I. M. E. (Isabella Margaret Elizabeth) Blandin.

History of higher education of women in the South prior to 1860. online

. (page 4 of 24)
Online LibraryI. M. E. (Isabella Margaret Elizabeth) BlandinHistory of higher education of women in the South prior to 1860. → online text (page 4 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


tion in his study which he could never realize in per-
forming the mechanical operation of ciphering by ar-
tificial rules.

" Geography and drawing are commenced simul-
taneously. Our first lesson in geography consists
in drawing, as well as we are able, a map of the acad-
emy grounds. We draw next the little village in the
suburbs of which we are located, first laying down a
scale of miles and adapting our map to it in size.
When this is well understood we proceed to delineate
a map of the United States, and repeat the exercise
until the whole or any part may be drawn with ac-
curacy and dispatch without a copy. In our recita-
tions no map is used by the pupil but the one she is
able to draw from memory alone."

In conclusion Mrs. Thayer says :

" The time has been when the education of females
was limited to those branches in which their imme-
diate occupations lie. But, happy for the present age,
and happy too, for posterity, the public sentiment has
undergone a change in favor of female cultivation.
Without undervaluing personal accomplishment, or
disregarding domestic duties, we are permitted to
aspire to the dignity of intellectual beings, and, as
was beautifully expressed by a gentleman who ad-
dressed us at the close of our * examinations/ * The
whole map of knowledge is spread before the female
scholar, and no Gades of the ancients is set up as the
limits of discovery/ '

The coming of Mrs. Thayer in the fall of 1825 was
an epoch in the history of the Academy, and her ad-
ministration marked an era. She was a remarkably
accomplished woman, with a genius for administra-
tion. Of her Dr. Winans, president of the board of
trustees, says:

" In the evening I returned to Brother Burruss's,
where I met Sister C. M. Thayer, who has come to
take charge of Elizabeth Female Academy. She is
a woman of middle size, of coarse features, some


of the stiffness of Yankee manners, but of an intelli-
gent and pleasant expression of countenance; free in
conversation and various and abundant in informa-

Rev. John C. Burruss, the president of the Acad-
emy, said:

"Mrs. Thayer is a most extraordinary woman;
I have never seen such a teacher."

She was a grand-niece of General Warren, the hero
of Bunker Hill, educated in Boston, warmly recom-
mended by Dr. Wilbur Fisk, and before coming to
Mississippi had made great reputation as an author
and teacher. She had taught for a while with Rev.
Valentine Cook on Green River, Kentucky, and had
published a volume of essays and poems that attracted
wide attention.

The editor of the Southern Galaxy, a paper pub-
lished in Natchez, attended the semi-annual examina-
tions at Elizabeth Academy in the spring of 1829,
and highly commended the institution, and also the
unquestioned capacity of the governess, Mrs. Thayer.
He said of the recitations of the preparatory depart-
ment : " They were, to say the least of them, interest-
ing. The reading was spirited and correct." Of the
academic department he said : " The proficiency ex-
hibited in natural and mental philosophy and chemis-
try by the higher classes reflects great credit upon
the capacity and industry of the students, as well as
the highest encomium upon the government of the
institution. If at this stage of the examination we
were delighted, when we heard the class in mathe-
matics we were astonished ; and certainly it is a mat-
ter of astonishment to witness little girls of twelve
years of age treat the most abstruse problems of
Euclid as playthings. Nor were they dependent upon
memory alone, and we will give our reasons for think-
ing so. During one of the solutions upon the black-
board we forget which it was it was suggested that
the young lady was in error. ' No, ma'am/ replied


the pupil, with great promptitude and self-possession;
1 1 am correct. The bases of a parallelogram must
be equal/ The principle is indeed a simple one, but
the readiness with which it was adduced in argument,
and that too under embarrassing circumstances, was
to us a most conclusive evidence of an extraordinary
discipline of mind."

The eloquent literary address delivered on this oc-
casion by Duncan S. Walker is published in full in
this issue of the Galaxy. In the same issue of the
paper, March 26, 1829, is this communication:

" To The Editor of The Southern Galaxy.

" Sir: The following lines are the production of a
pupil in the Elizabeth Female Academy at Washing-
ton. If you think them worthy of a place in your
paper, their insertion may aid the cause of female ed-
ucation, by awakening emulation among your young
readers, though their youthful author only intended
them for the eyes of her preceptress. C. M. T.

"'What is Beauty?
Tis not the finest form, the fairest face

That loveliness imply:
'Tis not the witching smile, the pleasing grace,

That charms just Reason's eye.

" ' No, 'tis the sunshine of the spotless mind,

The warmest, truest heart,
That leaves all lower, grosser things behind,
And acts the noblest part.

" ' That sunshine beaming o'er the radiant face,

With virtue's purest glow,
Will give the plainest lineaments a grace
That beauty cannot show.

" ' This face, this heart alone can boast a charm

To please just Reason's eye,
And this can stern Adversity disarm
And even Time defy.'"

The annual examination in early summer was a


greater occasion than the semi-annual of which an ac-
count has just been given.

From 1828 to 1832 Rev. Dr. B. M. Drake was pres-
ident, with Mrs. Thayer as governess. An elaborate
notice of the commencement which embraced August
21, 1829, was published in the papers of the young
State " the first detailed account of such an event
in Mississippi."

A board of visitors appointed by the trustees, con-
sisting of such distinguished men as Robert L. Walker,
J. P. H. Claiborne, and Dr. J. W. Monette, was pres-
ent and made report as follows:

" The most unqualified praise would be no more
than justice for the splendid evidence of their close
attention and assiduity, as exhibited on this occasion;
and we take pleasure in giving it as our opinion, that
such honorable proof of female literary and scienti-
fic acquirements has seldom been exhibited in this or
any other country. And while it proves the order and
discipline with which science and literature are pur-
sued by the pupils, it proves no less the flourishing
condition and the merited patronage the institution
enjoys. Nothing reflects more honor upon the pres-
ent age than the liberality displayed in the education
of females; nor can anything evince more clearly the
justness with which female education is appreciated
in the South than this exhibition, and the interest
manifested by the large and respectable audience dur-
ing the whole of the exercise. The literary and scien-
tific character of the governess, Mrs. Thayer, is too
well known to admit of commendation from us."

In addition to these notices, the essay of Miss Anna
W. Boyd, who graduated with the honors of her class,
appears in full.

It will be interesting to many yet living to give
the names of the graduates and those distinguished in
the several classes:

Graduates Miss Anna W. Boyd, Ireland ; Miss Su-
san Smith, Adams County; Miss Mary C. Hewett,


Washington, Mississippi; Miss Mary J. Patterson,
Port Gibson; Miss Sarah Chew, Adams County; Miss
Eliza A. Fox, Natchez.

Honorary distinctions were conferred upon the fol-
lowing pupils for proficiency in study and correct
moral deportment :

First Class Miss Ellen V. Keavy, Pinckneyville,
Louisiana; Miss Martha D. Richardson, Washita,
Louisiana ; Miss Mary A. Fretwell, Natchez, Miss Ma-
ria L. Newman, Washington, Mississippi. Second
Class Miss Martha Crosby, Wilkinson County; Miss
Sarah M. Forman, Washington, Mississippi ; Miss
Catherine O. Newman, Washington, Mississippi ; Miss
Susan C. Robertson, Port Gibson. Third Class-
Miss Mary Scott, Alexander, Louisiana; Miss Char-
lotte C. Scott, Alexander, Louisiana; Miss Mary E.
Gordon, Alexander, Louisiana; Miss Emily Smith,
Adams County ; Miss Emily Vick, Vicksburg. Fourth
Class Miss Charlotte Wolcott, Vicksburg; Miss
Mary A. Chandler, Pinckneyville, Louisiana. Fifth
Class Miss Mary E. Roberts, Washington, Missis-
sippi ; Miss Matilda J. Nevitt, Adams County. Sixth
Class Miss Laura J. A. King, Adams County; Miss
Martha B. Brabston, Washington, Mississippi.

Mrs. Thayer resigned her position in 1832, and was
followed by Mrs. Susan Brewer, with Miss Rowena
Crane as assistant.

In 1833 the study of piano music was introduced,
and thenceforward was a part of the course regularly

In 1839 Miss Lucy A. Stillman was principal gover-
ness, and Miss Mary B. Currie music teacher.

In the Mississippi Free Trader of March 10, 1842,
appeared the following notice:


" There is probably no subject dearer to the patriot
and Christian philanthropist than that of female edu-


cation. According to his view, both national and in-
dividual happiness and prosperity are immediately and
inseparably connected with the proper intellectual
training and moral culture of the female mind. This
conclusion is not the result of a long train of phili-
sophical or logical deductions, but is immediately in-
ferred from the important position that woman holds
in the social compact and from the many endearing
relations she sustains in life. I was led to these re-
flections from witnessing the semi-annual examina-
tions of the pupils of the Elizabeth Female Academy
at Washington, Mississippi, which took place on
Thursday and Friday last.

" This examination did equal credit to the zeal and
ability of the teachers, and the industry and mental
resources of the pupils. They showed an extensive
and accurate knowledge of the most important
branches of mental and physical science, as well as
great skill and taste in several of the more strictly
ornamental branches of education. A delightful va-
riety was given to the whole examination by the per-
formances of a very fine class in music.

" The institution is admitted by all who know its
history to be more ably conducted by its present tal-
ented and highly accomplished principal, Mrs. Camp-
bell, and more deserving of patronage than it has been
since the administration of Mrs. Thayer.

" At the close of the examination a very appro-
priate and eloquent address was delivered to the young
ladies by Rev. D. C. Page of Natchez.


The next year, 1843, was the last year of the ex-
istence of the Academy ; many changes had taken place
in the conditions of the country. Washington was
no longer a place of importance, and its population
was yearly decreasing, while other towns, Port Gib-
son, Woo'dville, and Natchez, were thriving towns.
Other schools had been organized, and it was deemed


best to close the school. The Academy was abandoned,
and by the terms of the grant its property reverted
to the heirs of the donor.

Chancellor Mayes says of this institution : " For
twenty-five years it did noble work. In the decade
from 1819 to 1829 its boarders amounted in number
annually from twenty-eight to sixty-three."

Mrs. John Lane, Mrs. C. K. Marshall, Mrs. Kava-
naugh, wife of Bishop Kavanaugh; Mrs. B. M. Drake,
and many elect ladies of the Southwest were educated
at that mother of female colleges. On its foundations
others have been built, and are to-day doing great
work for the Church and the world.

(The material for this sketch was obtained from
articles written by Bishop Galloway, for the Nash-
ville Christian Advocate, and from " History of Edu-
cation in Mississippi," by Edward Mayes, LL.D.)


Early Schools in Alabama

WHEN Sieur d'Iberville was sent to establish a
French Empire on the American continent his first
landing was made on Alabama soil, his first explora-
tions were made in Mobile Bay. He built his first
fort, Fort de Maurepas, on the " back bay of Biloxi,"
about where Ocean Springs now stands; but in a few
years he abandoned Fort de Maurepas and located
his capital at " Twenty-one mile bluff " on the Ala-
bama River, and named this fort " Fort Louis de la
Louisane," and around it the colonists built their
houses, and " Old Mobile " was the capital of Louisi-
ana for many years.

Governor Bienville strenuously endeavored to es-
tablish a school in " Old Mobile," but failed ; however,
he did not abandon the idea of having a school in the
colony, but no school was ever established in Mobile
or elsewhere in Alabama during French occupation,
from 1702 to 1763.

Neither is there any record/ of a school during
British dominion, though the government did allow
fifty pounds a year for the pay of a schoolmaster.
No records of schools under Spanish rule remain ex-
tant, if any such schools ever were established. It is
true the priests, both Spanish and French, kept schools
for religious not literary instruction of the Indians,
but no schools for the colonists.

The records, deeds, transfers of property, and other
legal documents made during foreign supremacy in
Alabama indisputably attest the illiteracy of the colo-
nists. These papers are signed with an X (cross) in-
stead of the written name.


A century passed after the first settlement of Ala-
bama before a school was opened or a Protestant
church established, but a new era dawned toward the
close of the eighteenth century, when citizens of other
States began to seek homes in Alabama. So rapidly
did this population increase that only a few years
elapsed before the English-speaking citizens far out-
numbered the foreign population, and for these Eng-
lish-speaking citizens schools were a necessity.

The first school opened in the State was taught by
a Mr. Pierce at the " Boat Yard " on the " cut off "
above Mobile. Mr. Pierce was one of those " pioneers
of the mind " so frequently found in the Southern
States in frontier settlements during the early part of
the nineteenth century. No portrait or pen picture of
him has been preserved, save, " He was a typical
Connecticut Yankee," whatever that may mean. His
schoolhouse was a log cabin, with a door in one end,
a huge fire-place at the other, a window on each side,
closed by board shutters.

The furniture consisted of puncheon benches, and
a shelf around the wall, between the windows and
the door. This shelf served as a depository for books
and dinner buckets, also for a writing-desk. On a
shelf just outside the door the water-bucket was placed,
and on a nail beside it hung a long-handled gourd,
which served as a drinking-cup.

The pupils belonged to several nationalities French,
Spanish, American, Indian, and half-breeds of several
different amalgamations. They were of all shades of
complexion, from the fairest blonde to the ebony hue.
They diligently conned their lessons, and the sound
thereof loudly proclaimed the fact that the school
teacher had arrived.

The subjects taught were spelling, reading, writing,
and " ciphering." Books were scarce, and Webster's
Spell ing-Book served as speller and reading-book.
Slates also were scarce ; one often served a family of
three or four. Copy-books were home-made, and con-


sisted of a quire or half quire of fools-cap paper cov-
ered with a sheet of coarse brown paper. Pens were
made of goose quills.

Primitive as this school was, it is notable because
it ushered in a century of enlightenment.

No records of schools of the " Pierce type " are
extant, but attention must have been given to edu-
cation, and these schools must have multiplied rapidly,
because the Legislature of Mississippi Territory, of
which Alabama was then a part, granted a charter to
Washington Academy, located in St. Stephens, in
1811, only eight years after the first school began.
The next year, 1812, Green Academy in Huntsville
was chartered.

These academies were supported, at least in part, by
public funds; for in 1814 the Legislature appropriated
$1,000 for their use. Another academy, St. Stephens,
was chartered in 1817 by the Territorial Legislature of
Alabama, and the same Legislature appropriated 10
per cent, of the profits of the banks to the use of the
three academies Washington, St. Stephens, and

When the Alabama Territory was formed, none of
the academies for girls chartered by the Legislature
of Mississippi Territory were within the limits of

The School System of Alabama

The children of Alabama were not dependent on
private schools for the means of education. Alabama
was a Territory only two years, and by provision of
the act admitting Alabama as a State into the Union
of States, the sixteenth section of every township was
set apart for use of schools ; also two townships were
set apart for support of a " seminarv of learning."

Without delay the work of establishing a system of
schools was begun. The General Assembly, during its
first session (1819), passed an act appointing commis-
sioners to take charge of the school lands. The duties


of these commissioners was clearly defined by act of
Legislature in 1820. One clause of this act directs
that the lands be divided into farms of not less than
forty acres, and not more than one hundred and sixty
acres. For many years each Legislature spent much
time in discussing educational measures, and in en-
deavoring to perfect the school system.

In 1821 the Legislature passed an act requiring the
appointment of township trustees, and defining their
duties. The principal duty, of course, was to employ
teachers, but they were also required to supervise the
building of schoolhouses, to see that the furniture,
books, and stationery were kept in good order.

Again the school law was amended in 1821, by adop-
tion of an act requiring the examination of teachers,
and forbidding the trustees to employ any teacher who
could not pass a satisfactory examination in the studies
of the usual academic course, and who did not have a
good moral character. Much emphasis was laid on
this last requirement.

The expectation was, that the " sixteenth section "
fund would be sufficient to pay the whole expense of
the schools ; that is, teachers' salaries, building school-
houses, furnishing them, and also providing books,
slates, and stationery.

In sections where the land was rich and adapted to
agriculture the fund was ample for all these expenses,
and provided the means for a common-school educa-
tion for every child in the township.

These schools prospered in what is now known as
the agricultural section of the State, but in the now-
called mineral sections the fund was greatly inadequate
to the demand. The last named sections needed the
fund far more than the agricultural sections did. and
the great question was, how to equalize the school

While providing for common schools, the General
Assembly did not forget to provide for the establish-
ment of the university system one institution of


higher learning or university, and an academy in each
county; for in 1820 the University of Alabama was
established by act of Legislature. The two townships
set apart by Congress for the benefit of a " seminary
of higher learning " were applied to this university,
which was located at Tuscaloosa ; the fund being held
in trust by the State. The same Legislature made
provision for the support of the three academies al-
ready established.

University for Women

The General Assembly, while making provision for
the education of boys and men, was not unmindful of
the claims of girls and women to equal educational
advantages. This recognition was incorporated in the
same act that established the University of Alabama
for men. One section of this act provided for the
establishment of a " branch of said university " for
" female education."

This bill passed with very little opposition ; the only
question raised was whether the State was financially
able to equip and support two institutions of " higher
learning." However, this consideration did not seem
to trouble the masses of the people very much, for so
deep-seated and so widespread was the interest in the
education of girls, that just two years after the pass-
age of the bill to establish the university, on December
24, 1822, the section of the original bill providing for
the establishment of a " branch of the university " for
" female education " was amended by adoption of sec-
tion 17, which reads as follows:

" There shall be also established three branches of
said university for female education, to be located at
such places as may be deemed by the Legislature most
for the public good, and the Legislature shall proceed
to locate and fix the sites of said branches at the same
time and by the same manner of election that the site


of the principal university is to be located, and said
branches shall each be governed by twelve directors to
be elected by the board of trustees of the University,
and government thereof shall be in all respects accord-
ing to the by-laws of the University, framed and or-
dained for that purpose."

It is true this grand scheme for higher education
of women was never put into operation, neither was
the act ever repealed ; hence it is reasonable to suppose
the men of that and succeeding generations neither
regretted their acts of justice and generosity nor
abandoned their lofty ideals.

The writer has made diligent search for some ex-
planation of the failure to put into effect the statute
establishing a university for women, but has failed to
find any mention of the subject subsequent to the adop-
tion of the act. Probably the financial embarrassment
that so long delayed the completion of the University
buildings and the opening of the school rendered the
realization of the " seventeenth section " an utter im-

For a short time, a few years, the finances of Ala-
bama were in a flourishing condition, so much so, that
the expenses of the State government were borne by
the surplus of the State banks, and the people were
exempt from taxation. But reverses, failures, and
panics came, and so much embarrassed was the State,
and so deplorable the condition of the people, that
Congress, at the urgent insistence of Hon. William R.
King, Senator from Alabama, passed a bill for the re-
lief of the State.

But even before this state of affairs culminated, the
trustees of the University found themselves greatly
embarrassed by lack of funds; the income from the
university lands proved greatly inadequate to the
amount necessary for the support of one school. This
deficiency was caused by the mistake of the commis-
sioners in selecting the two townships set apart for the


University, in what is now known as the " mineral
belt " of the State. At that time its true value was
wholly unknown.

Though this grand scheme never materialized, every
daughter of Alabama can have the proud consciousness
of the fact that the men of Alabama fully recognized
the justice of making provision for the education of
their daughters as well as for their sons. The fact is,
that the very first Legislature of Alabama (1819-20)
by the same " act of Legislature " proposed to provide
" a Seminary of Higher Learning " for men and
women alike, but not co-educational as the word is now

This action on the part of the General Assembly of
Alabama is unique in the history of the establishment
of State Universities. As yet, the subject of
" woman's rights " and co-educational advantages for
boys and girls had not claimed public attention, there-
fore no pressure was brought to bear upon the men
who projected this scheme. Furthermore, this act
places them in the rank of advanced thinkers and just
and honorable men.


Academies for Girls

HAVING established the " sixteenth section " schools,
and so far as legislative enactment would do it, estab-
lished a " Seminary of Higher Learning " for men and
women, the next work was to provide for the connect-
ing link in the system to provide for academies.
Naturally these would be first located in the most
populous sections of the State. These sections were in
the southern part of the State, around Mobile, and
thence along the lower Alabama River ; the " Bigbee

Online LibraryI. M. E. (Isabella Margaret Elizabeth) BlandinHistory of higher education of women in the South prior to 1860. → online text (page 4 of 24)