In Learning to Stand and Speak, historian Mary Kelly noted that alumnae associations from women’s schools reinforced “relationships they had forged at the intersection of female learning and female friendship.” Educational leaders of the 1830s and 1840s, like Sarah Sleeper of the New-Hampton Female Seminary, believed the combined intellectual powers within female networks could spark within the United States, “a more glorious revolution than that which gave it existence” (123-124). As we know, even in 2016 women are still awaiting that “glorious revolution.” True, we have a female presidential nominee for the first time in our history, and we can see how she arrived at this point through the help of female friends and colleagues, but there’s still a ways to go. So this begs the questions, in what ways did networks help and in what ways were they hindered in the 19th century?
Dr. Andrew McFarland, the second superintendent of the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane and the proprietor of Jacksonville’s Oak Lawn Retreat, is a central character in the American Athena story. Women in Jacksonville shaped and reshaped his career, for better or for worse, just as his medical treatment shaped and reshaped their lives. This week finds me at the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord, New Hampshire, where Dr.McFarland began his career.