Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A College for Women is Founded in 1848

Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Oread Institute 1853
Loretta reports:

Once upon a time, in my college days back in the last century, I lived on Castle Street in Worcester. Behind our little street rose a hill*), which we learned was Castle Hill. Queries about the name evoked responses like, "I heard there was a castle on the hill. Or a school or something.” That was about as much as I ever learned, until recently, when a vintage postcard arrived at our house. It showed a castle, and its title, “Oread Institute,” connected in my mind with my old neighborhood, because I recalled a street by that name not far away.

As my husband I have been learning, Worcester was a happening place in the 1800s and first half of the 1900s.This was why I wasn’t completely surprised when I read here why Worcester was chosen as the site for one of the United States' first higher education institutions for women. It was built by Eli Thayer, and modeled on his alma mater, Brown University. Founded in 1848, it opened 14 May 1849.
History of Oread Institute
Oread Institute in 1870s

As this piece in Gleason’s Pictorial of 19 March 1853 points out, “Here woman enjoys exclusively those privileges which some have regarded as the rightful prerogative of the other sex, having the advantages of a collegiate course of study, if she chooses. And in the attainment of that to which she has long aspired, she is happy.”

Here's a view of Worcester from the Oread Institute in 1858, and here is a detailed study of the college. It
closed in 1881. From 1898 to 1904, it was the Worcester Domestic Science Cooking School.** In 1934 it was demolished.

We’ve located the grave of one of its graduates, about whom I’ll post at a future date.

Image at top: Oread Institute 1853, courtesy Yale University Art Gallery. The photograph below it is described thus:  "The Oread Institute, in Worcester, Massachusetts, was an important and popular women's school from 1848 until it closed its doors in 1881. This ca. 1870's photograph is significant not only because it captures the school in its final years, but because it was taken by a woman, Ms. Augustine H. Folsom." Image and quote courtesy American Antiquarian Society, Worcester MA.   

*This is the case with most streets in Worcester: level ground is in short supply.
**It's believed that shredded wheat was invented there.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Anne Harrison said...

How amazing to have found this all out, inspired by a postcard! I look forward to future instalments.

Julie P. said...

Given the time and place when the photo was taken, I would imagine that the photographer would have been known as "Miss Augustine H. Folsom."

Other than that, this is pretty cool. Thank you so much for posting it.

Karen Anne said...

Another lovely old building bites the dust.

Anonymous said...

A number of notable American women's colleges were founded in the mid-nineteenth century that still remain open today:

Mount Holyoke: 1837
Wheaton College: 1860
Vassar College: 1861
Smith College: 1871

It's interesting that Mr. Thayer's alma mater, Brown University, did not create its women's college (Pembroke College), until 1896.

One wonders why some schools prospered and survived while others failed. Must have been the administration and trustees, and how they dealt with the finances, as is still the case today. (It's never the fault of the faculty or students!) From the size of the "castle" of Oread Institute, it would appear that there was plenty of money. Or maybe not?

Bea said...

When we're listing the women's educational institutions founded in the 1800s, let me put in my own alma mater: Cottey College!

Single-sex institutions are always a little more vulnerable to the ups and downs of society, since they have a smaller target audience to begin with. To counter that, I think they tend to create stronger networks and cultures. Goodness knows, *I* am still in contact with my fellow Cottey alumnae. (And, I can still sing most of those songs....)

I love you."

Julie P. said...

Bryn Mawr College (still all women, unlike Vassar) was founded in 1885.

Karen Anne said...

Not an all-female educational institution of course, but MIT admitted its first woman student on 1871.

Our rival down the street, Harvard, started its college for women, Radcliffe, in 1879, and started issuing joint Radcliffe-Harvard diplomas in 1963.

QNPoohBear said...

This is so fascinating! Worcester Polytech has a castle on a hill next to the American Antiquarian Society. It looks funny among the standard collegiate buildings and city streets.

Anonymous said "It's interesting that Mr. Thayer's alma mater, Brown University, did not create its women's college (Pembroke College), until 1896.

It wasn't for lack of trying.
From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:"“The first action by the Government of the University on the question of admitting women to the privileges of the University was taken by the Advisory and Executive Committee on April 10, 1874, on the receipt of an application by a young woman to be admitted to College. The Committee reported it inadvisable at that time to recommend the opening of the College to women students."

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