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A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece
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A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  379 ratings  ·  61 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 off ...more
Paperback, 302 pages
Published January 28th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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Joan Colby
Jun 09, 2013 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 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 Alas
Jan 11, 2010 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.
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since I'm currently fascinated with both Alaska and urban-planning activist/star Jane Jacobs, this was pretty much the perfect read for me. Jane Jacobs (who wrote poetry as a girl!) edited this autobiographical account of her great-aunt Hannah Breece's years teaching in Alaska in the early 20th century. Breece worked as a government teacher in various settlements/villages across Alaska, mostly around and just north of the Kodiak archipelago, but also in Fort Yukon further north and, towards the ...more
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great combination of first hand story and historical context for schoolteacher's Hannah Breece's years in Alaska teaching in small Native American/mixed villages 1904 - 1917. As Hannah's great-niece author Jane Jacobs identifies in the prologue and post-story "Puzzles, Tangles and Clarifications," Hannah was a product of both her cultural and political/government times, and it's interesting to view her memoir in that context of the norms she aligned with, and those that she admirably pushed back ...more
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
A friend at church loaned me this book, most likely because she knows I spent a number of years teaching children and that I recently visited Alaska. Her instincts were correct; I enjoyed this memoir and found the descriptions of life in Alaska over a hundred years ago fascinating. There are not many details about Ms. Breece's teaching methods but her commentary on the native peoples, their superstitions, the extreme poverty and beyond harsh weather conditions inhabitants experienced, as well as ...more
David Swartzlander
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating story of a middle-aged woman traveling to the "wild west" to teach the native children in pre-World War I Alaska. Without many creature comforts, she faces all sorts of adventures along the way, meets fascinating people and, in the end, has a profound impact on the ancestors of the children she taught. She gave up more money to teach elsewhere so she could teach the children she believed truly needed it. She taught more than reading, writing and arithmetic. She taught all s ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found much of interest in this memoir but also found it a little tedious. Hannah Breece is an amazing woman. My tendency to caress creature comforts makes it hard to relate to this adventurer. It is also interesting to read about the U.S. government's efforts have the peoples of Alaska learn English and abandon their way of doing things. While Hannah is part of this effort, she appears to be somewhat sensitive to the culture she witnesses. If you like the wilderness this is the book for you.
Shelley Alongi
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
It was a good book till the co-author presented the standard tropes about civilizing the Alaskans, or, i.e., till she inserts her opinion about Sheldon Jackson. It is also interesting to see in Hannah's own words the feelings that the Russians and others in the villages are childlike. I've always read that people thought that, haven't read it from a primary source. Interesting the things she left out. The notes from the co author are nice til she inserts her own opinion, as mentioned earlier. Th ...more
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read like a history book in many areas, but I still thought it was interesting. Plenty of good and interesting stories throughout to keep the reader rolling, and I liked it because it’s non-fiction and quite descriptive of nature in some areas. If you want to develop a hankerin’ for Alaska, read this book!
Dawn Weaver
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Intriguing biography of a stalwart lady who braved the great white North of the early 1900's to bring a quality education to far-flung one-room schoolhouses. Her biographer did a great job editing Hannah's own writing, sleuthing out the missing details, and putting them in a thoroughly readable story-line.
Lisa  Montgomery
Nov 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Supposedly a true story, taken from Hannah Breece's memoir after her death by her niece, this book is a wild ride. Holding 100 wild dogs at bay and alone! Traveling by kayak wearing bear intestines! This woman tale of a schoolteacher in the early 20th C in the unsettled parts of Alaska is quite entertaining.
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hannah’s story is amazing!
Jun 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting read for me on my trip to Alaska. Very well researched.
Sep 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting insight into territorial Alaska. Author has the racial bias of her time. Makes me want to know more.
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Entertaining book from the journals of a schoolteacher in remote parts of Alaska. She was incredibly intrepid about traveling great distances, and worked hard to educate not just children but their parents about cleanliness, health, and “civilization”. It’s clear she has a low opinion of their values and standards of living, but she also seems to have affectionate relationships with many people. Her niece, Jane Jacobs of city planning fame, organized her writings and explained the background of ...more
Feb 05, 2011 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
A memoir/biography of a woman who was a schoolteacher in Alaska in the early 1900s. Hannah Breece's grand-niece (Jane Jacobs) was given the rough manuscript by Hannah and years later Mrs. Jacobs assembled edited the manuscript and did some research to assist in telling her great aunt's story. This book is the memoir plus a commentary and notes. It is an interesting read and provides the reader with some of the attitudes of the populace at the time. This work shows the gender differences in attit ...more
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio-memoirs, history
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
Aug 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Hannah Breece's memoir is a remarkable account of her time as a teacher in Alaska from 1904 to 1918, teaching Native Alaskan children and the children of mostly Russian settlers. She had already taught for the U.S. Department of the Interior on Native reservations in the Rocky Mountains when she headed for Alaska at the age of 45; she had a strong sense of mission and was willing to go where she was needed, so left for Kodiak with a spirit of adventure that she called upon often. Her account des ...more
Catherine Sanchez
May 30, 2016 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
John Hanscom
Jun 22, 2013 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
Marie Carmean
Mar 08, 2015 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
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this slim memoir. Breece was a Pennsylvania school teacher who went to Alaska in 1904. She worked for the U.S. government to create schools for native children, mainly Eskimos and Aleuts, but eh remote settlements usually had some white or half white decedents of Russian settlers. Her descriptions of the land are wonderful and she is tirelessly upbeat as she strives to bring education to the locals. The locals in general loved her too, and new how valuable her skills were for their bette ...more
Sep 22, 2013 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
Apr 13, 2016 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
Nov 20, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this true story about part of Alaska's history, especially having recently visited Alaska for the first time. I have been to some of the places mentioned in the book, and know where all of them are. I have such admiration for pioneer women such as Hannah Breece, who demonstrated courage and persistence in the face of terrible hardships and life-threatening mishaps. You have to remember that it was a different time and place, and withhold judgement, remembering that expectations ...more
Kayrene Smither
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found this little gem in a library sale! I love these first-hand accounts of life back in the day. There is so much to be learned here; way too much to list in this review. One mention though, when the fishing changed, I found it interesting that even back in the very early 1900s, they were fearful and questioning back then about the health of our planet. If you're a school teacher, or have a connection to Alaska, you will probably really enjoy this book. Really great read!!! A true treasure! ...more
Aug 12, 2007 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.
Mar 25, 2009 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.
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