ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Biography

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 9: Biography – Staff/Personnel

ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Biography

Housemother (Far House) 1924 – 1928; Teacher, English Folk Dancing 1927-1949; Teacher, Weaving, and Mechanical Drawing 1944-1949

TAGS: Abbie Winch Christensen ; Abbie “Winnie” Christensen; Pine Mountain Settlement School; landscape architect; Folk dancer; educator ; Radcliff College ; Appalachian music ; Appalachian dance ; abolitionists ; Neils Christensen; Abbie Mandana Holmes Christensen (1852-1938); Andrea Christensen Patterson; Denmark; Quakers ; activists ; teachers ;mechanical drawing ; weavers ; botanists ; vegetable dyes ; morel mushrooms ; climbing ferns ; MIT; Beaufort, SC; 


ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN: Her Family

Born February 7, 1887, in Beaufort, South Carolina, Abbie 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. Both Abbie Winch, the daughter and Abbie Mandana her mother, may sometimes be found incorrectly referred to as “Abby.” 

Abbie Mandana Holmes Christensen, Abbie Winnie’s 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, was home to many individuals of abolitionist sympathy. Known as the Port Royal Experiment, Abbie Holmes’ father first came to the Islands where he 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 as 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 Abbie Winnie’s 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.

R.G. Holmes nearly died from typhoid doing “God’s work,” that was a quasi-plantation arrangement with heart.  He 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, Abbie 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. 

The Port Royal Agricultural School of 1870, was originally conceived by Abbie Mandana Holmes’ father and like-minded abolitionists.   Many 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, about Abbie Mandana Holmes Christensen and the Port Royal school has recently been published [2002] and outlines the work that Abbie 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, Abie 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 …

When Abbie 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 the 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 diaries or journals, held by the University of South Carolina and the family are some of the richest historical accounts recorded of life during the Reconstruction era along the South Carolina coast. It was with this rich early immersion that Abbie Holms went to Ipswich Female Seminary in Massachusetts in 1866, where she exceled. She was back to Beaufort in 1867, when the need to provide care for ther mother whose mental decline had become percipitous. Her mother died in Bellvue Assylum in New York City in 1868 when it was clear that she could not be cared for at home.

By 1870 Abbie Holmes’ father 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. Also, Abbie’s father had remarried and she 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 worked with her father on the South Carolina constitutional convention. He 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 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.” 


 The two were drawn to coastal South Carolina before the birth of Abbie “Winnie.” There, in 1870, 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. The early school for African Americans sought to provide education to Freedmen following the war. Her father Neils was a native of Denmark who fought in the Civil War on the Union side and led a U.S. Colored troop. Both parents were following a path well-defined by those around them. Beaufort was a haven for those devouted to human and civil rights and their efforts demonstrated the best of service to humanity during a time of inhumanity. 

Abbie 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 Abbie, Sen. Niels Christensen III was a strong influence on Abbie, as were their socially conscious mother and father. In 1940 Abbie lost her brother Neils III (born 1876) in a tragic auto accident.

ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN: Early Career

Abbie did not follow her mother’s educational footstps to Mt. Holyoke College but, instead, marched off to  Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she followed in many ways her mother’s interests in folklore.  But, 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, and where she was soon recognized as a leader in the English Folk Dance movement.

As a young woman she 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.

ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN: Pine Mountain Settlement School

At Pine Mountain, Abbie found other Quakers and women with abolitionist roots but more importantly she found an extended family of folklorist. 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….” Abbie 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 teacher, Abbie Winch Christensen, to the far right

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, Abbie taught mechanical drawing from 1944 -1945 and weaving from December 1944 until June 1949. Many of her weavings still remain at the School. As a botanist, she was interested in vegetable dyes and apparently practiced the art of vegetable dying while at the School. Many of the children at the School remember her as their “weaving teacher.” Her botanical interest 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 Abbie 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.

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.

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

 Winnie [Abbie’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 Abbie 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 Abbie Winnie 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 repertoir is included in her correspondence and includes many of the favorites of the genre.

ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN: Later Years

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.

She died in October 1969 at the age of 82 and is buried in the Beaufort Baptist Church Cemetery. The school that her parent helped to found, Penland, can still be seen near Beaufort and now an artist’s retreat that serves the community and offers some residential classes. I suspect she would be so very pleased with the conversion of the school in the service of the community of Beaufort.

Title

Abbie Winch Christensen

Alt. Title

Abbie “Winnie” Christensen ; Abby Winch Christensen 

Alt. Title

Abbie Wince Christensen

Identifier

ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN

Creator

Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Abbie “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 ; 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, KY ;

Subject LCSH

Christensen, Abbie “Winnie” Wince, — February 7, 1887 – October 1969.
Christensen, Abbie Mandan 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.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Weavers — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Folk dancing — Appalachian Region.
Folk dancing, Danish.

Date

2007-06-26

Publisher

Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Contributor

n/a

Type

Text ; image ;

Format

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

Source

Series 9: Biography – Staff/Personnel

Language

English

Relation

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 Caroliniana Library ;

Coverage Temporal

1887 – 1969

Coverage Spatial

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

Rights

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.

Donor

n/a

Description

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

Acquisition

n/d

Citation

“[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; 

Bibliography

Sources

“Christensen Family Papers, 1806 – 1999.” University Libraries: South Caroliniana Library. http://www.sc.edu/library/socar/mnscrpts/christensen1.html#clist (accessed 2013-11-15). Internet resource.

Abbie Mandana Holmes Christensen http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/christensen-abbie-mandana-holmes/

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] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abigail_Mandana_Holmes_Christensen

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.  https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K486-F7B (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.  https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VMBJ-95M (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. https://www.geni.com/people/Abbie/6000000036926781699 (accessed 2016-01-13.)

 

See Also:

ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence Guide 1928-1938

ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Biography
ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1928
ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1933
ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1934
ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1935
ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1936
ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1937
ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Correspondence 1938

ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Art
ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Drafting 
ABBIE WINCH CHRISTENSEN Weaving
PUBLICATIONS CALENDAR 1947

Return to BIOGRAPHY – A-Z


Leave a Reply