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Posts Tagged ‘Mt. Holyoke’

Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College: From 1913

This folio was written by the president of Western Reserve College near the turn of the twentieth century from the perspective of a college administrator and a father sending his daughter to college. Though it was written slightly after the time period I am studying, it reflects the sentiments of those living at the time who were aware of the college experience for women from perspectives of both college faculty and parent. This letter reflects the fears and hopes for women going to college, and offers advice on boys (avoid them), keeping one’s health, making friends, one’s position in the community, and maintaining religious observances. It also discusses areas that are viewed by the author as different for women than for men, such as the belief that “college women are inclined to have an undue appreciation of the intellectual values and an undue depreciation of the ethical values,” which seems the opposite of views held in the preceding century where women were seen as more “naturally moral” than men but intellectually inferior (19). This father does offer specific advice, too, on the importance of handwriting, advising his daughter to avoid “illegibility and uncouthness,” and reminding her that “it is important that your writing should be easy to read and pleasant to look at” (69-70). Overall, this letter was interesting as it “updates” the views that society had about women going to college at the beginning of the twentieth century, and even mentions the historic changes of the women’s college which “has ceased to be a nunnery; it has become a community” (59-60). The author mentions that his wife was educated at Vassar, one of the sister schools of Mt. Holyoke, and has always assumed that her daughters would attend college, thus showing an attitude of continuity and continuing educational opportunities for women who were the offspring of former college (women) graduates. Though not directly related to the time period I am studying, Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College reflects back to those times and shows how the generation of college women from the nineteenth century influenced perceptions of women attending college for subsequent generations of Americans.

Work Cited:

Thwing, Charles Franklin. Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College.  New York: The Platt & Peck Co., 1913. 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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“’In an Atmosphere of Peril’: College Women and Their Writing.”

This chapter offers a theoretical grounding for feminist inquiry into nineteenth century

Domestic and Academic Life Combined at Western

American women’s writing curriculums and practices, specifically detailing the practices of some early American colleges that admitted women, such as Vassar, Mt. Holyoke, and Radcliffe. Ricks explains the personal, institutional, and cultural conflict surrounding the idea of women as meant solely for private experiences on one hand, with the educational, rhetorical, and literacy opportunities newly opened to them during the nineteenth century on the other. Was higher education solely meant to help women be better mothers and wives? Or was a newly burgeoning feminism an embedded part of these experiences. Though I would have enjoyed seeing more of the “practical side of research about women’s rhetoric that focuses on everyday lives, experiences, and communication involving academic women” promised in this chapter, I appreciated the multiple trends and influences implied in this piece, as well as the historical information surrounding the controversies of the time about women attending college, as well as the attention paid to the sites of conflict for the women themselves between private and public identities (61).

Work Cited:

Ricks, Vickie. “’In an Atmosphere of Peril’: College Women and Their Writing.” Nineteenth Century Women Learn to Write. Ed. Catherine Hobbs. Charlottesville, VA: UP Virginia, 1995. 59-82. Print.

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“A Real Vexation: Student Writing in Mount Holyoke’s Culture of Service, 1837-1865.”

Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary was the “sister school” of Western, and all of the initial teachers (including the principle, Miss Peabody) were taught and trained at Mt. Holyoke. Western specifically employed “The Holyoke System” at their school, modeling their education, religious, and disciplinary methods after those at Mt. Holyoke. For several

Mt. Holyoke in 1837

decades after the opening of Western, detailed journals were kept and sent to Mt. Holyoke, and the schools both supported the idea of educating women for the roles of either teaching or missionary work, with the latter receiving the greatest emphasis. (Teachers being “called” to missionary work is a recurring theme in “Letters to Holyoke,” and lists of former students who became missionaries were compiled and celebrated.) Because of the close relationship between Mt. Holyoke and Western, including the direct modeling of Western’s curriculum upon the Mt. Holyoke model, I’ve chosen to examine this article, as, to my knowledge, there has been no direct research on the writing curriculum at Western to date.

Campbell discusses the dual and sometimes conflicting roles of the first-generation female college students that simultaneously valued the religious, service-based aspects of educating women on one hand with the “lone scholar,” individualistic paradigm of higher education on the other. This was especially problematic for female students who, for reasons of historical/cultural propriety, were not allowed to “sing their own praises” academically, nor had they been socialized to think of themselves as knowledgeable or intellectually gifted. Campbell examined hundreds of composition themes in her research, including those from the schools that, along with Mt. Holyoke, made up “The Seven Sisters” of women’s colleges, and also compared these to themes written by men at Harvard during the same time. She found that women repeatedly had trouble coming up with themes on which to write, and it seems from this work that no writing instruction per say was offered. Rather, students were expected to produce a certain amount of writing (fifty lines) in a particular amount of time (eight hours) on a weekly basis. (Though the times and lengths were slightly different, this is a comparable method to that used at Western.) Campbell believes that part of the difficulty for students arose from the disconnection between the encouragement to write from their own experience (a concept initially very foreign to many students) but with no sense of purpose or “use” to this writing.

This article was helpful to my research in a variety of ways. Though there is little available research about composition practices at Western, many of the practices discussed in this article are corroborated by letters, teacher’s journals, and other documents I have found in the Western Archive, further demonstrating that there was great overlap in both the pedagogy and criticisms (by students) of some of those practices. The additional information gained in this article (such as a list of potential theme titles) gives some background to the possible practices at Western when those direct documents are absent. It also brings up several theoretical issues situating composition practices within this particular socio/historical context, i.e. young adult women in the first wave of American female college students finding themselves caught in the tensions between cultural expectations of women as intellectually inferior “helpmates” to men, versus the more academically rigorous demands of the Seminary education in which they were expected to excel. Thus, I found this article both relevant and illuminating, as it supported and further explained many of the artifacts I have been reviewing in my own research.

Work Cited:

Campbell, JoAnn. “A Real Vexation: Student Writing in Mount Holyoke’s Culture of Service, 1837-1865.” College English 59.7 (1997): 767-788. Print.

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