The First Female Graduate

Antionette Pires
Antoinette Pires, ca. 1906.

The Provost asked me to find a photograph of the first female graduate from IC to set right a cluster of photos in her office featuring prominent white men. Illinois College first admitted women in the fall of 1903 when it merged with the Jacksonville Female Academy. Legend had it that Antoinette Pires graduated in 1904 as valedictorian. What a great story, a triumphant tale of women breaking barriers. Or is it? Last week I wrote about history vs. heritage. This week we’ll put that into practice.

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Emerging Experts

American Athena reached two important milestones today. First, at 1:30pm, Christian Flores ’18, finished digitizing the final artifact from the JFA collection for Shared Shelf. After months of setbacks and technical issues, we’ve digitized 72 original documents, consisting of more than 1,600 pages as part of our project with the Council of Independent Colleges’ Consortium on Digital Resources for Teaching and Research.

Then, around 3pm came an e-mail with the subject line: “Consummatum est,” or “It is finished.” It was summer intern Naomi Niemann ’19 writing to say that she had completed the transcription of Edward Beecher’s  650(ish)-page, unpublished novel, Cornelia (a tale of love and faith in the time of Marcus Aurelius). There is still much to be done, but even in my seventh summer overseeing student work, I am in awe of the their enthusiasm and dedication. Working with students changes the nature and speed of my research. It means slowing down a bit and taking time to teach new skills. But it is so worth it. There is real joy in witnessing the emergence of expertise.

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The Case for Local History

Academic historians need to reclaim “Local History,” and negate the unspoken understanding that we must never, ever identify our work as such. We somehow believe that doing so compromises our professional status and undermines our marketability with publishers. That’s not to say academic historians don’t do local history – they simply rebrand it as case studies of broader trends or by favoring the term “microhistory” (which is not confined to geographic locality). Yet by refusing to acknowledge the centrality of place in our work, historians miss important opportunities to contribute to ongoing conversations.

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The Slow Professor: A Review

In The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber clearly state that slowing down is not to be conflated with unchecked leisure. Rather, “Slow professors act with purpose,” they write, “taking the time for deliberation, reflection, and dialogue, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience” (11). In the past few weeks, Berg and Seeber have received a lot of press that missed this point. Browsing through the comments on sites like Inside Higher EdNPR and any variety of blogs, many exasperated faculty claim slowing down to be impossible, or they charge the authors with failing to check their tenured privilege.
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The Morgan Co. Poor Farm Cemetary

The beautiful spring weather last week drew me out-of-doors and took me on a field trip to find the Morgan County Poor Farm Cemetery. Drawn more by curiosity than necessity, I simply wanted to gain an idea of where the farm was situated. With Google Maps, a GPS, and vague description, I found more than headstones. I found purpose.

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Time to call a Genealogist

These days, my research takes me to the Morgan County Courthouse to explore nineteenth century legal records. As a historian trained in researching late-20th century America, this is unfamiliar territory. To learn the ropes, I turned to my friend Kathy. Not only does she possess an encyclopedic knowledge of Morgan County history, she is a seasoned genealogist with a knack for navigating complicated legal and municipal documents (she even teaches a course on genealogy at our local community college). Continue reading “Time to call a Genealogist”

Race, Class, & the Temperance War… Part 3

In our final installment on the Temperance War of Spring 1874, we’ll consider the identities of the women who participated in the Woman’s Temperance Crusade. You will not be shocked to learn they were primarily white, educated, middle class women with some social standing and extensive social networks in Jacksonville. Of course they were. But what was their experience like, and who did they exclude from their crusade?

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Mansplaining Temperance (or Temperance War, part 2)

Last week, we looked at the temperance education curriculum at the Jacksonville Female Academy. This week, we’ll consider the first two weeks of the activism that led to the adoption of that curriculum. On Monday, March 16, 1874, a headline in the Jacksonville Daily Journal announced, “The Temperance Crusade: The Ladies Organized and the Assault Commenced.” Jacksonville, it seems, was under attack. But no one, neither the foot solders nor those under siege knew quite what to make of it.

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Temperance War, Part 1

In May 1874, May Dummer wrote to her brother, Frank, that Jacksonville women were embroiled in a “Temperance War.” This week and next we’ll explore that war and its rhetoric, beginning with women’s scientific temperance education. While at the Watkinson Library in Hartford, CT, I focused on the Henry Barnard Textbook Collection to better understand the JFA curriculum. From the catalogs, it appears that the women had fairly advanced studies in literature, languages, and science. The textbooks told a different story. Continue reading “Temperance War, Part 1”

Domestic Servants: Seen, but Rarely Heard

American Athena will consider the relationships between women of varied ethnicities, religions, and social and economic backgrounds. I’m especially interested in those women who worked as domestic servants because of their close relationships with the middle class women who attended the female schools in Jacksonville. Finding that information, however, is not easy. During the nineteenth century, domestic servants tended to be young, single, uneducated women without significant economic resources. They rarely kept diaries or letters describing their experiences, and within the writings of their employers, domestic servants only appear when inconvenienced.Continue reading “Domestic Servants: Seen, but Rarely Heard”