Women of Brook Farm

A Massachusetts Commune

Image: Farmhouse at Brook Farm

Brook Farm, the most famous utopian community in America, was founded by Unitarian minister and author George Ripley and his wife Sophia in rural West Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1841. The Ripleys were interested in a more balanced society where equality was the norm and class distinction and wage discrepancy were not.

The Philosophy
In October 1840, George Ripley announced to the Transcendental Club that he was planning to form a Utopian community. Brook Farm, as it would be called, was based on the ideals of Transcendentalism. Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was the center of the transcendental movement, setting out most of its ideas and values in a little book entitled Nature (1836) which represented at least ten years of intense study in philosophy, religion and literature.

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Graceanna Lewis

Pioneer Scientist and Abolitionist

Graceanna Lewis was an early female natural scientist who became an expert in the field of ornithology (the study of birds). She is also remembered as an activist in the temperance, women’s suffrage and antislavery movements, and her home was a station on the Underground Railroad.

Image: Graceanna Lewis, circa 1865
Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA.

Early Years
Graceanna Lewis was born August 3, 1821 on a farm in Chester County Pennsylvania, second of four daughters of Quaker farmers John Lewis and Esther Fussell Lewis. John died in 1824, leaving the children in the care of their mother, who endured a lengthy battle for control of the estate left to her by her husband.

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Bernice Pauahi Bishop

Hawaiian Princess and Philanthropist

Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop was a Hawaiian princess and the last direct descendant of the Royal House of Kamehameha. She is also remembered as one of the most remarkable philanthropists in the history of the Islands. Her bequest endowed the Kamehameha Schools, which specializes in educating the children of native Hawaiians.

Early Years
Pauahi Paki was born December 19, 1831 in Honolulu, Hawaii, to high chiefs Abner Paki and Laura Konia Paki. She was the great-granddaughter of Kamehameha I, the warrior chief who united the Hawaiian islands under his rule in 1810. Pauahi was reared with strong Hawaiian values and a bicultural education. She was gifted in music, and known for her generosity and kindness.

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Mary Peake

Teacher of Runaway Slaves at Fortress Monroe

Mary Peake was a teacher, best known for starting a school for the children of former slaves in the summer of 1861, under the shade of a tree that would become known as the Emancipation Oak in present-day Hampton, Virginia. This makeshift outdoor classroom provided the foundation of what would become Hampton University.

Image: Mary Peake

Early Years
In 1823, Mary Smith Kelsey was born free in Norfolk, Virginia. Her father was an Englishman “of rank and culture” and her mother was a free woman of color, described as light-skinned. When Mary was six, her mother sent her to the town of Alexandria (then part of the District of Columbia) to attend school while living with her aunt Mary Paine.

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Women of Oberlin College

First College to Admit Women and Blacks

The main reason women did not go to college in the early 19th century was because most people believed that, because women became wives, mothers or teachers of young children, they did not need to go to college. But the founders of Oberlin College knew that women could become even better wives, mothers and teachers if they were able to take college classes.

Image: Mary Caroline Rudd Allen
One of the first American women to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree, which she earned at Oberlin College.

The Oberlin Four
Oberlin College was founded in 1833 in Oberlin, Ohio, and became the first college in the United States to admit women as well as men. There were four courses of study: the Female, Teachers, Collegiate and Theological Departments. Women were allowed to study in the Female or Teachers Department.

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Clemence Sophia Harned Lozier

Doctor and Pioneer in Women’s Education

Clemence Sophia Harned Lozier was one of the first women doctors in the United States. In 1863 she founded the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women, the first school where women of New York City could study medicine and the first hospital where women patients could receive medical care from doctors of their own gender.

Image: Dr. Clemence Sophia Harned Lozier

Early Years
Dr. Clemence Sophia Harned was born December 11, 1813, in Plainfield, New Jersey, and educated in the Plainfield Academy. She was the youngest of 13 children born to David and Hannah Walker Harned, who had lived among the Native Americans in Virginia for several years before moving to New Jersey.

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First Women Educators

Women Educating Women in the New Nation

Image: Mills College
Women as far away as the Pacific Coast also had access to higher education by 1852, when the Young Ladies Seminary was established at Benicia, California – the first women’s college west of the Rockies. Susan Tolman Mills served as its president for 19 years.

Women’s Education in Colonial America
In the 18th century, most wealthy parents were willing to invest in education for their sons because it increased his chances of establing a profitable career. In general, the purpose of women’s education in colonial America was to become skilled at household duties in order to find a suitable husband. A woman who was well educated in academic subjects was thought to be unusual and not good marriage material.

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Elizabeth Cary Agassiz

Naturalist and Pioneer in Women’s Education

Elizabeth Cary Agassiz was a naturalist and educator who was co-founder and first president of Radcliffe, a women’s college in Cambridge, Massachusetts. By her tact and fund-raising abilities, she nurtured the college and insured its continued success.

Early Years
Elizabeth Cabot Cary was born December 5, 1822 to successful Boston businessman Thomas Graves Cary and Mary Ann Cushing Perkins Cary. Due to her delicate health Elizabeth was educated by a governess at home who taught her languages, drawing, music and reading. She additionally received informal history lessons from Elizabeth Peabody.

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Catherine Beecher

A Pioneer in Women’s Education

American author and educator, Catherine Beecher believed that a woman’s role as educator and moral guide for her family was the basis of a well-ordered society. While she might have balked at being called a feminist (she did not support suffrage), her new theories about a woman’s place contributed to a growing feminist attitude that a woman did not have to be weak and passive, but could be a strong and important member of her community.

Early Years
Catherine Beecher (also spelled Catharine) was born September 6, 1800 in East Hampton, New York to the prominent Beecher family, who greatly influenced American culture and politics during the late nineteenth century. Catherine was the eldest of 13 children born to Presbyterian minister Dr. Lyman Beecher and Roxana Foote Beecher, eight of whom survived infancy. Her parents had a strong influence on the values she held as an adult.

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Almira Phelps

Educator and Author of Science Textbooks

Almira Phelps was a 19th century educator and author who published several popular science textbooks, the most famous of which was Familiar Lectures on Botany (1829). Although it was received with condescension by male scientists, this book introduced a new style of science book for young students and influenced women to study the natural sciences. She wrote textbooks in all major fields of science except astronomy.

Almira Hart was born on July 15, 1793, in Berlin, Connecticut, the youngest of seventeen children. She grew up in a family of intellectuals who prized independent thinking, and received much of her education at home, where her siblings debated literature and politics. She was also an avid reader and spent some time studying in local district schools.

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