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Missionary Day Cap

Fannie Simerwell's  day capFannie Simerwell's delicate lace day cap is deceiving. The frill-trimmed lace and silk ties would seem to be the accessory of a woman with a delicate and easy lifestyle.

As a mother, educator, pioneer, and missionary on the frontier plains of Kansas in the mid 19th century, Fannie Simerwell's life was anything but easy.

In 1848, Fannie and her husband Robert began work as educators at the newly established Potawatomi Baptist Manual Labor School along the Kansas River, near present-day Topeka. Fannie and Robert were in their fifties at the time of arrival, and members of a small staff including missionaries such as Johnston Lykins and Eliza McCoy. Fannie assisted Eliza in teaching domestic skills to young Potawatomi girls while Robert taught blacksmithing.

Fannie SimerwellFannie was born in the 1790s and grew up the daughter of a farmer in Mont Vernon, New Hampshire. After moving to her sister’s home in Lexington, Kentucky, Fannie was recruited by the Baptist Church to work as a missionary at the Carey Indian Mission in Michigan. While in Michigan, she married Robert Simerwell, and together they moved to Kansas in 1833 on the advice of Isaac McCoy, a fellow missionary. In 1848, Robert and Fannie were working at the Potawatomi Baptist Manuel Labor School. Finally retiring from active missionary work in 1854, the couple built and moved to a nearby farm.

Life for Fannie at the Potawatomi Baptist Manual Labor School was often difficult. Disease spread quickly in the close quarters of the school, killing both students and teachers. Work was hard and exhausting. Both students and teachers cooked, cleaned, and worked on the farm to keep the mission going. Limited funds and governance issues plagued the school. Attendance of Potawatomi students was often low due to competition with a nearby Catholic mission and the resistance of some tribal members to send their children to a white-operated school. Fannie and Robert wrote to their daughter Ann in 1853, “I think we will not stay long, the work is to [sic] hard for your mother and I.” Indeed, they did leave missionary work the following year.

Fannie Simerwell's day cap (pictured) is on display in the main gallery of the Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Missionary Day Cap

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2002

Date Modified: January 2019

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.