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Guitar and Mandolin Club at Ferry Hall; later Lake Forest Academy, 1895

Guitar and Mandolin Club at Ferry Hall; later Lake Forest Academy, 1895

Ah . . . the 19th century school . . . probably in a pinafore somewhere wearing wool stockings with an enormous starched bow in her hair doing knee bends and practicing penmanship. These secondary academies did not meet the expected opposition as long as the schools made clear the moral character of the young lady would remain intact and even improve. The thought was these ladies would in turn educate their sons to be Patriots and fair citizens of the world. The education would make them “more fit” to be a wife.

Many female institutions started as Finishing Schools, which was a form of basic higher education, home economics, and how to be a lady of society. It still focused on feminine pursuits such as art, music, and learning to hold one’s tongue as not to appear intellectually superior to their future husbands. It was to be their last of their education, never making it off to college. It was over after they “graduated” or not, as some just stopped attending. If a more rigorous curriculum was introduced, the school was called a Seminary and held its students to the high standard of male peers. While we might snicker at the photographs depicting female physical education in the 19th century; we adult Moderns cannot often pass the 8th or 9th grade subject tests.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the “gift” of female education was it allowed girls to meet regularly outside the home. During the era of “public” vs. “private” sphere, from cradle to the grave, women were kept inside the home as often as humanly possible until marriageable age and then she got a taste of freedom when she made her debut, but she was strictly in husband-hunting mode. It was sometimes difficult for women to create bonds of friendship within this reclusiveness. Some people contribute this practice a reason why many female relatives were so extraordinarily close. I beg to differ. All can attest these academies flourished as much for their social aspect and networking as their increased knowledge.