History: Scottville’s Emma Bishop broke barriers for female teachers. 

March 15, 2023

Emma Bishop and her 5-year-old daughter Ruth, a year after arriving in Scottville. Both Emma and Ruth taught at Amber Station School.

History: Scottville’s Emma Bishop broke barriers for female teachers. 

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Presented by Mason County Historical Society in partnership with Mason County Press.

Irving James Loomis (1876-1889), Emma Lotitia (Littlefield) Bishop (1846-1915), Ruth Minnie Bishop (1876-1976), Elhanan Winchester Loomis (1833-1923)

Emma Bishop Loomis was a true pioneer woman. She moved from New York state to the wilderness of northwestern Michigan, to the town that is now Scottville when she was 34-years-old, a single (widowed) woman with her 4-year-old daughter, Ruth. When they moved to the town in 1880, it consisted of a few houses, a general store and five saloons. Emma challenged a male-dominated board of education to break the gender stereo-type that women could not teach year-round. 

Emma Lotitia Littlefield was born on Feb. 5, 1846 in Belleville, N.Y., located in Jefferson County in upper New York a few miles from Lake Ontario. She was the daughter of William and Polly (Scott) Littlefield. Emma was a graduate of the Old Union Academy of Belleville, NY and had taught school most of her adult life. She also worked with a local doctor as a nurse. 

In 1872, Emma married Asa Bishop, a carpenter who also worked on his father’s farm, located on the line of Oswego and Jefferson counties. At the age of 30, Emma gave birth to her daughter, Ruth (Oct. 23, 1876). Just over a year later, Asa died in an accident involving a horse-drawn wagon. 

Emma and Ruth’s life changed after Asa’s death. Emma went back to teaching while her parents and others helped look after Ruth. But, life wasn’t the same in her hometown and she needed a change of pace. In 1880, she received a letter from her friend George Reader, who had moved to western Michigan the previous year. Reader had left New York looking for adventure. He settled in the town of Sweetland (which later became Scottville), 10 miles east of the Lake Michigan town of Ludington. Reader found employment in Hiram Scott’s general store, located near the railroad tracks. The store served as the train depot and post office. Reader told Emma how the town needed a teacher and he believed it would be a nice place for her and her 4-year-old daughter to start a new life. After months of contemplating the idea, Emma packed up her belongings and her daughter and made the move. 

Ruth Falconer

After arriving by train, mother and daughter were provided a room on the second floor of Scott’s general store until they could get a room at James Sweetland’s boarding house, which had been filled with lumberjacks who were clearing the road to Baldwin. 

The Scottville school was established in 1877. According to “Back Home with Ruth” a group of concerned men gathered one afternoon on a woodpile near the southwest corner of what is now Main and State streets. The group included Harry Melsom, Herman Schulte (whose great-grandson Jim now serves as the Mason County Central Board of Education president), C.W. Jones, J.C. Mustard, James Sweetland, John Winters, Andrew Neil, and John N. Mack.

The group had grown concerned with the school situation. Up until that time, children had to walk two miles to the northwest to Amber Township District No. 1, Jones School (the modern southwest corner of Johnson and Gordon roads). James Neil offered an empty log house half mile north of the village and others, including Schulte, a carpenter, offered to fix it up. 

The school year was divided into two sessions. The three month summer session was taught by Bessie Bates. Most of the small children were able to attend during the summer. C.W. Jones then taught the four month winter term. Sarah Turner taught beginning summer 1878 with W.F. Fairbanks teaching the winter term. 

The log schoolhouse had already out-grown itself. The southeast section of Cranley Corners, a short distance from the log schoolhouse (close to the corner of James and Thomas streets), was chosen as the site of a new schoolhouse. Fairbanks continued to teach in the winter while Flora Hill took the summer term. Mr. Stanton taught the winter 1879-1880 term. 

Then, the school board met Emma Bishop. The common belief was that a woman couldn’t handle the older boys in school. Emma was insistent that she be allowed to teach the entire year, she had to have a job to support her daughter. After some persuasion, the board allowed her to teach year-round. Emma only taught a few years, but her influence led the way to break a gender barrier. 

“Emma became quite influential in the community,” June Newkirk wrote in her 1976 biography on Ruth Bishop Falconer “Back Home with Ruth.” “She was a very active, community-minded individual and the next few years found her not only in the role of having been a schoolteacher but also a member of the county board of examiners, dressmaker, music teacher, nurse, assistant to the doctor (whenever he came by), undertaker, and mother. In fact, she made herself so generally useful that even the village blacksmith stated that he could not get along without her.”

In August 1882, that blacksmith, Elhanan Winchester Loomis (1833-1923), married Emma Bishop. Elhanan’s first wife, Chloe, died in 1880. He had three adult children and a son, Irving, who was six months older than Emma’s daughter Ruth. Elhanan and Emma had a daughter, Via (1888-1982). Irving died in 1889 at the age of 13. 

Emma died on Nov. 28, 1915. She is buried near the southwestern entrance of Scottville’s Brookside Cemetery, alongside Ruth. 

Ruth and many other family members continued the teaching tradition.

Ruth would later marry David Falconer and would become known as one of Scottville’s best known pioneers. She died in 1976, just a few months before her 100th birthday. 

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