Archive for the ‘Archive Research’ Category

“The Agora,” The Western Oxford’s, and The Nellie Tilton Warfield Essay Prize

“The Agora”was a women’s club initiated at Western in 1894 that promoted discussion, lectures, and intellectual development amongst its members stating that its mission is “first, to awaken and develop the interest of its members in all vital questions, and to prepare them for active participation in the great movements of the day – literary, social, and philanthropic.” In the first program produced by this club, twice-monthly lectures are

The Agora program 1895

announced that are given by various members of the club. Each month has a topic: “History and Travel,” “Literature and Fine Arts,” and “Contemporary Events.” Particular subjects include, “Greek Music,” “Debate: Resolved, That the House of Lords should be abolished,” “The French Revolution and its Relation to English Poetry,” “The Noble Peasant in Russia,” and “The Eastern Question.” Given the practice of reciting compositions, it is likely that these lectures were fully or largely written prior to their delivery, though unfortunately I could find no remaining samples of these papers. Additionally, this shows evidence of public debate amongst the women as part of these activities, a skill often denied to women at this time. The topics delivered demonstrate an interest and knowledge of diverse issues, as well as a sophisticated awareness of the purpose of these meetings and the audience to which these deliveries would be addressed.  It further demonstrates the initiative of the women of Western in creating, sharing, and providing educational opportunities to one another in addition to their official curriculum.

The Western Oxford’s were publications produced quarterly and seem to have been distributed via subscription. Included within them are reports about students and alumnae, mention of major events, editorials, letters from alumnae, fictional stories, essays, and lists of new additions to the library. By reviewing these publications, additional information about Western can be gained, including the types of writing that students were doing near the end of the nineteenth century, and the books to which they had access.

I was especially interested in The Nellie Tilton Warfield Essay Prize, as the winning essay each year was to be published in The Western Oxford’s and would give an example of an exemplary essay for that year. Publication of these essays did not appear to occur with complete regularity, however, and I was only able to find a couple that still fell within the timeframe of the nineteenth century. The two that I reviewed, from 1896 and 1989, were both literary analyses on a George Elliot novel and Wordsworth, respectively. These essays give some insight as to the type of writing students were doing by the turn of the century, as by this time, seniors were required to take a History of Literature course along with English Composition; it is possible that the winning essay was taken from assignments produced in this class, given the topics and the centrality of literature to them.

Works Cited:

“The Agora: 1895.” Western College Memorial Archives,16 Peabody Hall,  Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Print Original.

“The Nellie Tilton Warfield Essay Prize.” The Western Oxford’s 4.4 (1896) and 7.1 (1898). Print.

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The Letters of Jane and Jennie Williams, 1862-1867

The Letters of Jane and Jennie Williams, 1862-1867This lengthy series of letters were written mostly by Jane, but partially by Jennie, Williams during the years of 1862 through 1867. They are addressed primarily to “Dear Brother Roger,” ostensibly a younger brother who was, given the content of the letters, also working on academic studies and came from a family that did not live all that far away from Western in Paddy’s Run, about four miles west of Ross, Ohio. In these letters, Jane offers insights into the composition pedagogy at Western, mentioning the time spent working on this writing, as well as “special assignments” given by Miss Peabody where students are asked to compose a letter rather than a regular assignment. She also mentions that compositions are orally recited each week and that feedback/criticism is offered by other students; specific assignment topics, and a newspaper “called the Kailiedscope which was composed of pieces written by the girls in the first division of compositions” are also mentioned (November 27, 1863). Jane also discusses a composition assignment where they were asked “to write a letter to our little brothers about 12 or 13 years old, and tell him how to write compositions,” which is an interesting meta-cognitive reflective piece that was unfortunately not included in this collection (September 23, 1863).  Also evident from these letters is the amount of domestic work expected from the students; as time goes on, Jane complains more and more of exhaustion and it is clear that her health begins to suffer by the end of the letters.

These letters offer significant insight into the type of personal correspondence conducted by

"Dear Brother Roger"

the women at Western, as well as offering information about the composition requirements, assignments, and practices that were utilized. Also apparent is the sheer amount of writing that was regularly enacted at this time – there is often mention of a number of letters written, as well as criticisms toward the receiver if he has been negligent in his own letter writing duties. This type of writing appears much less regulated that that found in Adda Collier’s journal, the audience for which was the faculty at Western, rather than the more intimate rhetorical situation of letters sent to family members. The views expressed in student letters are often different than accounts of the school offered by faculty in their Letters to Holyoke, a difference that is important to the areas I am researching in this project.

Work Cited:

“Williams, Jane & Jennie. Letters. 1862-1867.” Western College Memorial Archives,16 Peabody Hall,  Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Original Copies and Typed Transcriptions.

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Section Book: 1858-1859 and Composition Assignment Sheet

In the early days of Western, marks for certain aspects of the educational experience were tallied in Section Books; this particular book tracks the performance of a group of seventeen women whose last names began with the letters A through G for this academic school year. On the first pages of the book, there is a detailed list of particular regular activities (such as Weekly Reports and Payment of debts) listed, along with a considerably longer list of apparent infractions (Wardrobe not in order, Riding without permission, Taking company to rooms, Sitting or lying on spreads or quilts, Delaying in halls, etc.) that were tracked for each student on an ongoing basis.

In the front cover of this Section Book, I found a handwritten Composition Assignment that gave the directions for the weekly requirement for this course, which at this time was required during all three years of the Western education. According to this document, assignments were required to be written on composition paper, thirty lines long, and handed in at the fifteen minute bell before dinner [on Saturday]. Additionally, the document states that “the required time is 3 hrs.; more or less than that time is plus or minus. Less than two hours is delinquency. Time spent in reading or writing on subjects not finally used is not counted.” It is clear from this assignment that length and time spent writing are what is of the highest importance, though from the Section Book it is clear that other criteria were also tracked in student writing.

The Section Book has a two-page spread entitled “Composition Times” with the seventeen students listed in the far left column, along with their composition times listed for each week as plus or minus amounts of time, as in +1/2, – ¼, =,  etc. An additional two-page spread tracking the same students is entitled “Number of Mis-spelled Words” and likewise tracks this amount for each student. Time spent on Domestic Duties is also tracked in this book; these times were recorded on pages between the “Composition Times” and “Number of Mis-spelled Words.” Grades,  per say, are not recorded in this book.

Bessie Nelson’s Journal

A similar Section Book was also found for the years 1880-1881 recorded by Bessie Nelson. She, too, records “Composition Times” in her book, though in this case, she tracks times by plus or minus quarter-hour intervals, as in +60, -15, +30, etc. In week twenty-nine, the

Bessie Nelson

times are totaled and +X, -X, or = signs are indicated. Nelson’s book does not include a table of misspellings, thus it is uncertain if these were assessed or not at this time. Other aspects of student life tracked in Nelson’s journal are domestic duties, money given for missionary work, behavioral infractions, absences, tardiness, and meeting wardrobe expectations.

I have chosen to use these documents as a means of understanding the ways that composition assignments were given and expected to be fulfilled. It is interesting to note that time spent writing and the length of the pieces were of such great importance, more so even than content or (at least at some point) correctness. When composition is mentioned by students in letters, it is with an attitude of disdain and dread, much like the domestic work that takes so much time from their lives. It seems, from the way that composition scores were assessed and recorded, that these practices were placed on much the same level as domestic duties, as evidenced by both the reactions from the students, as well as the recording methods of the faculty. This is helpful in situating the practice of writing from both a pedagogical perspective and as a requirement within the lives of students at Western, giving an example of the type of prescribed, regulated, and obligatory writing that they were expected to do as part of their education, and the ways in which it was assessed.

Works Cited:

“Section Book: 1858-1859,” “Composition Assignment Sheet,” and “Bessie Nelson’s Journal.” Western College Memorial Archives,16 Peabody Hall,  Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Original Copies.

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 Journal/Composition Assignments by Adda Collier, 1876 – 1877

This set of thirteen journal entries by Adda Collier appear to be composition assignments that were written between September of 1876 and April of 1877. The two distinguishing features that lead me to assume that these are composition assignments are 1) there are times written on the more complete writings, all of which designate “3 hours,” the time that students were required to spend on their weekly composition assignments and 2) the titles seem to indicate the prompt, either assigned or suggested, given to the students for the assignment.

As substantiated in the Composition Assignment found in the Section Book, students were required to write thirty lines of prose in three hours – no more, and no less – each week. The more substantial pieces found in Collier’s journal note that three hours were taken to complete each piece; these pieces are comprised of about four hundred twenty to four hundred fifty words each, which likely correlates to the thirty (handwritten) lines required for the assignment. They take up approximately one and a quarter typed (transcribed) pages, and one (“Dear Friend”) is reminiscent of the Letters Theme mentioned by Jane Williams in her letters to her brother, Roger. The other titles of entries appear to be prompts or suggestions given by an outside source, as Collier often seems to have little to say about the topic and repeats and/or contradicts herself, which implies that the topic may not have been self-selected.

I’ve chosen these journal entries to use in this project as they are the only direct sample of class assignments from Western I have found from this time period that were not essay prize winners from later in the century. Additionally, this gives some examples of drafts (possibly) not used as final compositions, attempts at writing, possible true free writing in some instances (there are some subjectless pieces that do not include times), as well as historically, culturally, and personally intriguing insights into the thought processes of Collier.

Work Cited:

“Journal of Adda Collier 1876-1877.” Western College Memorial Archives,16 Peabody Hall,  Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Transcribed Print Copy.

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“Letters to Mt. Holyoke Oct 2 1856”

I have chosen to include these writings as they show the general climate in which education occurred, and further support the idea of writing within a heavily regulated environment (such as composition assignments) versus the more unregulated situations, such as the letters written to and by the students. The writing of the faculty consistently reflects a very strict upholding of the Seminary’s religious values as being the primary concern of the school – little is mentioned about the academic progress or achievements of the students there. Instead, attention is focused on particular events (holidays, special lectures, extreme weather, visitors) and upon the religious conversions or devotions of the students and faculty.

In these selections, there is evidence of the emotional state of some of the women students at the Seminary, as well as examples of the writing style of the faculty. Additionally, the rhetoric of acceptable forms of female leadership is given in the last selection, as the writer describes Miss Peabody in a situation where she feels compelled to act as an authoritative law-bringer. (See: Student reflection on same incident, “Letter to Lena from Emma Robins: February 26, 1882.”) It is interesting to note the rhetoric of confinement in these selections regarding the students and the evidence of how many of them were unhappy and/or attempted to escape.


October 2, 1856

“All the milder forms of homesickness have given way and the more desperate victims have made us of the decisive remedy of change of scene. One young lady however, returning to the paternal mansion was stopped in mid career by a countermand from her mother, and reluctantly reappeared to us, yesterday. Her excursion seems to have been beneficial.”

October 16, 1856

“We are very happy tonight to find some of the inconsolable ones of last evening coming into a state not only of resignation but of good cheer.”

October 21, 1856

“The inmates of our dwelling are not quite engrossed in the little worlds within its walls as you would have been convinced could you have listened to the feminine huzzas which greeted the returns of the Ohio State Election.”

(I have quoted the above passages in order to demonstrate the rhetoric of confinement regarding the students, and the level of homesickness that was apparently common at Western amongst the student body. This correlates with comments in some student letters, as well as a newspaper article in the Cincinnati Enquirer that discusses the adventures of two students who ran away from Western. It is interesting to note how many women attempted to leave Western at various times, that at least for some, it was a place from which they desired escape.)


Excerpts: October 28, 1856

“[We] sent out from our midst two orphan sisters who have been members of our school from its beginning.” Because of their “inbred habits of disobedience and deception” the previous year they were “guilty of very grave faults” but seemed penitent and so were readmitted but they “recklessly trampled upon the authority of school until we felt that we could not let them stay without degrading justice in their eyes and suffering others of our charge to be corrupted by their influence.” According to the writer, Miss Peabody “has passed like one commissioned from on High. The painfully deep compassion which has almost agonized her heart through a sleepless and tearful night has had no power to wither the decisive firmness which has executed the mandate of her judgment.”

(I find the language used in this passage of great interest, as it simultaneously legitimizes Miss Peabody as an authority figure while still showing her to embody the qualities associated with “proper womanhood,” such as compassion, tears, and “agony” over the thought of having to discipline the students.)

Work Cited:

“Letters to Mt. Holyoke Oct 2 1856.” Western College Memorial Archives,16 Peabody Hall,  Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Transcribed Print Copy.

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“Letter to Lena from Emma Robins: February 26, 1882”

In this letter, there is evidence of how the women at the Seminary perceived their living space and education, as Emma asks, “Well Lena how did you get along after I came away? Did you get to liking the place, or prison as you called it, any better than you did the first session?” The homesickness referred to in this letter reflects the repeated occurrence of this emotional angst that the instructors likewise mention in their own writing (See: Letters to Mt. Holyoke 1856) and is contrasted to the experience of women at the Normal School to which Emma has transferred. According to her, “Cora never wrote one whether the girls generally had gotten over their homesickness or not. The Normal girls here don’t get homesick very often. Most of themand the gentlemen too, have a good time socially and intellectually.” The austere, women-only, strict conditions of the Western Women’s

Students on the Steps of Peabody Hall, 1877

Seminary are compared to the more relaxed, co-educational system of the Normal Schools where Emma claims she has more “liberty… [and] can go when and where I wish to and study what I please, talk to the gentlemen all I want to do etc. etc.” According to Emma, the one advantage to the Seminary education is that, at the Normal School, students are required “to pass written examinations in all their studies twice a term.” Emma also relates that she heard that of two girls being expelled (also mentioned in “Letters to Holyoke” by faculty) but is not surprised, “since the Principle [Miss Peabody] and teachers are so very strict.”

Though Emma does not designate which specific Normal School she is now attending, she does mention trying to decide if she wants to spend the summer in Illinois or Indiana, indicating that she is likely still somewhere near one or both of these states. This correlation and comparison between types of education available for middle class women at this time leads me to situate this letter and contrasting educational styles with that described by Lindblom, Banks, and Quay in their article “Mid-Nineteenth-Century Writing Instruction at Illinois State Normal University” and Kathryn Fitzgerald’s “A Rediscovered Tradition: European Pedagogy and Composition in Nineteenth Century Midwestern Normal Schools.” From the records perused at Western, it can be determined that there was a similar “intense concentration on correctness” as that found by Lindblom, et al, as well as the “rather severe work ethic among the teachers and students” (105, 107). From letters (See: “A Letter from Miss Mattie Cope”) it seems that the amount of domestic, religious, and academic work required of the women at Western was arduous, tiring, and almost physically impossible to accomplish; composition requirements are also specifically mentioned as part of this.

At the same time, according to the student (Emma) who has experienced both the Seminary training and life at the Normal school, there is some credence to the claim that attention was paid to the “interest in a subject as a starting point for effective learning” (Fitzgerald). Emma’s claim to more intellectual and social freedom at the Normal school speaks to the possibility that a student’s interests were taken into account and that more choices for courses of study were offered to students at the Normal schools than to those at the Women’s Seminary.

Works Cited:

Fitzgerald, Kathryn. “A Rediscovered Tradition: European Pedagogy and Composition in Nineteenth Century Midwestern Normal Schools.” 2nd Ed. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2001. 171-192. Print.

“Letter to Lena from Emma Robins: February 26, 1882.” Western College Memorial Archives,16 Peabody Hall,  Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Print Copies.

Lindblom,  Kenneth, William Banks, and Rise Quay. “Mid-Nineteenth-Century Writing Instruction at Illinois State Normal University.” Local Histories: Reading the Archives of Composition. Ed. Donahue and Moon. Pittsburg, PA: U Pittsburg P, 2007. Print.

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