The Power of the Past at the Congregational Library & Archives

Congregational Library and Archives in Boston, MA is my final stop on this leg of my NERFC journey. The founders of Illinois College: John Ellis, Julian Sturtevant, Edward Beecher, Asa Turner, and others, were Congregational ministers and I am here asking the question: as they and other Congregational missionaries went West to establish churches and educational institutions, did they all promote female education or was that unique to Jacksonville? Answering this question will be more difficult than I anticipated, but there are plenty of clues.

Continue reading “The Power of the Past at the Congregational Library & Archives”

Pieces of the Puzzle at the Schlesinger Library


This week finds me in at the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge, MA, another glorious repository of women’s history goodness. Walking into an archive, you never know how the day will unfold. Even if you’ve spent hours searching the on-line catalog and exchanged dozens of e-mails with archivists, there’s no telling what the actual sources will yield. Today’s post looks how I process documents as a researcher, as well as more on the social and gendered dynamics of 19th century Jacksonville.

Continue reading “Pieces of the Puzzle at the Schlesinger Library”

My Favorite Research Tools: #Evernote

I’ve just returned from seven weeks of research in New England with a suitcase that weighed approximately the same as when I left. Let me explain: back in the old days (2010), the best way to keep track of documents was the good ol’ photocopy. A few daring archives had installed scanners at that time and emerging smart phones could take photos, but most relied on the ‘ol 10 cents a page copier. As a result, I would leave a gaping hole in my suitcase – or even take an empty bag – just for the photocopies.

In 2016, my nose was set to the research grindstone for seven weeks and I didn’t make one.single.photocopy. I’m at home for ten days before heading out for two more weeks of research in Boston, so in honor of my time off today’s post focuses on my most favorite research tool: Evernote.

Continue reading “My Favorite Research Tools: #Evernote”

Women, Slavery, and Politics

I’m still at the Vermont Historical Center this week, working my way through the diary of Augusta Merrill Bickford who, in 1848-1849, attended the Bradford Female Seminary in Bradford, MA. Her richly detailed account of daily life at a women’s school is a rare find, but in this season of presidential primaries, I am especially struck by Augusta’s interest in politics.

In 1848, Augusta was just 19 years old. She could not vote. Nobody really cared what she had to say. As a middle class white woman she might eventually have some pull in the community as a teacher, through a church, or within a women’s club, but at that moment in her life she barely existed before the law. Yet the fact that she cared about the future of her nation teaches us lessons both historical and practical.

Continue reading “Women, Slavery, and Politics”

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 “Finding Illinois in Vermont”

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.

Continue reading “Becoming Sorosis”

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 “Student Essays ca. 1850”

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 “Teaching on the Illinois Frontier”

The Life of the Institution

Range 2 of the Barnard Collection. Patrons are not typically allowed in the stacks, but Curator Rick Ring very graciously gave me tour.

One stipulation of the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium fellowship is that I become involved in the life of the institutions I visit. On Monday, I spent the day at the Watkinson Library at Trinity College in Hartford. The Watkinson boasts an incredible collection of rare books, including the library of education reformer Henry Barnard. The Barnard collection alone consists of approximately 7,000 volumes related to education from about 1800 until 1880, and I’m there to see the text books adopted by the Jacksonville Female Academy. Thanks to Christian, the amazing student research assistant, I have a list of those books drawn from a sampling of catalogs over various decades.Continue reading “The Life of the Institution”

They Treat Me As a Sister: New England, Day 2

Today I blog live from the Connecticut Historical Society where I am combing through the records of MS 4823 – The National Popular Education Board. During the 1840s and 1850s, this organization based in Hartford, CT trained New England women as teachers and then sent them west to work in small towns. Thanks to the generosity of the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, I get to make the opposite trek and spend the next eight weeks learning about the history of Jacksonville by traveling through the region where many of the town’s early leaders originated: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and later, New Hampshire.Continue reading “They Treat Me As a Sister: New England, Day 2”