Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff
Josephine M. Merrill – Community Worker,
Housemother, Teacher 1931-1949
Josephine Martha Merrill (1876-1953)

Staff at Laurel House, 1947. Kneeling; Dorothy Nace, Margaret Nace, Ruth Smith, Mrs. Georgia Dodd, Mrs. Birdena Bishop. Front row: Ronald Henderson, Elizabeth Henderson, Miss Edith Cold, Mrs. Benjamin, Miss Alice Cobb, Miss Abby Christensen, Miss Spinney, Miss Merrill, Mr. and Mrs. LaRue. Back row: Miss Helen Kingsbury, Miss Gladys Hill, Mr. H.R.S. Benjamin, Mr. Peter Barry, Mrs. Willis, Miss Minerva Sparrow. [nace_1_038b.jpg]

TAGS: Josephine M. Merrill, Josephine Merrill, Josephine Martha Merrill, Pine Mountain Settlement School, housemother, teacher, Far House, Boys House, Laurel House, Barbara Merrill Bartlett, Wellesley College, Medical Settlement Big Laurel, Line Fork Settlement, Glyn Morris


Community Worker at PMSS extensions (Line Fork Settlement and Medical Settlement Big Laurel) 1931-1937

Teacher (English, Bible, History, Mathematics) and Housemother at PMSS, 1937-1949

When Josephine Merrill learned of the undertakings at Pine Mountain Settlement School, she must have sensed it would be a good fit for her, as her experience included nine years of rural education work. Certainly, her references thought so, rating her ability to fill the position of community worker with high marks. In addition, Miss Lois Cyr of Franklin, Nebraska, wrote,

[S]he is not aggressive but rather unduly modest about her own abilities. However, this trait does not seem to be a handicap in dealing with the mountain people.

The PMSS Board of Trustees also thought so and authorized Evelyn K. Wells, Acting Director, to hire her as a community worker at the School’s extension centers, beginning in July of 1931.

Before Pine Mountain

According to Merrill’s entries on her application for PMSS employment [see image below], she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College in 1899. Since then, she studied for one term at Washington State Normal School in Cheeney, Washington, two summer terms each at University of California and University of Chicago. 

Applying to Pine Mountain

Because Merrill expressed an interest in a community worker position at the Medical Settlement at Big Laurel (Harlan County), Wells sent details about the satellite operation of the Pine Mountain Settlement School. She wrote that the “family” currently at the Settlement consisted of Miss Marie Taylor (nurse), a neighborhood girl in training, and 15-year-old Grace Lewis who lived there. Dr. Alfreda Withington had ended her work at the Settlement three months earlier, leaving Taylor alone and needing assistance. As for Merrill’s part, Wells wrote, “It is some time since we have had anything but the medical work going on down there. We really want you to diagnose the situation as much as anything else.”

Consequently, Merrill signed a contract to work at Big Laurel Settlement for $75.00 a month, $25.00 a month for living expenses, and one month’s vacation with pay in twelve months. She agreed to arrive on July 1, 1931.

At Medical Settlement Big Laurel

During her first few months at the Settlement, Merrill was already deeply involved in her work with the community, dispersing advice and medical aid. She helped two coal camp children from the Collins family to be admitted to the PMSS boarding school. Also, noting that the “Big Laurel boys…seem just as ready to go right or wrong,” she acquired permission from Director Glyn A. Morris for Mr. Pittman to give them individual teaching at the Settlement for the winter, with possible later acceptance at PMSS.

In her November report, she named a number of community residents who had offered assistance or asked for help. She described the classes, meetings, and events held in the Community House and home visits, sometimes overnight, with community residents and, as a result, becoming “a family friend for all time.”

Merrill went on to work at the Big Laurel Settlement for several years, off and on. For the 1933-1934 school year, Morris asked that she replace Miss Ross as housemother in Far House on the PMSS campus. According to her correspondence, she was back at Big Laurel in 1935. 

A Summer at Line Fork Settlement

In 1937, Merrill also spent a summer at Line Fork Settlement, another PMSS extension center in Gilley (Letcher County), Kentucky, to fill in while workers were on vacation. She writes to Mr. and Mrs. Morris on June 22,

It has been interesting and enjoyable to be here. When I think of the next person to come into this work, it seems to me that it will be a fortunate man who falls heir to this opportunity and to this lovely home, ready and waiting for him. There is a sort of prosperity here that is lacking at Big Laurel.

It was at this time that Alice Cobb, preparing to leave her position as secretary at Pine Mountain, wrote an essay about her “Farewell Trip To Line Fork.” She visited with Merrill and was so impressed with her that Cobb added this to her narrative:

I certainly shall never do very much community work anywhere without first making every effort to have Miss Merrill come and work with me. She is so fine, and wonderful, and she does know people.

As Housemother and Teacher

For the 1937-1938 school year, Merrill was asked to serve as housemother for a group of young boys at Far House. As of summer 1938 she wrote to Morris of her preparation to teach her first Bible classes at the School. Her plans included using material other than the Bible and workbooks for student use. It was the first class of many that Merrill taught at PMSS in the coming years.

In November 29, 1938, Merrill received a note of appreciation from Glyn Morris, Director, stating,

I have been reminded on several occasions recently of how much I rely on your wisdom and good judgment in helping to solve some of our problems here. It is good to know that you are on the staff and I want you to know that both Gladys and I are grateful that you are with us.

He received this response from Merrill, thanking him for his “kind note…. I sometimes have a feeling of sympathy with you for having to work with people who are capable of such stupidities as some of us do commit, — ‘of whom I am chief.’”

In 1940 Merrill was moved from Far House to Boys’ House, where she continued her work as a housemother, along with her position as a PMSS teacher. As dedicated as ever to the students she worked with, she wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Morris during her 1941 summer vacation, “I think of Pine Mountain every day and especially the Boys’ House.” By 1942, her salary had increased to $75.00 per month.

She continued working for nine additional years as teacher of English, Bible, History and Mathematics and Boys’ House housemother. Her last school year at Pine Mountain was 1948-1949.

Peter Barry, a PMSS teacher from 1944 to 1947, remembered this about Josephine Merrill in his autobiography:

Miss Merrill was a gentle woman who loved and understood teenage boys, and knew how to guide and steer them out of things which would get them into trouble. She knew how not to see something, if that was the wise thing to do!

Barbara Merrill Bartlett, Sister and PMSS Staff

A staff list in the PMSS Collections indicates that Barbara Merrill Bartlett, Josephine’s sister, was a PMSS worker in the 1930s, serving at various times as housemother in Practice House, Far House, Boys’ House, and Laurel House. She was also a dietitian at Laurel House. In later years, Barbara was employed as a librarian in Newport, New Hampshire. Barbara Merrill married Ernest M. Bartlett (1870-1905), a clergyman, in 1899. They had one child, Elanor Bartlett (1901-1989).

In August 1954, Dr. Francis Tucker, physician at PMSS Infirmary, received a letter from Mrs. Barbara Merrill Bartlett, Josephine’s sister. She reported the sad news that “My sister Josephine is no longer with us. She died on the day after Christmas, with but a few days of acute illness. Her tired heart just had to stop and we miss her more than words can say.”


Josephine Martha Merrill was born on November 27, 1876, in Brownville, Maine. Her parents were Arthur and Olive Elizabeth (Whitney) Merrill. Josephine had two sisters, Katherine W. Merrill (1874-1920) and Barbara Merrill (1879-1961). 

Josephine M. Merrill died on December 26, 1953, in Newport, New Hampshire.

NOTE: PMSS records indicate that Louise Merrill worked at PMSS as Housemother and dietitian in the 1930s. However, no indication has yet been found that she is related to Josephine M. Merrill.

GALLERY I: Application for PMSS Employment

Josephine M. Merrill’s Application for PMSS Employment, 1931. [merrill_josephine_corr_007.jpg]

GALLERY II: “Miss Merrill”


Josephine M. Merrill

Alt. Title

Josephine Merrill ; Miss Merrill ; Josephine Martha Merrill ; J.M. Merrill



Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Josephine Merrill; Josephine M. Merrill ; Josephine Martha Merrill ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; housemothers ; Practice House ; Far House ; Boy’s House ; personnel files ; Wellesley College ; Line Fork Settlement ; Medical Settlement Big Laurel ; Boys’ House ;

Subject LCSH

Merrill, Josephine Martha, — 1876-1953.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.


2014-05-11 hdw ; 2023-11-03 aae ;


Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Collections ; text ; image ;


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


Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff.

Coverage Temporal


Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Newport, NH ;


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 Josephine Merrill ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Josephine Merrill ;




“[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

2014-05-11 hhw ; 2015-09-14 aae ; 2023-10-19 aae ; 2023-11-05 aae ;


“Josephine Merrill,” Series 09: BIOGRAPHY -Staff. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

FAMILYSEARCH.ORG Family Tree. Accessed 03 November 2023. Internet resource.

“Massachusetts Marriages, 1841-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : Accessed 03 November 2023), 004332420 > image 337 of 477; State Archives, Boston. Internet resource.

See Also:
– 1931-1933
– 1933-1938
JOSEPHINE M. MERRILL Correspondence III – 1939-1954

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