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The 1800’s brought the most significant changes for women in education.  Early in the century there was rapid growth in secondary education. The development of collegiate education for women followed and my mid century, women were being admitted to coeducational state colleges.

Secondary Education for Women

Secondary schools began to flourish in the 1800’s and were called “academies”.  The Young Ladies Academy served as an model for the many female academies that arose in the early 19th century.  Girls Academies did not require the students to stay for any set period of time and the curriculum varied depending on the school.  With the increasing number of female academies the term “seminary” also became popular and referred to female schools which were more serious than a finishing school.  The Female Seminary Movement began around 1815 and was led by women such as Catharine Beecher, Mary Lyon and Emma Willard.  The goal of these women was to form schools that would offer women an education equal to that of men by holding their pupils to the same high standards. 

Large academies and seminaries served as a solution to problems faced by women who opened their own small schools.  Many of the teachers had a hard time teaching all of the topics that they wanted to.  Catharine Beecher opened a school and wanted to provide a real education but found it to be a difficult task.  Beecher was teaching 10-12 subjects a day which meant that she was not able to allow very much time for each subject.  Beecher was forced to skim over each subject only teaching what was necessary and was not able to cover some core concepts.  Some of the classes Beecher taught her students include philosophy, chemistry, ancient and modern history, geography, grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, moral philosophy, natural theology, and Latin.  Beecher wrote, “Suggestions on Education” which she published in response to the problem she found herself encountering.  She explained how,

“For the brothers of a family the well-endowed college, with its corps of professors, each devoted to one department of knowledge, and with leisure to perfect himself in it and teach it in the most complete manner—for the sisters of the family only such advantages as they could get from one teacher in one room, who had the care of teaching in all branches; and she asked what but superficial knowledge could be the result of such a system”(5).

Beecher sought donations and expanded her school to become Hartford Female Seminary where she hired 8 teachers who would focus on only a few subjects each in order to teach each subject in a “complete manner.” 



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Hartford Seminary
Hartford Seminary
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Catherine Beecher
Catharine Beecher advocated exercises
Catharine Beecher was one of the first to emphasize exercise for women and promoted it among her students.
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Beecher felt that corsets made exercise impossible and were not good for women's health. Click on image for larger view




(c) Copyright National Women's History Museum, 2007