Schooling antebellum style

From John Hennessy:

One of the most common questions I get is about school and education and Fredericksburg before the Civil War–indeed, Hannah offered up that very question earlier today over at Mysteries and Conundrums. My work on the topic is limited, but here’s what I know–with the request that if anyone knows more, we’d be happy to have you pitch in.

Smithsonia was the Female Orphan Asylum, and it still stands on Amelia Street. It housed and educated as many as 15 girls at a time.

For decades before the Civil War, Virginia’s elites railed against the concept of universal education (and the likely taxes attached thereto) so loudly trumpeted by Jefferson and Madison. That meant Virginians were largely on their own, which in turn meant that education was the domain of the very rich or, ironically, very poor. (Susan Dunn has some excellent passages on the retarded state of Virginia’s education in her book Dominion of Memories, which you should read if you have not.)  The value of education for the masses was hardly recognized by those masses in the years before the Civil War.  The Virginia Herald of November 28, 1830, includes this lament that most students would likely have agreed with (many surely still do).

“What are the beatitudes of a scholastic paradise? To be fagged, flogged, thumped, and coerced to mental labor and constrained in personal liberty. This may be all very proper and salutary (so is physic) but it is not happiness, and there is very, very rarely an instance of a boy, while he is in one of these prisons of the body, and treadmills of the mind, who is – not always wishing to get out of school and to get home.

Fredericksburg had schools for both rich and poor children, boys and girls, plus of course the common run of private tutors working with individual families. There were probably more than a dozen purely private, tuition-based schools in Fredericksburg. Most notable was the large school for girls taught in the Baptist Church by Rev. William Broaddus–as many as 75 girls were enrolled there. The area boarded by Amelia, Hawke, Prince Edward and Caroline seems to have been “education alley” prior to the war. Diarist Jane Beale (with the help of two of her daughters) ran a smaller school behind her house on Lewis Street. Her advertisements appeared regularly from 1854 until 1861. Beale’s neighbors Jane Barnett and Elizabeth Warneford also ran a school for girls.  Ann White, who lived in the brick house next to the Mary Washington House, also offered boarding for female students.

The people of Fredericksburg supported (rather enthusiastically) charity schools for both boys and girls, and at least one orphanage. The Female Charity School still stands on Caroline Street, at Lewis. In 1860 governesses Elizabeth and Mary Vass oversaw 18 resident girls in 1860. Its male counterpart, located in the 200 block of Hanover Street, had by 1858 run on hard times. Its assets would be transferred to the Female Charity School after the war. (For a vivid letter written by Hannah Rawlings, who for decades after the Civil War would governess of the Female Charity School, click here.)

Jane Beale's house on Lewis Street. Her school room was in a separate building in the back yard.

For decades Fredericksburg debated whether to establish a “free school” in town. In 1853, it did so, and according to a local newspaper it soon had 180 male students, 103 female, three male teachers, and three female teachers. To accomodate the school, the Town Council moved its meetings from its chambers in Town Hall to the Courthouse, freeing chambers for the use of the school. The Free School experiment didn’t last long.  The town repealed the ordinance in 1857.

Below I have appended a couple of lists.  Remember, all this is a starter of the conversation, not a conclusion. I hope to hear from some of you who know more than I.  For a rundown of schools in Fredericksburg, see Quinn’s History of Fredericksburg, pp. 193-198.

Teachers living in Fredericksburg, 1860

Henry L . Warner, 24, school teacher

William H. Lipscomb, 21, Teacher of Academy

John Hudson,, 37, school teacher

George W. Rothrock, 60, listed as Teacher of Common School—the Male Charity School on Hanover Streeet.

Loretta Magrath, Techer of Common School

Mary Bowman, School Teacher

Ann m. Thornton

Caroline Caldwell (Richard Caldwell’s wife)

Bettie W. Caldwell (20)

Margaret Caldwell (19)

Charles W. Temple (Benjamin’s Son)

A.  Meade Smith, 24, lived with J.T. Doswell on Princess Anne Street (probably as tutor to the Doswell’s Children, Evy and George, who both died in the 1861-62 scarlet fever epidemic)

Maria Woodward, 45, Teacher of Female School

Harriett Cole, the daughter of Counsellor Cole

Jane Cunningham, 28, Teacher—probably at Female Orphan Asylum

Jane Barnett, Principal of Female School

Elizabeth Warneford, 39, teacher (in household with Barnett)

Constnce Warneford, 27, Teacher (in household with Barnett)

Jane Beale, Teacher of Female School

Helen G. Beale, Spt. Of Female School

John H. Beale, School teacher

H.W. Reinhart, 27, Teacher of Female School

Newspaper references to schools in Fredericksburg, 1848-1861

Joseph J. Halsey, School athaneaum to open 9/23/47

James W. Hunnicutt, night school, 2-4-48

Judith Anstice, 9/18/49

John P. McGuire, English Classical School, 12-47 and 8-10-49

Elizabeth Carmichael, 8/17/49

Mrs. R.B. Maury, School to open 8-10-49 through 9-3-1857

R. Gordon, school at Amelia and Prince Edward 9/4/1849

Mr. Boardman, 8/9/1850

Edward A. Adams, Loretto School 8/16/50

John P. McGuire, Loretto School, 8-26-1851

John P. McGuire, Episcopal High School, 8-23-52

Mary Hackley August 1849 to 2/10/52 at 826 Caroline

James G. Read, school to open 8-10-49, through 8-23-1850

B. Marshall, drawing school, 1-1-50

F.F. Jones, Writing School, 10-22-1850

B.F. Stem, shool to open, 9-5-51

Maria Woodward, 9-2-51 through 1861

C.H. Kerr, to open school, 10-4-52

John C. Porter to open school, 9-23-52 and 8-18-53

Mary Herndon, school 10/21/52

Chester B. White to lease school room in Citizens Hall 9-17-53 (White was a bookseller in town; his wife later took over his school)

Wm. F.Broaddus.  New school to open August 4, 1853, opened September 18

Dr. H.W.P. Junius, to open language school, 1-9-54

Jane Beale, June 1854-1861

E.H. Henry to open school in Citizens Hall, 9-30-54

T.I.Moncure, school in Citizens Hall, 9-30-54

Miss Pearson, school to open 9-30-54

E.H. Henry to open school, 8/2/55

F.B. Marchy, to open school, 2-21-56

John Hudson to open school at Caroline and Prussia  8-22-57 through 1860

Clemintine O. Heinichen, ad, 7-14-58

John W. Jones ad 8-14-58

Mrs. R.B. Tschudi, to open school, 12-11-56 and 8-24-57 9-17-58

Mrs. Chester B. White, ad, 9-15-58

M.H. Semple, Female school, 10-8-1858, basement of Baptist Church

William Evans, ad for school, 10-28-1858

Trible, school ad, 1-28-1859

Mrs. C.B. White, 7-3-1860

Mrs. Barnet, 7/10/60

William B. Johnson, Girls school, 1-29-61 and 8-2-61

Misses Warneford, school ad, 7-10-1860

E.L. Williams, Fredericksburg School for Girls, 1-29-61 and 8-2-61

2 thoughts on “Schooling antebellum style

  1. Interestingly, one of the early advocates of free schools was Fredericksburg’s (or more appropriately, Falmouth’s) own Moncure Daniel Conway. In 1850 he published a pamphlet entitled, Free Schools In Virginia: A Plea of Education, Virtue and Thrift, vs. Ignorance, Vice and Poverty. Printed at the local Recoder Office, it is, perhaps the first piece published by Conway.

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