Clemens Girls Learned Many Languages
By Indira Senderovic
Mark Twain’s three daughters grew up learning foreign languages, mostly at home.
Suzy, Clara and Jean Clemens all were homeschooled in the family’s Farmington Avenue mansion in Hartford, according to Mark Twain House & Museum tour guide Grace Belanger.
Their mother, Olivia Langdon Clemens, was an educated woman, having attended a women’s college in Elmira, New York, so she handled some of the lessons for her daughters.
They also had tutors and others who provided instruction.
Just like her father the famous author, Susy was a talented writer.
At the young age of 13, she secretly wrote a biography of her father that he published when he found out about it.
Clara, an accomplished musician, was only two years younger than Susy.
All the Clemens girls’ early years included a full social life‚ home schooling in language and music‚ and traveling.
The youngest daughter was Jean, who was born in 1880. Though she was also homeschooled, Jean took some classes in France. Jean was like her mother, kind-hearted and fond of animals.
According to Belanger, one of the family’s household staff was a German woman who spoke with the girls only in native language. She said this sometimes frustrated the girls.
German was one of four languages the Clemens girls learned. They also studied Latin, Italian and English.
Karen Demonte, who teaches Italian at Wethersfield High School, said it is hard to be motivated to learn a new language.
“Learning a new language can be frustrating, but if you keep trying you will succeed for sure,” she said.
Much like the German woman on the Twain household staff, Demonte doesn’t talk to anyone in English. In the classroom, it’s strictly Italian
“That’s what helped a lot of students pick up the language faster,” Demonte said.
Demonte said she believes that the Clemens were right to have their children learn multiple languages.