When Clara was eight years old her sister Ann, six years her senior, joined the Methodist Church, and this made a great impression on her youthful mind. The consistent life of this sister and the sweet and simple religious life of her mother gave her many thoughtful hours, and she asked one day, "Why am I not a Christian? I want to be good, too." Just before she was ten years old, under the influence of a powerful sermon, she felt that she must give herself to the Lord to be his child forever. There were hours of darkness when she felt that she was too great a sinner to be forgiven, but light came at last and she was happy in the consciousness that she was an accepted child of God.

From her father's family she inherited a fund of Irish humor, while her mother, of good old New England blood, inclined to quietness of spirit with earnestness of purpose; and this blending of fun and sobriety caused the young Christian much perturbation of spirit. Conscientious in the extreme, she had many an hour of self-questioning when she feared that, in the exuberance of youthful merriment, she had cast a shadow on her Christian profession and caused sorrow to the heart of her loving Master. Then it was that the wise and tender mother helped her to see that it was the duty of a Christian, though only a child, to be cheerful and joyous, and that it was possible to please God in her play hours as well as in attendance at church or Sunday school or prayer meeting, -- just to be the happy child that he meant her to be, and to ask his help to keep her good and true.

Her school books did not satisfy her mind, and one who knew her at that time says she frequently visited the neighbors and borrowed books, some of which she read over and over again.

Her love for children led her, when she was about twelve years old, to accept the proposal of the wife of the village merchant that she assist her in the care of her baby, and the money thus earned was used to help her with her studies.

In 1848, Clara's sister Ann went to Michigan to teach, making her home with the Aunt Post who had been so dear to the children of the Swain family. After two years of teaching she was married from her aunt's home to a worthy man who still survives her. Before Ann's marriage Clara had gone to visit this aunt and was persuaded to stay, and eventually she took a small school near the farm and taught for a year. "While she was teaching," wrote one of her cousins, "my mother broke her ankle and Clara cared for her almost a year. She was a grand nurse, even at that age, and was a great comfort to us all; she was so bright and cheerful that we were unwilling to have her leave us."

Her talent for nursing was called into requisition soon after her return to Castile when the children of the Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Mr. Hurlburt, became ill with typhoid fever and she was called to assist in caring for them. It was an anxious time for the nurse as well as the parents, as one child after another fell ill. Two of the children died, and later the father succumbed to the fatal illness. The faithful nurse remained with the distracted widow and the remaining children can cared for them tenderly as long as they needed her services. In an old and well-worn Bible is this inscription in her handwriting: "This is the first Bible I ever owned. It was presented to me by Rev. and Mrs. Hurlburt."

The sumer of 1855 found Miss Swain, then twenty-one years of age, teaching a few private pupils in the village. One of her scholars of that summer recently spoke of her loving interest in her pupils and her care for their welfare. The following year she went to live with some cousins in Pike and attend the school there.

Mr. Swain had a sister living in Canandaigua, who, knowing of Clara's strong desire for self-improvement, invited her to come there for a year of study in the seminary, an invitation which she gladly accepted; and after a year of close study she obtained a position as teacher in the primary department of one of the public schools. "Clara was determined to get an education and make use of it if she could," wrote one of her cousins.

early life
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