Tour the JFA

The JacksonvillJFA Exterior 1890_Page_05e Female Academy was located on the 400 block of College Avenue. I say “was” because it was demolished to make way for the Jacksonville High School gymnasium in the 1950s.

There are countless photos and etchings of the building’s exterior, but the interiors are mostly left to the imagination. Why should we care what the interior looked like? There’s much to be gained from knowing what students kept in their rooms, how classrooms facilitated student learning, and how the decor reflected domestic ideals. In 1890, school administrators advertised recent renovations by including interior sketches in the catalog. Why sketches? Flash photography was still a novelty in 1890, making interior photographs nearly impossible in rooms without natural light. At the very least, though, parents could rest assured that their daughters would enjoy modern conveniences such as clean, municipal water (which ran hot and cold), steam heating and ventilation systems, a telephone, and close proximity to a professional fire fighting service (complete with “fire engines, hose, hook and ladder”). Such conveniences impart middle class sensibilities to prospective students and their parents by emphasizing the fitness of the facility as much as the rigor of the academic program. This is perhaps best evidenced by the sketches of three parlors and “The Glass Room” compared to two small sketches of classrooms. Interestingly, there are no people in the sketches of sunny, tidy rooms. Take that for what you will. If you would like to read the entire catalog, you can download the entire PDF here.

JFA Chapel 1890

The Chapel

JFA Catalog 1890 2_Page_29

Principal’s Office, looking appropriately learned and stern.

JFA Cabinet Room 1890

The Cabinet Room, so-called because it was maintained by a cabinet of alumnae, housed artifacts and other items for use by students. In 1860, Principal Benjamin F. Mitchell (also an instructor of Natural Sciences) “commenced a collection of Geological Specimens, and of curiosities in Natural History,” and asked for any and all donations (according to the 1860 catalog). Thirty years later, it seems the collections were well-developed and included samples of papyrus, “relics” from Palestine, sea shells, minerals, fossils, geologic maps, an extensive collection of Midwestern Native American pottery and arrowheads, stuffed birds and small animals, ancient Roman coins, a sample of couscous (labeled “An African Food”), shark teeth, and a nondescript “skull.” And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg. I’m especially interested in this room because it indicates an emphasis on science and the emerging field of anthropology. Alumnae of the JFA collected most  of the items themselves, or knew enough to procure them from others.

JFA Student Room 1890

Surprisingly spacious student housing.

JFA Parlor 1890

Parlors throughout…

JFA Library 1890

The library. At some point, I hope to run across a catalog of books so we can learn what the students had at their disposal.

JFA Glass Room 1890

The Glass Room… because three parlors are not enough. Wouldn’t you love to what color the wallpaper was, or know whose bust that is gracing the discussion space?

JFA Classrooms 1890

Classrooms and learning spaces.

JFA Art Student 2 1890

Finally, a student at the School of Fine Art.

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