Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff
Minerva M. Sparrow, Staff 1940s
Minerva Miller Sparrow (1882–1968)


Bramlett Album II. Staff 1947: Kingsbury, Gladys Hill, H.R.S. Benjamin, Mrs. Benjamin, Peter Barry, Alice Cobb, Abby Christensen, Willis, Sparrow, Dorothy LaRue, Glen LaRue. Front row: Mr. Henderson, Dr. Henderson, Miss Cold, Dorothy Nace, Margaret Nace, Ruth Creech, Georgia Dodd, Birdena Bishop. [ser_19_workers_misc_groups_0048.jpg]


English Teacher & Housemother
1943-1946 & 1948-1949

TAGS: Minerva M. Sparrow, Minerva Miller Sparrow, Pine Mountain Settlement School, Harlan County KY, Straight College, Dillard College, New Orleans LA, Fisk University, housemothers, teachers, Edna O. Spinney, Mount Holyoke College, Radcliffe University, Harvard University, Middlebury College, Burton Rogers, freedmen, African American education

Minerva M. [Miller] Sparrow was born in 1882. She came to Pine Mountain in 1943 when she was sixty-one years old. She had already had a distinguished teaching career and a record of work with under-served populations. Just prior to coming to Pine Mountain she served as the head of the English department at Straight College (1920-1935) where she taught Latin and English. Straight College, a historically black college located in New Orleans, was established to work with freed slaves just following the Civil War.

Perhaps remembering one of her earliest teaching experiences in a small rural school in Massachusetts and her work with Straight College, she was excited to learn of Pine Mountain and the opportunities for service through her friend Miss Edna O. Spinney, a teacher at the settlement school and a close friend.

Minerva M. Sparrow: Application to PMSS and References, 1943

She writes in her application to Pine Mountain:

My interest in Pine Mountain is due wholly to the letters which my friend, Mis Spinney, has written me this year. The work seems most worthwhile and in line with my years of teaching in church schools in the South.

Miss Sparrow grew up in the New Bedford community of Massachusetts and attended New Bedford High School (1896-1900). She received an A.B. Degree from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts (1900-1904) and pursued additional graduate work at Radcliffe and Harvard and at Middlebury (Vermont) College where she received an M.A. in English in 1927.

In her application packet for a position of teacher and/or housemother at Pine Mountain, Miss Sparrow’s previous work at Straight College is evaluated in a letter of recommendation from Frances L. Yocom, who knew Miss Sparrow in New Orleans and was currently serving as the Associate Librarian at Fisk University, another historically black university in the South

My knowledge of her teaching comes from several years contact with her at Straight College in New Orleans. She took great interest in the whole student and tried to develop the good qualities which she found in each one. Though her students may have found her standards hard to attain, they ended by appreciating her and loving her. She comes from one of the old seafaring families of the Cape Cod region, whose characteristics of determination, forthright speech, and courageous optimism have appeared again in this one of their descendants. You will be doing your school a favor by adding her to your staff.

And, from the former Dean of Straight College, Ludwig Larsen, she received the following endorsement

Miss Sparrow was Professor of English at Straight College, New Orleans until that institution was merged with another to form Dillard University. During my thirteen years there as Dean, I came to know her work intimately. She taught the College, English and supervised the practice teaching in the School, I consider her the best teacher of English that I have known in forty years of experience. She is a woman of fine Christian character, very thorough and conscientious and at all time having in view the best good of her students. I cannot speak too highly of her …

 Larsen also previously served as the Principal of LaMoyne Institute in Memphis, TN. where he was associated with the American Missionary Association. At the time of his writing, he had moved to another historically black university, Fisk University, where he was employed to teach.

**[Pine Mountain was fortunate to have several teachers who came from a background associated with Freedmen schools. The Quaker family of Pine Mountain teacher, Miss Abbie Winch Christensen, founded Penland School on the coast of South Carolina at Beaufort. The school was established to educate the sons and daughters of freed slaves.]

Staff group on lawn at Laurel House, c. 1947. Arthur W. Dodd Album. [dodd_A_058_mod.jpg]

Miss Sparrow’s application was approved by Pine Mountain School’s Board of Trustees and she taught English at the School for the next three years, 1943-1946.

In 1947 she was invited to come back to Pine Mountain to teach and at first accepted, but that summer she had a turn in her health. She wrote to Mr. Benjamin that she did not believe she had enough stamina and declined to return. She was a woman of remarkable energy, but all were agreed that she had earned her rest. At Miss Sparrow’s suggestion, she was replaced by her friend, Miss Spinney who, according to Miss Sparrow, “is so desirous of teaching that I feel she can step into the shoes I have really not worn and carry on the work with great happiness and with her usual unequaled energy.”

Minerva M. Sparrow: Return to PMSS, 1948, and Later Correspondence

However, Miss Sparrow’s work at Pine Mountain did not end there. A year later, she was finally lured back to teach English and work as an assistant housemother at West Wind dormitory. Letters in the PMSS Collections indicate her signing a teaching contract for the school year 1948-1949.

Minerva Sparrow wrote to PMSS Director Burton Rogers after her time at Pine Mountain, expressing a concern that was not uncommon from those who worked at Pine Mountain — that she regretted that she had so little to donate to the School except her talents. However, it was her talents that she gave in great quantity through her seemingly limitless store of labor and love. She has been described by many of the children who were fortunate to have her as an instructor at Pine Mountain, as one of the best teachers they had in their educational years.

Her desire to work with young people was still strong when in December 1951 she applied to another school to work as housemother. In spite of a reference from Burton Rogers, she was not accepted because “The school really wanted some one under fifty as a housemother, and my experience with young people didn’t outweigh the years.”

In the spring of 1951, Miss Sparrow visited Pine Mountain and later wrote the following to Burton Rogers:

I think of my brief visit this last spring with deep pleasure. It was a satisfaction to see with my own eyes that the change in the school, which was a little hard for some of us to accept, has been a change for the good. You reach more children, you can influence them more surely in the earlier, formative years, and you have far closer relationship with the families and remote communities that we had. All to the good.

The last letter on file for Miss Sparrow in the PMSS Collections was an acknowledgment in January 1959 by Burton Rogers of her gift to the School:

I really can not tell you how deeply moved and gratified that I am by this your latest contribution. It is hard to feel that we are worthy of such goodness and helpfulness or your part. I want you to know that we are conscious of our great indebtedness to you and your very helpful way of showing your interest as you still take part in our efforts here.


Minerva Miller Sparrow was born on May 10, 1882, in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. Her parents, who lived in South Abington, MA, at the time, were William Edward Sparrow Jr. (1849-1913), a bookkeeper, and Mary S. (Atsatt) Sparrow (1852-1939). She had two siblings: Charles Atsatt Sparrow (1884-1944) and Seaton Lee Sparrow (1890-1909).

Minerva Sparrow died at age 85 (or 86?) in May of 1968 in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. She was buried alongside her family members at Cushing Cemetery, Mattapoisett.

See Also:

MINERVA M. SPARROW Correspondence 1943-1959 (Part I: 1943- August 1946)
MINERVA M. SPARROW Correspondence 1943-1959 (Part II: 1946-1959)


Minerva M. Sparrow

Alt. Title

Minerva Miller Sparrow




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Minerva M. Sparrow; Minerva Miller Sparrow; Pine Mountain Settlement School; Harlan County, KY; Straight College; Dillard College; Fisk University; housemothers; teachers; freedmen; African American education; Edna O. Spinney; Mount Holyoke College; Radcliffe University; Harvard University; Middlebury College; Burton Rogers;

Subject LCSH

Sparrow, Minerva M,. — 1882 – 1968.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Women educators — United States — Biography.


2018-03-19 hhw


Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders Berea SIA


Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel

Coverage Temporal

1882 – 1947

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; New Bedford, MA; New Orleans, LA;


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 Minerva M. Sparrow ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Minerva M. Sparrow ;




“[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

2014-11-03 hhw ; 2015-08-17 aae ; 2017-06-30 aae ; 2018-03-19 hhw; 2018-03-23 aae;



“Find A Grave Index,” database, FamilySearch   (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QK1L-Q743 : accessed 2018-03-23), Minerva Miller Sparrow, 1968; Burial, Mattapoisett, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States of America, Cushing Cemetery; citing record ID 148312669, Find a Grave, http://www.findagrave.com. Internet resource.

“Massachusetts Births, 1841-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FXDQ-7P6 : accessed 2018-03-23), Minerva M. Sparrow, 10 May 1882, South Abington, Massachusetts; citing reference ID #375, Massachusetts Archives, Boston; FHL microfilm 1,428,204. Internet resource.

Minerva M. Sparrow Correspondence 1943-1959 Parts I and II. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

PMSS Staff Directory, 1913-present. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

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