and arts research projects and another earlier Mellon grant that focused on the study of environmental humanities in coastal contexts. Penn Center remains one of the most significant African American historical and cultural institutions in existence today. Near Beaufort, the Penn Center, today is a partner with the Coalition of Sites of Conscience (ICSC) and serves as a retreat for discussion regarding race relations, particularly the complicated issues surrounding freedom, mobility and racial profiling. It serves the local community and offers some residential classes as well as residential scholarships.

Abby Winch Christensen, I suspect, would be so very pleased with the conversion of the school in the service of art for the community of Beaufort and in the growing interest in the arts, agriculture, and race relations. As a link to this rich heritage, Pine Mountain was so very fortunate to have made the acquaintance of Abby Winch Christensen. — HW


Abby Winch Christensen

Alt. Title

Abby “Winnie” Christensen  

Alt. Title

Abbie Winch Christensen




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Abby “Winnie” Wince Christensen ; “Abby” Christensen ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; education ; Radcliff College ; English Folk Song Society ; Appalachian Club ; Appalachian music ; Appalachian dance ; Abbie Mandana Holmes Christensen ; Neils Christensen ; Port Royal Agriculture School ; Penn School; Penn Center; abolitionists ; Quakers ; Sea Islanders ; Union forces ; Confederate forces ; William Penn ; activists ; American Folk Dance Society ; Far House ; Danish folk dancing ; teachers ; Miss Evelyn Wells ; mechanical drawing ; weavers ; botanists ; vegetable dyes ; morel mushrooms ; climbing ferns ; Frederick H. Christensen ; Helen (Bun) Christensen ; Beaufort, SC ; Cambridge, MA ; Pennsylvania ; Pine Mountain Settlement School, KY ;

Subject LCSH

Christensen, Abby “Winnie” Wince, — February 7, 1887 – October 1969.
Christensen, Abbie Mandana Holmes 
Christensen, Niels
Educators — Biography.
Women — Southern States — History.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Race relations.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Weavers — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Folk dancing — Appalachian Region.
English Country Dance.
Folk dancing, Danish.




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet


Series 9: Biography – Staff/Personnel




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 9: Biography – Staff/Personnel ; Gullah Tales: South Carolina. Columbia, SC: Educational Television Commission, 2001. Internet resource ; “Christensen Family Papers, 1806-1999,” University Libraries: South Carolina Library ;

Coverage Temporal

1887 – 1969

Coverage Spatial

Beaufort, SC ; Pennsylvania ; Pine Mountain, KY ; Cambridge, MA ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Abbie Winch Christensen ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Abbie Winch Christensen ;




“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2007-07-12 hhw ; 2013-11-15 aae ; 2014-06-20 aae ; 2018-12-03 aae ; 2019-09-02 aae ; 2019-09-12 hhw; 2021-06-02 hhw; 



“Christensen Family Papers, 1806 – 1999.” University Libraries: South Caroliniana Library. (accessed 2013-11-15). Internet resource.

Abbie Mandana Holmes Christensen

Tetzlaff, Monica Maria. Cultivating a New South: Abbie Holmes Christensen and the Politics of Race and Gender, 1852–1938. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002. 

Abagail Mandana Holmes Christensen [Wikipedia]

Conifer – 1941. Series 17: PMSS Publications. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. . Internet resource.

THE PINE CONE 1942 April, “Miss Christensen Arrives,” page 4. Series 17: PMSS Publications. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. . Internet resource.

PMSS Staff Directory 1913 – present. Series 9: Biography – Staff/Personnel. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

“United States Census, 1940,” index and images. FamilySearch. (accessed 2013-11-14). Abbie Winch Christensen in household of Fredrick H Christensen, Beaufort, Beaufort Township, Beaufort, South Carolina, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 7-1, sheet 2B, family 35, NARA digital publication of T627, roll 3790. Internet resource.

“United States Social Security Death Index.” FamilySearch. (accessed 2013-11-14). Abbie Christensen, October 1969; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing). Internet resource.

GENI. Biographical Information. Abbie Winch Christensen. (accessed 2016-01-13.)

See Also:

ABBY WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence Guide 1928-1962
ABBY WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1928

ABBY WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1933
ABBY WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1934
ABBY WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1935
ABBY WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1936
ABBY WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1937
ABBY WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1938

Publications PMSS CALENDAR 1947

Return To: BIOGRAPHY – A-Z

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