In October 1850, at the age of 22, Ellen Whitmore traveled 3,000 miles across the U.S., from Massachusetts to the Cherokee Nation of the Indian Territory, in what would later become Oklahoma.
Whitmore and fellow Mount Holyoke student Sarah Worcester had been hired as principal teacher and assistant teacher, respectively, of the first institution of higher education for young Cherokee women, the Cherokee National Female Seminary.
Their journey lasted six weeks and was far from easy. In her journal, Whitmore provided a memorable account of the trip: sleeping on the floor of a tavern when no better accommodations could be had; riding in “a rickety old wagon” that “at each jolt seemed [it] would twist all to pieces”; traveling through areas where cholera raged. There were dangerous rivers, “low and full of sandbars and snags,” where their boats went aground, and gunshots, too: on the way to Cincinnati, their ship’s steward shot the barkeeper. “Right happy were we when in sight of Cincinnati,” wrote Whitmore.
Upon arrival in Park Hill, where the seminary was already under construction, Whitmore wrote: “Whether happiness or sorrow is in store for me … I cannot tell. If I can only see plainly that I am in the path of duty it is all that I could ask.” The following spring, in May 1851, the Cherokee National Female Seminary opened its doors. Twenty-five students were admitted to the first class; among the subjects Whitmore and Worcester taught were history, mathematics, grammar, composition, reading, botany, and singing.
Two years later, in 1852, Whitmore resigned her position as principal and married missionary Warren Goodale. She and Goodale relocated to Hawaii, and the rest of Whitmore’s short life—she died in 1861, leaving behind five children—was devoted to her family and to missionary work.