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A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  221 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
When Hannah Breece came to Alaska in 1904, it was a remote lawless wilderness of prospectors, murderous bootleggers, tribal chiefs, and Russian priests.She spent fourteen years educating Athabascans, Aleuts, Inuits, and Russians with the stubborn generosity of a born teacher and the clarity of an original and independent mind.Jane Jacobs, Hannah's great-niece, here offers ...more
Paperback, 302 pages
Published January 28th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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Joan Colby
Jun 14, 2013 Joan Colby rated it really liked it
A fascinatingly detailed account of Breece’s experience as a teacher in Alaska from 1904 to 1917. She was 45 with over 20 years experience as a teacher, some of it at Indian reservations, when she embarked on her Alaskan duties. Breece cheerfully endured many hardships and she details her lifestyle and that of the Indians, Aleuts and Eskimos. While she harbored the common opinions of her time about the role of the white man in “civilizing” the less fortunate races, her attitude toward the native ...more
Aug 29, 2010 Helene rated it really liked it
After making the mistake of NOT taking a book with me on my flight to Alaska, I was determined to have one for the trip back. I started reading another Alaskan memoir from the bookshelves at a B&B, but the bookstore did not have that memoir so I opted for this one. It ended up being a pretty fun read and a good way to learn more about Alaska. I was ready for a new, light genre and this fit the bill.

Hannah Breece was an experienced schoolteacher who felt called to go to the native peoples of
Catherine Sanchez
May 30, 2016 Catherine Sanchez rated it liked it
The thing is, I really wanted to love this book, but I only like it.
It's a fascinating subject (the story of a middle-aged woman who went to Alaska to serve as a school teacher in the early 1900s) and the writing is very descriptive and often compelling. The problem with this book is that the author, in an attempt to avoid gossip and be civil, ends up writing mostly about her travels here and there as much as, or more than, about her actual experiences or her interactions with others. I found th
Jan 11, 2010 Judy rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio-memoir, alaska
I love books about people who brave the unthinkable in order to help others. This is an oldie, but goodie. This is a story about a lady who often chose hard assignments to teach in godforsaken areas of Alaska because of the need of the children.
Apr 21, 2016 Lindsey rated it it was amazing
By happenstance I found this book at our local used bookstore for $1.50. I've always been interested in Alaskan culture and am currently in my first year of teaching, so buying the book was a "no-brainer!" It was a wonderful story and perspective into the lives of Alaska's most remote citizens and how one brave woman dedicated her life and well-being to encourage education and spread knowledge to Alaska's most disconnected villages. Hannah Breece's story taught me more than a sociology lesson. H ...more
Jun 03, 2012 Melissa rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book. While I feel that Hannah Breece, a schoolteacher in Alaska in the early 1900's did a remarkable job there I also feel that this book drug on a little bit and that she was a bit too prideful.

Hannah moves to Alaska on a teaching assignment to educate the "native peoples" there and also improve living conditions in the villages. She actually teaches in several different villages and travels around quite a bit. She has some experiences with the weather and anim
Nov 05, 2013 Leslie rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, bio-memoirs
Everyone should be so lucky as to have a friend who owns a bookshop. I wander in now and then and as soon as she sees me she gets this little twinkle in her eye and darts behind the counter. When she emerges it is to plop a stack of books onto the counter that she knows will please me. I tell you, no one knows me like that woman. This book, A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The story of Hannah Breece was one such book. It is an autobiography but then is followed by a lengthy commentary by her great ...more
Marie Carmean
Mar 07, 2016 Marie Carmean rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book very much. It is a memoir based on the letters written by Hannah Breece during her years teaching native children in different areas of Alaska in the early 20th century. It is edited and a forward and epilogue was written by her niece, Jane Jacobs who adds additional depth to the story. I really loved Hannah-- a woman of her time, who did not criticize unduly but held her ideals and values aloft. Without her, young people would have led different lives during this critical pe ...more
John Hanscom
Jun 30, 2013 John Hanscom rated it really liked it
Miss Breece taught school in a time where doctrines such as "manifold destiny" and "white man's burden," now called the "doctrine of discovery" and generally repudiated, was prevalent. This book was great when it showed how people lived and how Miss Breece and the Native communities she served helped each other. It was sad, however, when some of the doctrines of the time, such as the Native people being uncivilized and backward, and how they needed to be "civilized," came through. That, however, ...more
Hannah Breece was sent to Alaska in 1904 to be a government teacher were she spent fourteen years living among her students. Hannah is an unique woman with a strong personalty which comes through loud and clear.This is also a good history book about Alaska.
Jun 12, 2014 Marion rated it really liked it
Quite enjoyed this very readable memoir by the very spunky and principled teacher in early 1900s Alaska. The book is edited and commented upon by the equally spunky and principled Jane Jacobs, her great niece.
Jul 04, 2016 Kathy added it
An ok book. It was interesting to read about Alaska when it was a new state. This teacher suffered a lot of hardship to bring education to the native people. Wasn't a book that you couldn't put down but it was interesting from a historical perspective.
Sep 22, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it
I picked up a copy of this book while on vacation in Alaska and really enjoyed it. I'm going to school to be a teacher and it was very interesting to me to read this memoir of a prohibition era teacher who established schools in remote parts of Alaska. Her stories of the difficulties she encountered are unique and often humorous. Some of her ideals might be a little off-putting to certain readers (she was very much for prohibition and a lot of her goals included helping the natives becoming more ...more
Jan 24, 2016 Emily rated it liked it
It is interesting to read Hannah's version of what happened while she was in Alaska. I found the endnotes even more interesting.
Isabel Hogue
Aug 03, 2014 Isabel Hogue rated it liked it
A middle aged lady experiences amazing hardships in backwoods Alaska - but to her it's all in a day's work.
Mar 20, 2016 Katie rated it liked it
very interesting
Jun 05, 2009 Charlene rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club-books
This is another of Terri's excellent pics. An autobiography of an early 20th century spinster schoolteacher who agrees to travel to Alaska to teach Russian, Inuit and English speaking children in remote areas. Tales of adventure and tragedy, including a pertussis (whooping cough)outbreak that wipes out ALL of the children under 3 in that area. For some younger families, this was all of thier children. Wonderful story. I really liked it.
Lisa Ahronian
Dec 13, 2014 Lisa Ahronian rated it really liked it
Really interesting read. Today's teachers think they have it rough teaching the common core...HAH! Try having to row 3 miles in open ocean to get to school, or waking up to a house that is 40 below zero inside, or having to fend off being attacked by vicious sled dogs! Today's teachers have got NOTHING on Hannah Breece!
Aug 13, 2007 Zein rated it liked it
Recommends it for: alaskaphiles
Beech makes anthropology and colonialism fun!

On a serious note, the selling point of this book is the story of a woman on the frontier -- a story seldom told. Beech, a schoolteacher sent to Alaska to improve native schools, starts her journey believing wholeheartedly in the good of Uncle Sam. As the book goes on she starts to realize that perhaps some of the native ways are better than what she has to offer.
Jan 22, 2015 Marcy rated it liked it
Interesting to read about an amazing pioneer schoolteacher in Alaska.
Structure of book was a bit abrupt - didn't flow well.
The end / author's take / notes section was a bit tedious.
Mar 26, 2013 Linda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed the actual memoir portion of this book which reported Hannah's experiences from her notes. Latter portion of the book related and compared her story to actual history which would have been o.k. had the author not extensively editorialized. rating would have been 4 stars for the actual memoir but only 1 for the commentary.
Apr 13, 2014 Ann rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was truly fascinating! Reading about Hannah's experiences and the problems she faced and how she solved them, during the time period of the early 1900's is so amazing. I know it really resonated with me since I have visited some of the areas in Alaska that she speaks about.
Sep 09, 2012 Christy rated it it was amazing
Fascinating story of a 40+ year old school teacher who volunteered to go to Alaska in 1934 to teach in native Alaskan villages. I can't even imagine having that kind of fortitude and yearning for adventure in that day and age. Very good writing, descriptive, informational. Enjoyed.
Jul 31, 2008 Janet rated it it was amazing
The story of a truly courageous woman who braved Alaska in the 1900's to be a government school teacher. Respectful of the natives customs but determined to improve their lives, she traveled hundreds of miles, setting up schools wherever she was needed. A great non-fiction read.
Jan 22, 2008 Chiska rated it it was amazing
This is my all time favorite "alaska" book. It's a true story. It's very well written--easy to understand and poetic at times. It also seems authentic to the views of the time--something that's not PC today, but I like it when we don't pretend that the past wasn't different.
Denise DeRocher
A wonderful story about a courageous, intelligent woman at the turn of the twentieth century going off to Alaska to teach Native children. Lots of colorful descriptions of Alaska and the lives lived "back then"!
Apr 23, 2015 Mitzi rated it really liked it
While I wouldn't call this a gripping read exactly, it was an interesting one, especially since I had never read much about the early days of Alaska before. Hannah was one strong lady!
Dixie Diamond
Despite Ms. Breece's cultural prejudices (in which she was hardly alone considering the time and place), this is a very interesting and informative book.
Dec 19, 2007 Doris rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to be inspired
Shelves: memoir
This is a wonderful book! An amazing portrait (memoir) of an ordinary women who in mid life goes to the remotest areas of Alaska to teach. What courage!
Apr 29, 2012 Annie rated it liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
really enjoyed the book, it was more historical fact than story which I would have liked a little better
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