Finding Illinois in Vermont

This week finds me working at the Vermont Historical Society in Barre (pronounced Barry), VT. Illinois couldn’t feel more distant from this town, the granite capital of the U.S., nestled away in the Green Mountains. Yet it is here that the Jacksonville Female Academy came to life in an unexpected way. Continue reading

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Becoming Sorosis

Today I say good-bye to the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College. For the past week, I’ve relished exploring their collection of records pertaining to Sorosis, a women’s organization established in New York city in March 1868. Sorosis is significant for American Athena because women in Jacksonville organized the supposed second chapter of Sorosis in November of 1868 after reading about the New York organization in the newspaper. So here I am hoping to determine to what extent the two clubs cooperated, or at least communicated. It strikes me as unusual that a club comprised of professional women, journalists, and elite members of society in the nation’s largest city would be so easily translated to a smaller city like Jacksonville. My week with Sorosis was both disappointing and enlightening as I seek answers to these questions.

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Student Essays ca. 1850

Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve graded thousands of student essays on a variety of topics. In general, college students have a style all their own that is rough (typically due to procrastination), but full of promise. While at the Connecticut Historical Society, I took some time to read essays written by two students, Mary Ellen Norton at Mount Holyoke (1850-1853) and Jennie Fessenden at the Hartford Female Seminary, 1849-1857), to understand something about expectations for student work. Continue reading

Teaching on the Illinois Frontier

Today’s blog post looks at what it was really like to teach in rural Illinois in the 1850s. The JFA was founded as an institution to train teachers, but as of yet, I’ve not put my hands on any direct writings or reminisces of early JFA-educated teachers who clearly described their experiences as students and teachers. As a result, I’m here in Connecticut trying to piece together the bigger picture using other sources. Continue reading