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Ms. Cynthia Mann: Boise's Perennial Philanthrope

Idahistory would like to say thank you to author Shirley Ewing for her research into Cynthia Mann and her essay on Cynthia now held at the Idaho State Archives - Her references were most helpful and are listed at the end of this piece.

Cynthia astride her horse while President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant took her picture!

There are people seemingly destined to be of service to humanity, from their first day to their last. Cynthia Mann was such a person. Born in Hardinsburg, Kentucky on August 9, 1853, little Cynthia played the teacher to her siblings, who, family letters attest, adored her. Cynthia told her parents one day she would be a teacher and, that's just what she became. She gained her first experience teaching while still a student, assisting her teacher by tutoring the younger pupils at a small grade school in rural Kentucky.

While still a child, Cynthia and family pulled up stakes and moved west, stopping first in Illinois before settling on Lawrence, Kansas as a place to call home.

In Lawrence, Cynthia grew to be a striking and intelligent young woman, so much so that in 1869 newly elected president Ulysses S. Grant asked if he might be able to take her picture as he made his way through Lawrence. The town was holding a parade in the president’s honor, Cynthia had come to view the president and not the other way around. On seeing Cynthia atop her horse, the Commander in Chief walked over to Ms. Pease, asking if he might take her daughter’s picture, explaining that on his tour of the United States, he intended to take photographs of people and things he felt personified the country. Mother and daughter were overjoyed, and Mrs. Pease consented. Soon after this remarkable event, Cynthia graduated from high school and immediately left home to study teaching at Kansas State University.

After completing one semester, Cynthia left Kansas State to begin teaching at the young age of 18. After four years on the job, now 22, Cynthia met Samuel B. Mann. She married him a short time later. In 1879-1880, Cynthia and Sam moved west, deciding on Boise to start a home. As there was a shortage of teachers in Boise at that time, the young instructor set to work. Between 1880 and 1889 Mrs. Mann, as her students knew her, traveled throughout Southwestern Idaho, teaching at Silver City, Caldwell, Payette, and in and around Boise. After 1889, she stayed in town where she eventually taught at three schools – Park, Cole, and Hawthorne, Hawthorne being in the most advantageous position for its students due to its location across the street from Boise’s Natatorium geothermal pool and day resort. The “Nat” once stood where Adams Elementary now stands today.

So it was that Cynthia had become a teacher, fulfilling her goals and dreams, or so one might have said if they did not truly know her. Yet, in 1892, the Idaho State Board of Education issued Cynthia a lifetime teaching diploma which she put to good use. Another major change in the lives of Sam and Cynthia Mann came when they purchased property along the newly fashionable Warm Springs Avenue, 730 Warm Springs Ave. to be exact. Another major development occurred after the couple purchased the property; they got divorced. Sam bid adieu to old Boise and moved to Horseshoe Bend. Cynthia maintained ownership of the Warm Springs property and gained something rare for a woman in her forties during the Gilded Age, her independence. She put it to good use, lobbying endlessly for women’s suffrage, a right gained by Idaho’s suffragettes in 1896, twenty-four year before national suffrage became law.

Not entirely done with perfecting her craft, Cynthia returned to school over the summers of 1901 and 1902, studying at the State Normal School in Albion outside Burley, Idaho. She received her Master’s Certificate in pedagogy from Albion in 1902. Not satisfied with her level of education and experience, Miss Mann made the long journey back to New York City in 1911, where she learned how to educate and care for students with special needs and abused children, both nearly unknown fields of study in the early twentieth century. It was Cynthia’s belief, revolutionary at the time, that children with special needs should be given the same right that most any other child in the United States received, the opportunity to receive an education. While learning all that she could about the then modern forms education, Cynthia would take horse and buggy rides outside of New York City to the country. On another outing in Washington D.C., Cynthia was looking up at a monument when a buggy driver lost control of a fast-moving horse, hitting Cynthia and landing her on the ground hard. She was badly hurt and knocked unconscious. The stricken teacher was taken to the hospital, the place she stayed for the next four days recuperating. From all that she recalled in letters to family, it proved to be a miserable time. She coped with the injury for the rest of her life, as it never properly healed.

Yet, the trip had been worth it for, upon returning to Boise, she set upon a new project. After 1904, she taught at Hawthorne School on Warm Springs, but apparently her property at 730 Warm Springs lacked occupants, because in 1908, Cynthia donated the property to the Children’s Home Finding and Aide Society. The Society erected cottages for orphans to live and be educated in on her block of land. However, it became clear that more space would soon be necessary. After lobbying the Idaho State Legislature, the Children’s Home was awarded $20,000 in the agreement that Cynthia and the Aide Society would match that sum. Cynthia zealously began fundraising campaigns including a large charity ball and theatrical productions. They raised the money and began planning the construction of the new orphanage and grade school in partnership with well-known Boise architect J.E. Tourtellote. By December 28, 1910, the Children’s home sat completed. The building still stands on Cynthia’s old property at 740 E Warm Springs Ave; the building is utilized to this very day by the Children’s Home Society of Idaho, a worthy organization for anyone feeling the need to donate!

Boise's Children's Home as it looked in 1918

Cynthia Mann continued to teach at the school she helped create. In interviews given when they were seniors, Miss Mann’s students recalled her dedication and kindness. One woman recalled “I was born in Emmett in 1905. When I was very young, from the age 3 to about 6, my stepmother was very abusive to me and my twin sister. One day the police took us away and put us in the Children’s Home Orphanage. Cynthia Mann became my teacher.” The former student continued sharing “she was a darling. I’ll always remember Cynthia Mann’s Sweetness and Kindness…she had a little bell…when it was time to come in, she would say ‘Ok children, time to come in.’ She’d be so happy.” Kids recalled how she never became harsh, she did not need to, they wanted to make her happy. Cynthia never stopped being involved. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution as well as the Columbian Club of Boise. She spent much of her time selling Liberty Bonds and knitting socks and other items for soldiers serving overseas during The First World War. She also collected for and donated to relief funds for the thousands of Belgian orphans created by the violence. She worked and worked up until the week before her death on February 6, 1920, from the Influenza Pandemic ravaging the world from roughly 1918 to 1920. She is buried in Morris Hill Cemetery.

Of her character, her friends simply shared examples of her kindness, one recalling how she would give most of her income to the children even though she couldn’t afford to. That was just who she was.

Cynthia praying with her students at Sunday School

Shortly before her death at the age of 67, Cynthia wrote:

"Some want wealth and ease, some learning and culture, some music and poetry, I chose the latter: the music of children's happy voices, the poetry of their lives; for as Longfellow said: 'They are the living poems ... ' Am I not right when I say it should not be called a sacrifice when we get large returns?"

Cynthia Mann Elementary in Boise’s Collister Neighborhood sits as testament to her legacy.

She is buried in Morris Hill Cemetery

Thanks so much for Reading!

By Mark Iverson of Idahistory!


Cynthia Mann - By Shirley Ewing, 1996 - at Idaho State Archives Polk Directories – Boise City: Accessible at the Idaho State Archives Idaho Statesman Obituaries – Digital Archives: Accessible with a Boise Public Library Card Ada County Court House Records Idaho Census – 1900: Idaho State Archives Mann & Pease Family Correspondence

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