One of the exciting parts about working with a historical collection is all the interesting stuff you find while you’re looking for something else. This was the case with a scrapbook that we came across while working on our collection inventory. It had been filed away with a note from the donor explaining that her aunt, Miss Margaret McCarthy, had assembled the book while she was the principal at the Pacific School in Omaha during the late 1800s.
The book contains several newspaper articles and photographs about this school, all of which regard the principal, teachers, and students with a kind of amused awe. There is conflicting information as to the exact location or appearance of the school, but the Sanborn Fire Insurance map drawn in 1887 places it on Pacific Street between 9th and 10th Streets.
The Omaha Public Library Archive owns an image titled “The Pacific School” which shows a building that seems to match the footprint and the surroundings indicated by the Sanborn map, but two images in the scrapbook show a much grander building with no address listed.
One thing is certain, though. Many people in Omaha seemed to be aware of the Pacific School, acknowledging how unique a place it was and the excellent education its pupils received. Many of the students who attended the school were first-generation immigrants from all over Western and Eastern Europe, and they came to the school speaking no English. Like the one shown below, the articles Miss McCarthy saved in her book detailed the experiences and challenges faced by her students and their families and recounted how diverse and joyful a place the Pacific School’s classrooms were.
One article featured students’ written responses to a prompt about their professional aspirations:
Still others focused on Miss Margaret McCarthy herself. A Boston woman who had come to Omaha at the beginning of her career, she served as principal at Pacific School for 25 years, and was also an active advocate for women’s and children’s issues. She served as a founding member of the Young Women’s Christian Organization, the Visiting Nurse Association, and the Omaha Women’s Club. She was passionate about the social sciences and literature, and was herself multi-lingual.