Florella Brown Adair was John Brown’s half-sister and was just as strong willed.

Florella attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, which today would not raise any eyebrows, but in 1835, women rarely went to high school, much less college. Doctors predicted that women who attended college would become insane or become unable to start a family if they became educated. Florella Brown Adair’s educational efforts were scandalous in the eyes of mainstream society in 1835, but true to the Brown family’s disregard for social convention they deemed illogical or immoral, she attended college anyway.

Owen Brown and his wife, Florella’s mother Sally Root Brown, cooperated with Florella’s educational goals, but when Florella wanted to leave home and become a teacher at age 20, he objected. Florella pressed the matter with her parents, which led to a letter that gently reproved Florella for her career goals.

Owen Brown wrote, “We read yours of [sic] with great satisfaction and hope you still injoy the influance of the holy spiret. I would hasten to inform you that the trespassed of children on their parents one always forgives whenever they discover a penitent Spiret in there Children. In this respect we imitate our heavenly Parent our Savior has taken one of the most plausible ways to improve our minds in the in the parable of the Prodigal son — you ask us what you had better do this winter. Your Mother thinks it would not be for your heath to keep School and you know there is allways a vacant place in our House and hearts.”

Owen and Sally Brown made it clear that they were willing to let Florella go to college, but to go out into the rough frontier and teach school was going too far for both their peace of mind for her safety and social convention. They offered a second option, teaching Owen and Sally Brown’s young children at home, where the concerned parents could watch over Florella and give her the teaching experience that she desired.

Owen wrote, “I should be very glad to have you assist in teaching the younger part of our family and would propose that the room in our outhouse [barn or out building on the Brown property] should be set aside for that purpose two or three hours a day. I need not tell you the wants of our family. You know them two well but I wish to submit all to the disposal of Providence.”

Florella Adair was 2O and full of the confidence of youth, but Owen and Sally Root Brown knew of the dangers faced by teachers on the American frontier and restrained their daughter from leaving home and becoming a teacher.

Florella’s spunk later came into play when she and her husband, the Reverend Samuel Adair, stood up to pro-slavery forces in Osawatomie in a non-violent manner, and helped to found Osawatomie.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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