Although religious education was often part of the curriculum at female seminaries in the nineteenth century, their main purpose was to educate adolescent girls. Girls usually attended between the ages of 12 and 18. Many seminaries developed into women’s colleges in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the early 1800s the schools started using the word “seminary” instead of the older term “academy” to separate themselves from the cooking, cleaning, and social graces emphasis of earlier academies and to show their more serious, educational purpose. The Female Seminaries Movement gained momentum in the early 1800s and by the 1850s there were about 3,000 female seminaries in the U.S.
For most women, their education ended at the seminary. They went on to become wives and mothers, very few went on to college. Most seminaries were small, with fewer than 100 students and the friendships that began at the seminary usually lasted through-out the life of the women.
It seems the radical idea of educating women in Latin, Greek, Geography, Calculus, and Biology lead to other radical thoughts. Many seminaries also promoted social ideals such as women’s suffrage, anti-slavery, or better treatment for Native Americans. The emphasis depended on the ideals of the head of the school.
What does this have to do with our family history? Well, both Eliza Jane McCall and Annie Brownlow were educated at female seminaries. Eliza attended the Washington Female Seminary in Washington, PA. Annie attended the Chestnut Street Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. (later called Orgontz School).
While the liberal influence of the Washington Female Seminary is obvious in the life of Eliza, what influence the Chestnut Street Seminary had on Annie is unclear. Eliza was very active in the Women’s Suffrage movement, but Annie’s thoughts and attitudes are difficult to gauge. Her remaining letters are mostly to her husband, W.F. Patrick, about daily affairs while they were apart. Annie had many friends who were leading the way in new thoughts, but aside from membership in civic organizations and the University of Denver Trustees, Annie’s life definitely focused on family, both her family in Leadville and her mother and sisters in Knoxville.
Eliza’s daughters, Clara and Henrie Mae, did not leave home to attend a seminary. They attended the Mary Institute, a female seminary in St. Louis sponsored by Washington University. The family lived across 17th street from the university. The eldest daughter, also named Eliza Jane, attended Vassar College, but became ill with tuberculosis and died in 1870 when she was just 18.