Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ipswich Female Seminary

Photo from Ipswich Chronicle Wicked Local Article by Gordon Harris April 24 2014 Zilpah Grant's Female Seminary, founded in 1828, was the first institute of higher education in the country to offer teacher and missionary training for lower and middle class women.

This progressive move in academia furnished opportunities for many young women in the local community who would not have had access to a costly private academy. The seminary offered a more “vigorous curriculum” to prepare students for employment and work placement, rather than usual courses constituting “the existence for a cultured wife and homemaker.” This philosophy opposed the traditional role of women; the “Spartan-like,” disciplined atmosphere was incredibly demanding.


The core program and texts of the Ipswich Female Seminary would be used in both the institutions of Wheaton and Mount Holyoke . Mary Lyons, one of the founders, was a pioneer in the academic world. Her passion and advocacy for female education had a great impact on one Ipswich girl in particular, Eunice Caldwell.(Both Photos of Mary Lyons from Mount Holyoke College the first is by Sarah Cushing Boynton, class of 1848)
After graduating from the school, Eunice Caldwell (photo above from Wheaton College) was put on staff as a teacher from 1830 to 1835. She became Wheaton’s first principal and then associate principal at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary from 1837 to 1838. She married the Reverend John Phelps Cowles*, returned to Ipswich in 1844, and reopened the Ipswich Female Seminary, which they ran until it closed in 1876. At the end, John was blind, but still taught the classics from memory, since his Yale education provided the means to do so. The aim of the school was “to make healthy, companionable and self-reliant women.” According to Academy records, 88 of the school's graduates went on to teach as educational missionaries in the western and southern United States.

Group Portrait of Teachers Helen French (left), Julia Ward (center), Emily Wilson, and Elizabeth Blanchard (right), 1861.
Louise Manning Hodgkins of Ipswich went on to receive a B. A., was matriculated at Oxford University, and later founded the English Department at Wellesley College. She was also the editor of the Heathen Woman's Friend, a monthly magazine published by the American Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Photos above First Photo is from Mount Holyoke College Archives. Second photo was taken by Edward L. Darling, from the collection of William J. Barton. The young women appear to be a group of Ipswich Female Seminary students. Behind them is the High St. house owned by undertaker and upholsterer George Haskell, directly across from North Main St. (The location is now the parking lot for the Ipswich Inn.) The nearby house at 3 High Street served at that time as one of the dormitories for the Ipswich Female Seminary. Gordon Harris Stories from Ipswich
Helen Fiske Hunt Jackson graduated Ipswich Seminary daughter of Nathan Welby Fiske, a professor of languages at Amherst College, and Deborah Vinal. Good friend of Emily Dickinson and a long history of Feminism and Missionary work

Elizabeth Cady Stanton attended Ipswich Seminary famous for her politics. The second photo is with her son Henry Stanton from Susan B. Anthony Rebel, Crusader, Humanitarian by Alma Lutz Project Gutenberg

Marianne Parker Dascomb graduated Ipswich Seminary in 1833 she is front row center the group picture is Oberlin Female Moral Reform Society More info Dunbarton New Hampshire’s Pioneer Educator in Ohio: Marianne (Parker) Dascomb ( 1810-1879)

Elizabeth Storrs Mead, a graduate of Ipswich Female Seminary, became Mount Holyoke’s first non-alumna president. She led the College through enormous change; strengthening and expanding the curriculum, encouraging teachers to pursue advanced degrees, and allowing students a measure of self-government. In 1896, when the Seminary building was destroyed by fire, Mead initiated a building plan that included the construction of six residence halls, a gymnasium, the greenhouse, and a Physics and Chemistry building.
Mary Abigail Dodge, who wrote under the pseudonym "Gail Hamilton" graduated Ipswich Seminary in 1850 and taught for four years after graduation. She was from Hamilton, MA daughter James Brown Dodge and Hannah Stanwood Dodge. In 1856 she sent samples of her poetry to the antislavery publication “National Era” in Washington which impressed the editor, Gamaliel Bailey, because of her unique and individual style. She was governess to the children of Gamaliel Bailey and while in that position family promoted her.
Emily C Hodgdon attended Ipswich Seminary daughter of Stephen Bartlett and Eliza (Cook) Hodgdon For More see Emily C. Hodgdon & Thomas J. Rayner
Laura Farnum Booth daughter of Rev. Chauncey Booth and Laura Farnum attended the Ipswich Seminary with her cousin Hannah Blodget daughter of Abner Blodget and Hannah Booth of Connecticut. More info see 1835: Laura Farnum Booth to Hannah Blodget
Mary Phelps Cowles (Hall) Cummings graduated Ipswich Seminary daughter of Eunice Caldwell and Rev John Phelps Cowles, philanthropist. She was highly educated for her time and among her family, husbands and their friends were prominent figures of the day. Instructor at Mount Holyoke. Married Dr. Adino Brackett Hall, of Ipswich Photos from Woburns Environmental Network The Gift of the East

For other Cowles Family--plus Sheldon and Dodge check out Heirlooms Reunited blog 1860-1905 Autograph Album of Louisa Barr of Erie, Pennsylvania; 1861 Student at Cleveland Female Seminary, Cleveland, Ohio

In 1881 Mary married John Cummings see A Vision for Mary Cummings 

Martha Harward Skolfield (1836-1904) Fifth child of the Harward family of Bowdoinham, Maine, she attended the Ipswich Female Seminary between 1851 and 1855. Martha married Alfred in 1858. They had three daughters with him: Eugenie, Augusta Marie, and Evaline. The last was born while the family lived in Birkenhead, England and died at two years of age. Martha was a strong-willed, principled woman and managed many of the household affairs. She oversaw the selection and purchasing of furniture for the Park Row house as well as the payment of bills and the hiring of help. She made certain that her daughters learned to play the piano and to paint, aesthetic achievements which were derigueur for all proper Victorian young women. From Pejepscott Historical Society

Mary Hodgkins always praised her early education with Caldwell and the Ipswich School:  “I am sure I got my lasting habit of taking world-wide views [from the Ipswich Female Seminary]. Mr. Cowles was in the habit of giving us questions to be answered in chapel, about once a week, that sent us early to the study of Plutarch, Rollin, English History and Literature, and no one was more keen than I to find the answers to such questions as: 'Who was the Man with the Iron Mask?' … 'What were the Seven Wonders of the World?' … 'Where is the Singing Statue of Memnon?' Little I dreamed then that I should see all the places, nearly associated with these historic questions, but I can never be too grateful for the form of outlook she imparted.”

“These loved and venerated teachers still live, and long may the pen lie idle that must one day trace their noble lineaments through the mists of memory. Not often is it given to such a mind as Ellen's to come under the tender training of two such minds as theirs – minds differing as widely from each other as one star differeth from another star in glory, but always two stars, brilliant, high, shining only with a more serene and soft, but not less splendid luster.” – Ellen Chapman Hobbs, student from New England Bygones by E. H. Arr. Eunice remained actively involved in the Essex North Branch of the Women's Board of Foreign Missions for over 24 years, and she served as president for the last three. When she passed, WBFM’s Life and Light wrote a wonderful dedication to this amazing woman who rallied for the betterment of her sisters in her homeland, but also “gave of her mind and soul and money to the promotion of the work of women for women the world over. Her presence exercising her brilliant gifts, and with her own zeal kindling in other hearts fires of zeal which have continued to burn.”

*Rev. John Phelps Cowles
John Phelps Cowles, son of Samuel and Olive (Phelps) Cowles, was born in Colebrook, Conn., January 21, 1805. He entered Yale college in 1821 and graduated at the head of his class in 1826. He studied theology in the Yale Divinity School, under Dr. Taylor, and remained in New Haven after graduating and assisted in the preparation of Webster's Dictionary. He was licensed to preach in June, 1832, and was ordained pastor of the Congregational church in Princeton, Mass., June 18, 1833. He resigned this position December 18, 1834, and went to Oberlin, Ohio, with his brother Henry, soon after Oberlin college was established, and in February, 1836, was appointed to the professorship of the languages and literature of the Old Testament in that institution. He was married, October 16, 1838, to Eunice Caldwell, of Ipswich, Mass. 
In October, 1839, he resigned his position in Oberlin college and in March, 1840, was appointed principal of an academy in Elyria, Ohio. Resigning there in April, 1844, ne, with his wife, assumed the charge of the Ipswich (Mass.) Female Seminary, where he remained until over seventy years of age, in full and active work, though blind the last twenty years. He lost his eye-sight in 1855, but retained the possession of all his other faculties until near the time of his death, which occurred from heart failure, March II, 1890, at Ipswich, Mass.
He was a patient, conscientious teacher, and did much to advance the higher education of women, giving to many of those whom his reputation for scholarship drew around him the equivalent of the best part of a college education, long before a college for women was established. He was interested in the work of the American Institute of Instruction, attending its meetings when practicable, and, in 1850, lectured at its annual meeting. During his thirty-five years of darkness, his calm fortitude and untiring patience were silent but efficient lessons, which have become a precious legacy to his widow, his four surviving children, and many friends.
From The Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Instruction, Volume 61 Children Of Eunice and John: Mary Phelps, Roxanna Caldwell, John Phelps, Henry Augustine, and Susan Abby Rice. 

Jun 1, 1943 2pm in Buckland. "Hi, We're having wonderful weather for our short vacation. Can't wait to get home to get weighed and sigh at how much I've gained. Love Alice"

Thursday, March 19, 1846  Boston Recorder (Boston, Massachusetts) 


    1. Thank you for sharing the work that you are doing so well. E D Walsh

    2. hi Melissa,
      Thanks for your research on this topic. You probably know that the Ipswich Museum has now moved the Ipswich Female Seminary exhibit to the second floor to focus more attention on it. I am interested in adding photos of Zilpah Grant, Mary Lyon, Eunice Caldwell Cowles and (hopefully) John Cowles to the exhibit. Would you be able to tell me where originals of these photos can be found?
      Kerry Mackin (

    3. I am thrilled to be able to learn about the Ipswich Female Seminary. I have just been reading letters one of my ancestors, Charlotte Frelinghuysen Allen, ( later Hopkins) wrote to her sister, my 2nd great grandmother, the oldest girl in the family, Elizabeth Lee Allen (later Smith), who had attended the Seminary the previous year, but was now back in Brunswick, Maine, where her father, William Allen, was President of Bowdoin College. Charlotte was attending the school and she said much about it in her letters. I was so curious, I came online and found this. The first thing I found when I Googled was some original reports on he school and a lot about what the curriculum consisted of. How nice to see photos of the actual buildings and of the founders. I wish that the photo of the group of women, one of whom "went on" to do this and that, had a date on it.
      Glad you have made this available to the public! I have numerous old letters and am enjoying getting to know my ancestors this way, and to supplement the knowledge with photos and the history of the place is so nice. I hope it will be okay if I use a couple of pictures on I will give credit.
      Judith Lee Howard Shea

    4. Judy Shea Thank you! Hope you see this update I made!