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Mary Anne Primrose

(1826-1916)

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At a Glance

Mary Anne Primrose of New Bern, NC began attending the Burwell School in fall session of 1840. On November 18, 1850, at the age of twenty-four, she married Albert Morris Noble. Their son was well-known educator and UNC professor Marcus Cicero Stephens Noble [1].

Story

Mary Anne Primrose, born in New Bern, NC on September 13, 1826, is one of the very early documented Burwell students. She was always called by her full name, Mary Anne, since  "Mary"  and  "Anne"  were both established family names. Her forebears were early settlers of Bath, NC and New Bern, NC. She was the daughter of Robert Stuart Primrose, born in Kilmarnock, Scotland, and Anne Stephens of New Bern, NC. Anne Stephens refugeed in Rowan County, NC with her daughter-in-law when Federal forces occupied New Bern, NC during the Civil War.

Two of Mary Anne's brothers married Burwell School girls: Robert Stuart Primrose, [Jr.] married Sarah Sitgreaves Attmore ; and Cicero Stevens Primrose married Mary Snead Chapman .

Mary Anne, then aged fourteen, was in attendance at the Burwell School for the fall session of 1840 which began on July 13, 1840. An announcement appeared in The Hillsborough Recorder [2] on June 11, 1840 advertising the fall session. The following year, Robert Stuart Primrose's name is given for the first time as a reference for the Burwell School in another Recorder advertisement of May 20, 1841.

Mary Anne was a dark-eyed, serious-looking girl. She came to the school just when the new frame schoolhouse was being completed to the north of the Burwells' dwelling and was perhaps one of the early students to have occupied it. Her granddaughter, the blate Miss Alice Noble, wrote to the Historic Hillsborough Commission in 1965:

Mary Anne was undoubtedly talented and the training she received in school must have been thorough and inspirational. Her needlework was exquisite and her painting showed real ability--particularly china painting. Many surviving pieces of her handiwork are treasured by descendants.

Two extremely valuable letters to Mary Anne survive--one from her father, dated August 14, 1841; the other from her grandfather, Marcus Cicero Stephens, dated November 7, 1841. Both letters are concerned with the theory of women's education, but that of Stephen's is remarkable for its judgment and balance. According to her grandfather's letter, Mary Anne took lessons in music, drawing, and French, besides her regular studies, so that many of her hours would have been spent in the Brick House. After his careful letter, Marcus Cicero Stephens added this note:

"Learn to play and sing 'Highland Mary.' It is the sweetest thing I ever heard and should we ever meet, it will be the first tune I shall call for."

On November 18, 1850, at the age of twenty-four, Mary Anne Primrose married Albert Morris Noble. Their son was well-known educator and UNC professor Marcus Cicero Stephens Noble. Mary Anne also reared an orphaned niece, Mary Ellis Primrose. On November 18, 1900, Mary Anne Primrose and Albert Morris Noble celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with an elaborate dinner reception attended by many friends. On this occasion two granddaughters, one of whom was Alice Noble, wore dresses made of frocks in the trousseau of their grandmother Mary Anne Primrose.

Mary Anne died in Selma, NC on February 1, 1916, aged ninety years. She had been a widow since 1903.

Robert Stuart Primrose, a stern Scotsman and Presbyterian, wrote a letter from the Primrose home in New Bern, NC to Mary Anne, enrolled in the Burwell School on August 14, 1841:

Dear Daughter:

Your favor of the 2d Inst. annexing Mr. and Mrs. Burwell's report of your progress was duly received, and I assure you that it gives us all great pleasure to have received one so favorable and so much to your credit. We were aware of your deficiencies in grammar, but being fully satisfied, that ere another report is received, you will overcome this by your assiduity and attention to your studies. The only other part of your report that I will notice is that of disobedience, which is very small, but my dear child I sincerely trust by your future good behavior to your kind teachers that that word will not again be in any future report.

We are happy to hear that you have got well of your slight indisposition and that you will continue to enjoy your health, as any indisposition alarms your mother not a little, but any necessary complaint it is proper that you should inform us, for it is not to be expected that you will find a boarding school all those little comforts which a father and mother can give you when at home, and it is your duty as well as your interest to keep all your clothes and books in regular good order, and to consult your teacher, Mrs. B, about your clothes and even if she does scold I would be apt to fully excuse her for a dozen of rampant young girls would at times set the mildest temper a scolding so you must make allowance for they are doing everything for your advancement in knowledge which is to be hoped will be for your good, for you are told in your grammar that  "modesty is a quality that highly adorns a woman,"  and it ought to begin with girls (say modestly) so we hope you will try to excel in your studies, and your general deportment to all, and let others do as they please, and beware of the idle and no-care girls, rather cultivate the acquaintance of the studious and intelligent girls from them you may learn something, but from the idle you can gain nothing--

Write regular once a fortnight for if you miss it causes great uneasiness with your mother, --I am

Dear Daughter

Your afft. Father

Robert Primrose

Letter from Marcus Cicero Stephens, then of , formerly of New Bern, NC, to his granddaughter, Mary Anne Primrose, while she was attending the Burwell School on November 7, 1841:

My dear Child:

You letter dated 27 Sept. at Hillsboro has been duly received, and gave me great satisfaction. As you are the only daughter of your parents it follows as a natural consequence that they are the more anxious for your improvement, and your letter to me affords the assurance that you will not neglect the opportunity now presented. You tell me you are taking lessons in music, drawing and French besides the usual studies, all this is very well a young woman ought to perfect herself in all the accomplishments she can, that she may in the first place render herself interesting and agreeable to others and moreover possess internal resources of pleasure and amusement in those moments of listlessness and apathy to which we are all more or less subjected.

While however you bestow all needfull attention to these accomplishments, don't neglect the higher branches of education--study History, Geography, and some of the best ethical writers with care and attention--this will greatly add to your stock of ideas, and enable you when occasion serves to take part in rational conversation for nothing is so insipid as some young ladies I have seen, they have been asked to sing and play on some instrument or to exhibit their drawings to the visitors after doing which they retired to their seats and sit mumchanced until some dandy of a beau sidles up to them and talks of weather or last ball or some such frivolities. Generally speaking, the women have not been treated with Justice by the male sex. It is true the rougher walks of life have very properly been destined to men, and the knowledge necessary for such purposes is also the peculiar study of man. But if the woman be inferior to the man in bodily strength, her mind is equally vigorous as his. The records of ancient and modern History set this matter beyond doubt and I have known several instances in private life where women have exhibited full as much courage, prudence and strong sense as any men in like circumstances.

The fact appears to be this, the men have entered into a kind of conspiracy to keep the women in the background--a prejudice has been excited against their improvement beyond a certain limit--the women have been cowed if I may so term it--for should she in her remarks on any subject of conversation show any superiority of intellect, she is instantly denounced as a bas bleu or blue stocking, and is avoided in a measure by both men and women. How ungenerous! It is true, there are fools of both sexes, who frequently annoy the company with scraps of learning, which they happen to pick up, the men are called pedants, the women blue stockings. I don't wish you to become the ladder--store your mind well with useful knowledge and use such knowledge with prudence and discretion. A man may possess great bodily strength but it would be folly in him to rush into the streets and throw down everyone he might meet, merely to show his strength.

As I said above, gather as much usefull information as you can, increase your stock of ideas, and exercise a due discretion, and depend on it, tho' fools shun you and make malicious remarks, your society will be sought a valued by persons of discriminating minds. Another thing I wish to inculcate, don't imagine that when you quit school, your improvement is finished, far from it--you them become your own instructress--the discipline of the Academy teaches you the use of the tools--points out the different routes of knowledge--from that moment all depends on your own industry and discretion...

God bless you my dear Grandchild

M.C. Stephens

P.S. Learn to play and sing 'Highland Mary.' It is the sweetest thing I ever heard and should we ever meet, it will be the first tune I shall call for [1] [2].

Biographical Data

Important Dates

Mary Anne Primrose was born on September 13, 1826. She died on February 1, 1916.

Places of Residence

  • New Bern, NC, from September 13, 1826 [1].
  • Selma, NC, until February 1, 1916. Mary Anne died in Selma, NC on February 1, 1916, aged ninety years. She had been a widow since 1903 [1].

Schools Attended

  • Burwell School, from July 13, 1840. Mary Anne, then aged fourteen, was in attendance at the Burwell School for the fall session of 1840 which began on July 13, 1840. An announcement appeared in The Hillsborough Recorder [2] on June 11, 1840 advertising the fall term [1].

Relatives

References

  1. Mary Claire Engstrom. The Book of Burwell Students: Lives of Educated Women in the Antebellum South. (Hillsborough: Hillsborough Historic Commission, 2007).
  2. The Hillsborough Recorder was published from 1820 to 1879 by Dennis Heartt. It was a weekly newspaper.