Written in 1986 by Susan S. Adler, illustrations by Dan Andreasen and Eileen Potts Dawson
Samantha is thrilled: at Grandmary's urging, the Van Sicklen family down the street has hired Nellie's parents! Nellie and her sisters are expected to do some housework, but will also attend the Mount Bedford's local public school. Jenny and Bridget, her sisters who are six and seven respectively, start out in first grade. Despite being nine, Nellie starts in second grade, as she can only read a little bit. She soon finds herself the victim of bullying as her schoolmates mock her for being behind and having worn-out clothing. Samantha immediately consults her teacher at the private school for how to help Nellie catch up in her studies (the teacher seems pretty awesome). Nellie learns quickly, and shows she's already proficient in some areas like math. The girls name their study area, a room high in Samantha's home, the Mount Better School.
Due to consorting with servant girls, Samantha gets a bit of bullying herself from haughty girls at school. When Samantha asks Grandmary why well-to-do people don't like their children to play with servants, Grandmary counters that Samantha is helping Nellie, not playing with her, which makes Samantha uncomfortable but she leaves it alone. But then she overhears Grandmary talking with some haughty woman from the neighborhood, defending Nellie's family.
Samantha has to keep up with her own studies as well. At Miss Crampton's Academy, she has the opportunity to enter a speech contest about progress in America. After asking several adults their opinions on what shows progress, she decides to speak about how factories make goods faster and for less money than the goods could be made by hand. She and one of the haughty girls win the honor of giving their speeches with the top two from other schools in the area at a big assembly. Nellie is excited for Samantha, and asks to hear her speech. But having worked in a factory, Nellie points out the harsh conditions that Samantha's speech has overlooked. Stunned by the awful environment her friend had to live with (for under two dollars a week), Samantha rewrites her speech. At the assembly, she expands her speech to how America should improve the ways workers, especially children, are treated in factories before they can be truly proud of their innovation. The audience sits in stunned silence for several moments after Samantha finishes, before Grandmary sees Nellie's reaction and leads everyone in applause. Samantha wins first prize. Nellie has good news too: she's moved up to third grade!
In the early 1900s, children were required by law to attend school until they were sixteen. Some went to private academies like Samantha, and more went to private school. Students learned about the basic subjects, like math, reading, grammar, geography, foreign languages, and history. Physical education and manners were also considered very important. Still, many students stopped attending school after eighth grade (14 years old) in favor of working, and completely high school, let alone college, was rare. Some children didn't attend school at all, because they had to earn money to help their families survive.
This book is dedicated to "David, Rachel, and Daniel, who keep childhood open to me."
Nellie still has Lydia. The doll shows obvious signs of being a well-loved comfort object.
Like Meet Samantha, I had this as an audio book, and hear the woman's voice "reading" it as I read the book.
My opinion? Advancements in medical signs are one of, if not the, best signs of progress.