- Samantha Parkington
- Nellie O'Malley
- Mary Edwards
- Gardner Edwards
- Mrs. Hawkins
- Eddie Ryland
- Jenny O'Malley
- Bridget O'Malley
- Edith Eddleton
- Helen Whitney
- Ruth Adams
- Ida Dean
- Clarisse Van Sicklen
- Miss Stevens
- Mrs. Eddleton
- Mrs. Ryland
Only in Samantha Learns a Lesson
Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: Notes and Knee Bends
Samantha is poked in the back by a fellow student. She jumps but doesn't turn around, as it is a signal from Helen Whitney, who sits behind her. All the desks in Miss Crampton's Academy for Girls are alike, and one curl is perfect for holding passed notes. Since students can't talk in class, Helen tells Samantha things by writing on a piece of paper, putting in a note, and then poking Samantha with her pencil to alert her. Samantha then reaches back and takes the note out when Miss Stevens isn't looking. Other than one time when she got her finger caught and only got free before Miss Stevens turned around, the system has worked well. Samantha takes the note, which reads "What the dickens does "la gorge" mean?" Samantha looks up and squashes the note before shoving it into her pocket; passing notes is bad enough to be caught doing but Helen should have enough sense to not write almost-swear words.
Samantha doesn't have time to answer Helen before Miss Stevens finishes the list of French words on the blackboard and turns around, looking directly at Helen and asking her what la gorge means. Samantha tries to hint by clearing her throat loudly, which gets Miss Stevens to look at her. Helen doesn't answer, so Samantha tries to help again by rubbing the back of her neck. Miss Stevens asks Samantha if she is well; Samantha says yes, folding her hands on her desk. Helen asks if la gorge means neck, and Miss Stevens says no, looking around the room. Edith Eddleton has her hand raised and when she is called on she says--smugly--that la gorge means the throat. Samantha imagines Edith keeping score in her head, and while she admits that Edith is smart she's not nearly as smart as she thinks she is.
The lunch bell rings as they finish the list of words. The girls stand by their desks and wait to be dismissed before retrieving their lunch boxes from the cloakroom and filing quietly outside. The day is warm so they can eat outside on the benches in the yard. Helen, Ida Dean, and Ruth Adams wait for Samantha at their usual spot. Samantha squirms as she sits down; she is wearing long flannel underwear under her stockings that makes her legs itch, but she has to wear it regardless of the temperature by Grandmary's orders starting at the beginning of September to prevent consumption. Ida asks if Miss Crampton will make them do arm stretches today between bites of her chopped olive sandwich; Miss Crampton comes to their class every day at one p.m. to lead exercises. Ida adds that if they have to do fifty she'll faint. Helen states that arm stretches are better than knee bends, she hates knee bends, and that she thinks Miss Crampton is trying for a world record in knee bends. Ruth states that it could be worse; her cousin's school practices swimming but, as they do not have a pond or pool, they have to hang with ropes around their waists and practice their moves mid-air. The rest of the girls are quiet for a moment, giving silent thanks for their swimming hole as a place to practice, before Ida states that knee bends might not be so bad.
Samantha takes a gingerbread cookie out of her lunchbox and is quiet as the other girls talk. The gingerbread reminds her of Nellie and the events of the summer with her. With Nellie gone back to the city, Samantha misses her, as well as worries about her family's living conditions and their lack of food, money, and warmth. As she remembers, the gingerbread tastes dry. As she finishes her milk the ringing of Miss Crampton's bell brings her thoughts back. She gets in line with the other girls and they march inside to spend the afternoon in class, starting with Miss Crampton's knee bends.
Chapter Two: Nellie
Saturday morning, Samantha is getting dressed when Elsa knocks on her door, looking annoyed as she tells Samantha that she has company and that Grandmary told her to say it's a friend in the parlor. Samantha is curious, as none of her friends are ever allowed in the parlor. But the blue hairbow she sees poking over the edge of a chair makes it clear--Nellie is back! The girls hug, and Samantha asks if Nellie is back with the Rylands (hoping she isn’t due to what happened last time). Nellie explains that her entire family will now be working for the Van Sicklens across the street and living there too, over the carriage house. Her father will be the Van Sicklens’ driver and her mother will be a housekeeper, but the girls will get to go to public school as well as doing other chores. Samantha, excited, offers Nellie some gingerbread to celebrate. The next morning, Samantha walks with Nellie and her sisters (seven year old Bridget and six year old Jenny) to Mount Bedford Public School. The younger girls are starting in first grade, but Nellie has to start in second grade despite her age because it’s her first time going to school. If it weren’t for her knowing at least how to read, she would be in first grade too. Samantha drops off the girls then hurries to her own school, Miss Crampton’s. She has a hard time focusing all day, says she is worried about Nellie--Samantha hadn’t taught her the Pledge of Allegiance, offered her cookies to supplement the O’Malleys’ meager lunches, or even shown Nellie where the pencil sharpener was. After school lets out, Samantha runs all the way to the public school, where Bridget and Jenny are waiting for her, talking excitedly about their day. Neither of them know where Nellie is when Samantha asks them. Samantha looks around, seeing Eddie Ryland and Clarisse van Sicklen, before finally finding Nellie huddled at the foot of the steps in tears. According to her, the second grade students and even the teacher had treated her like an idiot for being “too old” for the class, and she had been called names by several classmates. Samantha is outraged and decides to help. She sends Nellie and her sisters home and hurries back to Miss Crampton’s.
Chapter Three: Mount Better School
Chapter Four: The Contest
Chapter Five: Progress
Chapter Six: Winners
Looking Back: School in 1904
Discusses education and schooling in turn of the century America. Topics covered:
- The private academies wealthy girls attended, with most schools meeting at the headmistress's house.
- School subjects girls studied at private academies, and the importance of studying penmanship.
- Some private academies making lunch into a formal meal for the students to practice proper etiquette, and the lessons they would partake in afterwards.
- The public schools that offered free schooling to children in local neighborhoods, where more children attend school and had bigger classes.
- Difficulties poorer children had with attending school, especially those who had to earn money for their families.
- How punishments for misbehaving varied between private academies and public schools.
- Reading books serving to teach children about good behavior, and the essays students wrote for recitation.
- Pro-active teaching methods teachers used to help their students learn, such as hands-on experiences and doing exercises between lessons.
- Students being allowed to stop schooling at the age of sixteen, with only a few going on to high school and college.
Items associated with Samantha Learns a Lesson
- ↑ This wording appears to be a mild anachronism, as most people--especially children--would likely not have referred to something as a "world record" before the popularization of the Olympic Games.