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Exhibition Notes

Exhibition Notes: Needlework and the Education of Girls

ON April 18, 2010

by Caroline Fraser Zinsser, Ph.D.

This paper will address two topics. The first is the education of American girls in the Northeast from Colonial times through the mid-nineteenth century, with an emphasis on needlework as a way to trace that progression—particularly in Connecticut schools. The second is to describe how needlework played a part in the education of girls in the town of Lyme, including the school established by Florence Griswold.

Public Education in Early Connecticut
Following the lead of Massachusetts Puritans, Connecticut, in 1650, adopted a code, also known as the blue laws, requiring towns that had reached a size of 50 householders to provide public education. Education was considered essential for citizenry, for “the good education of children,” would be “of benefit to any commonwealth.” Children were to be taught to “read the English tongue,” to write, and to know the laws. Parents were also to be educators and responsible for catechizing both their children and their servants. This was basic education, closely tied to the aims of the ruling government and to the established religion. And it was meant for both girls and boys.

The code also specified that when towns increased to 100 households, they establish a grammar school to prepare “youths” for university. This double-tiered division of lower and upper schools, one for “children” and one for “youths,” followed the English pattern. But played out in Colonial Connecticut and subsequently through the Federalist period, it resulted in a patchwork of schools, both public and private, for varying age levels, and catering in a variety of ways to the education of girls and of boys.

Assigning responsibility for schooling to the towns gave them control but imposed a financial hardship, for it meant a town commitment of from one-fifth to one-third of their public funds to the effort. These funds, along with local taxes and sometimes student fees, went mainly to paying the schoolmaster, who was a respected member of the community, commonly a new graduate of Harvard or Yale destined to eventually enter the ministry, law, or business. Lower and upper schools were therefore often combined into unified grammar schools for ages four to sixteen.

In smaller towns, where publicly funded separate schools for older children did not exist, young children, both boys and girls, attended local schools according to parish (or “society”) divisions. These later became local school districts after the separation of church and state. Each district had its own committee, which hired teachers and was responsible for building and repairing the schoolhouse and for supplying firewood. Expenses were sometimes shared with parents or with the whole district community. Schools met for two terms, winter and summer, with students ranging in age from four to sixteen. Women teachers were usually hired for the summer term, when the sometimes unruly older boys were at work, allowing women to gear their classrooms to younger children. But mainly women were in classrooms because they were paid less. A common curriculum served both girls and boys, but attendance for both was low. Parents were not convinced of the value of schooling, particularly when they saw their children’s future as in farming or low-level employment.

In a town like New London, which had separate schools for older children, the public school curriculum was expected to prepare boys for college. No colleges were open to young women, nor were the professions of the ministry, medicine, and law that required a knowledge of classical languages. In 1698, New London voted a tax for a free school to teach “children” reading, writing, arithmetic, and the Latin language. Because it included Latin, this school probably catered to older boys, but it might not have completely excluded girls. In 1713, when a schoolhouse was built for a Free Grammar School in New London, girls were not admitted along with boys but attended separately on certain days of the week, an hour at a time, at the close of the boys’ school.

In 1774, Nathan Hale, a Yale graduate, served as schoolmaster at New London’s new Union School, which was intended to provide a classical education as preparation for college, but Hale’s school was not completely closed to girls. “I have kept during the summer a morning school between the hours of five and seven of about twenty young ladies, “he wrote,” for which I have received six shillings a scholar by the quarter.” But in 1799, a New London schoolhouse was erected as a private female academy, which made complete the separation of young ladies from that of young men.

Dame Schools
Early public schooling was devised by male clerics and legislators and was largely taught by male schoolmasters. It did not include needlework. The beginnings of needlework as part of the education of girls came from another direction—from women. Very young girls learned needlework from their mothers, grandmothers, and female relatives, but also in small “dame schools” run by women with an aptitude for teaching—often a widow or spinster who taught a fundamental curriculum to neighboring children, both boys and girls. Although towns provided some support, most funding came from tuition.

Classes were held in the “back” part of the teacher’s house—even in kitchens and attics—where they would not interfere with adult affairs. Depending on the enrollment, teachers tailored their curriculum. Children as young as age four learned to read from the New England Primer and the Psalter. Writing, arithmetic, grammar and geography were not considered necessary for girls, who were not expected, as were boys, to continue their education. But girls might learn these subjects along with boys, and boys might be taught to knit and sew along with girls. One former student recalled his dame school teacher as “always teaching little boys and girls to sit up straight and treat their elders with respect, to conquer the spelling book, repeat the catechism, never throw stones, never tell a lie, the boys to write copies, and the girls to work samplers.”

Teaching girls to sew as part of their early education was considered fundamental in dame schools. Central to Puritan aims of education was preparing children for “honest lawfull labour or imployment.” For girls, adult labor would almost certainly include “plain sewing” and needlework. Most women spent many hours at the endless tasks of sewing shirts, caps, aprons, and dresses, as well as mending and altering. More complicated embroidery, or “philligree,” was also useful. Poor women could earn their living as seamstresses, middle class women could teach needlework, and wealthy women could supervise the maintenance of their household’s clothing, linens, and furnishings.

In dame schools, girls learned needlework by producing samplers. Completing a sampler was a way of practicing exacting stitches and, like other school subjects, required diligence and patience. Girls of five or six completed what were known as marking samplers, cross-stitching the letters of the alphabet and numbers—a skill that that could be useful for homemakers in keeping track of their linens. It has also been suggested that these first samplers were used for teaching reading, but dame school teachers undoubtedly had better ways of teaching reading than by laboriously working a needle. Boys obviously learned to read without such props. More probably, girls’ samplers were worked in a tradition of teaching needlework rather than in teaching literacy.

Women who taught in village dame schools would have known more about how very young children learn than the college-educated men who taught in town grammar schools. As women were hired for teaching younger children in summer schools and eventually in what became primary public schools, dame schools disappeared. But needlework was not to be part of a public school curriculum shaped by preparing boys for college. Another sequence of education, however, was now open to girls who could afford it—moving on from primary education to higher schools in the form of seminaries and academies for girls.

Girls’ Seminaries and Academies
New England public schools were established as a way to uphold the standards of the community and its church. Private schools, sometimes offering different educational fare, were not encouraged. In Connecticut, in 1742, the General Assembly ruled that no school could operate without a license. This enabled authorities to reinforce traditional ideas of how girls and boys should be educated. Boys, in preparation for college and the professions, were taught classical languages, mathematics, logic, and rhetoric. Girls, whose lives were expected to center in the home, learned plain sewing, simple arithmetic, reading, writing, and a smattering of history and geography. If they were from “common” families, they ended their schooling (if they went at all) at an elementary level, freeing them to provide much-needed help at home.

Post-Revolutionary American families of means, however, had more ambitious and different ideas on how their older daughters should be educated. In addition to basic academics, they wished for their daughters to learn deportment and what were referred to as “accomplishments” or “ornamentals”—needlework, music, dancing, and art—as appropriate to their future as industrious and admired wives and mothers. Just as entering a profession or a business defined the social standing of sons, so the “accomplishments” of daughters established the class status of daughters. Parents were more than willing to pay for an education that would increase their daughters’ marriageabiltiy and esteem in the community.

After elementary schooling, where they would have learned plain stitchery and worked a marking sampler, girls whose parents could afford the tuition could continue their daughters’ education, from age twelve to sixteen, at seminaries and academies whose courses, in addition to academic subjects, included needlework. Parents would expect that their daughters in these schools would produce a decorative sampler or needlework picture that could be displayed at home as evidence of their advanced study. Such ornamental and decorative arts provided visible proof of cultivated refined sensibility and discerning taste inherited from the past. Coats of arms, rendered in needlework, indicated the family’s prestigious heritage and would be handed down through generations as a continual reminder of wealth and privilege. A daughter’s work might be included in an exhibition at the end of the school year, attended by local dignitaries, parents, friends, and prospective patrons.

But more than academic subjects and “accomplishments” were learned at girls’ academies and seminaries. In Colonial and Revolutionary times, women of higher social strata had traditionally had a role in shaping public opinion. Though often educated at home, as was Abigail Adams, whose erudition came from family libraries and conversations taking place around her, women entered the public dialogue with men while presiding over tea tables or acting as hostesses to salons. As more nineteenth-century young women entered higher education in female institutions, they were increasingly regarded as a source of moral superiority. While men were taught the reasoning skills so emphasized in a classical education, women were taught skills preparing them to contribute to a civil society through their expressive faculties. They were to serve as a necessary feminine counterbalance to the masculine mode.

The ascendancy of girls’ seminaries and academies had less to do with offering women a modified curriculum than with offering a way to differentiate their students as women of refinement—of artistic sensibilities, discriminating taste, social skills, and moral integrity.

Needlework in Connecticut Schools for Girls
Schools for young women were increasing. Between 1810 and 1820, in Hartford and its surrounding towns, nine academies admitting women were founded, six of them exclusively for women. In addition to more advanced academic subjects, these schools offered music, dancing, fine penmanship, drawing, and fancy needlework as an important part of the curriculum and complementary to academic subjects. Ornamental needlework in particular was studied, with the approval of parents, as a skill nurturing the qualities of industriousness and virtue so desirable in wives and mothers. This concentration on needlework continued undiminished from the beginning of the nineteenth century until around 1820. Surviving pieces provide tangible evidence of school attendance and reveal more education for girls than historians have previously recognized.

Almost all the embroidered samplers and needlework pictures made before 1840 were produced in schools under the strict and disciplined supervision of women teachers. During the 17th century, needlework had been taught in community settings. But by the 18th century, instruction took place in schools located in larger towns and cities, where students from the country or other areas could attend as boarders. Patterns for needlework came from teachers, not from students, so that repetition of designs, worked by student after student, developed into recognizable regional styles. In Connecticut, leading schools of needlework were located closest to the original settlements along the Connecticut River Valley—at Windsor, Hartford, Wethersfield, and Middletown, but also in other scattered centers such as Litchfield, New Haven, Clinton, Westbrook, Colchester, Lebanon, and New London County. In such towns, English ways such as teaching needlework survived among the elite, and a living could be made through teaching “young ladies.”

The women who became teachers and heads of girls’ schools featuring needlework were limited by what education they themselves had received from their basic schooling and family background. Because the education of women was so variously defined, teacher preparation also varied, but one reliable indicator of ability was excellence in needlework skills. The most long-lasting schools were headed by women known for their artistic ability and who were also skilled in administration. They were also women in need of an income.

Three Connecticut Schools and the Women Who Led Them
Three Connecticut schools of high reputation and influence were headed by the Patten sisters in Hartford; by Lydia Royse, also in Hartford; and by Sarah Pierce in Litchfield. The lives of these women reveal differing but impressive preparations for their success. The Patten sisters—Sarah, Ruth, and Mary—came from a family of academic distinction, descendants of the founder of Dartmouth College and children of an ordained minister who entered Harvard College at age twelve. They also attended excellent schools in Hartford that taught academic subjects as well as “ornamentals,” and they were known for their extraordinary skill in needlework.

Lydia Royse’s father was a merchant and tavern keeper, who surely must have passed along to his daughter some ideas on how to run a business. (Royse would aggressively advertise for students.) She enjoyed painting and was said to have studied with John Trumbull. Her boarding school offered, in addition to reading and writing, an impressive array of courses in plain sewing, tambour, embroidery, and Dresden work. Reflecting the large part that needlework played in the school, she charged more for the cost of producing a handsome silk embroidered picture than for tuition.

Sarah Pierce came from an artistic family. Her father was a potter. She was sent to school in New York City for the “express purpose in view of opening a school in Litchfield.” Although she had little taste for needlework, “ornamentals” were included in an advanced curriculum and expertly executed under her supervision in the school that she subsequently established.

A strong common current uniting these women was the necessity of supporting their families by teaching and perhaps by forgoing marriage as well. The unmarried Patten sisters helped their mother, who had been widowed at age 34 with six children. Lydia Royse began her school as a widow and was assisted by her widowed sister. She had briefly joined her widowed mother in running a boarding house and was succeeded in her school by her daughter when she in turn became a widow. Sarah Pierce’s mother died when Sarah was three and her father when she was sixteen, leaving seven children, whereupon her oldest brother took charge of family finances and sent Sarah to school in preparation for teaching. Known as “Miss Sally,” she did not marry.

There is still another thread connecting the women who ran these three schools noted for their excellence. The Patten sisters had attended “excellent” schools in Hartford. Their mother, Ruth Wheelock Patten, is said to have received a superior education at Windsor, where two women “kept a select school for needlework.” Lydia Royse also spent her girlhood in Hartford, although her school, like those of the Patten sisters, is not recorded. And needlework produced at Sarah Pierce’s school in Litchfield closely resembles Hartford embroidery. It may be that some unknown master craftswoman taught all three girls.

“Accomplishments” Under Attack
If the young women learning needlework only copied the patterns drawn by their teachers and rarely continued their elaborate embroidery after leaving school, one might well question, as reformers increasingly did, the value of their efforts. But these pieces of needlework, so laboriously produced by adolescents, served their makers as visible embodiments of ideal femininity. Students would work a second sampler, much more decorative than those worked in their earlier years, with quotations from the Bible, from a hymnal, and from books of poetry that reinforced the idea of feminine virtue. More advanced silk embroidered pictures displayed feminine sensitivity to horticulture, fashion, architecture, literature, and to social rituals of courting, marriage, and mourning. Once framed and displayed at home, the needlework served as a sign of gentility, presented to the family by its educated daughter. In its place of honor it was a daily reminder of high expectations, an object of admiration by guests and one that would be cherished by future generations. As creators of these family treasures, needlework students must have felt accomplished indeed.

The number of girls’ schools was increasing, as was the variety of the subjects they offered. But as the 19th century advanced, “ornamentals” came increasingly under attack by proponents of advanced education for women. Timothy Dwight, president of Yale in 1812, thought it “high time that women should be considered less as pretty and more as rational.” Emphasis was shifting more toward academics. Along with those who still thought men and women should be educated differently were those who now believed that a broadly based academic education was as valuable to women as to men.

Catherine Beecher, the sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was an outspoken advocate for educational reform, attended Sarah Pierce’s school in Litchfield, known both for its needlework and for its advanced curriculum. But she did not learn to produce the embroidery for which the school is remembered; she studied only academic subjects. As head of her Hartford Female Academy in 1821, Beecher insisted that young women should not be educated to be “genteel ornaments,” but should be offered “real learning,” a course of study very similar to that pursued by young men. By 1840, academies and seminaries for young women were firmly established with raised academic standards, longer terms, and systematized courses of study. “Ornamentals” of painting, music, and dance were sometimes included, but needlework’s popularity quickly waned. While 52 percent of schools offered either plain or fancy needlework in the 1820’s, only 16 percent of those in New England did in the 1830’s.

By mid-century a transformation had taken place, so that academies for women offered a curriculum modeled on the requirements of men’s colleges. In 1846, the New London Female Academy, under the direction of a headmaster, offered three years of uninterrupted academic classes that included Virgil, Cicero, and Sallust, a Roman historian. An increasing number of public schools and free academies founded by benefactors offered advanced academic classes to both girls and boys. But private academic institutions for women only, particularly in the South and the Northeast, continued to attract students from the upper classes, surviving as girls’ boarding schools and eventually as women’s colleges. Needlework was no longer offered, but the female academies and seminaries that offered “accomplishments” during the first quarter of the 19th century had served as a bridge toward rising expectations for the education of women in the institutions that followed.

Education of Girls in Lyme
In 1847, thirteen-year-old Mary Amelia Chadwick (called Amelia) of Lyme wrote to her ship captain father, Charles: “I have begun to go to school to Mifs Noyes and have been 5 weeks…I studdy Bottuny Chemestry History and paint. I like going to school much and bord to Mr. Noyeses I came home last night and last Tuesday walked home from the Noyeses.” Amelia was a country girl living in South Lyme, near the Four Mile River, and her attendance at Mrs. Noyes’ private school for girls was a sign that her parents were moving up in society.

Amelia’s letter, with its misspellings, labored handwriting, and crossed-out mistakes, does not reflect well on the ten years she had spent being educated at her local district school. Her mother, Mary, had also attended public school and had become a teacher herself before she married. Amelia’s father, Charles, who, although he was a poor scholar, had continued his education by studying navigation in the neighboring town of Groton. Now, with Charles at sea, Mary ran the farm and was responsible for the education of her three children. As Amelia entered Mrs. Noyes’s school, her next younger brother, John, was also starting school. At age four he was eligible to start public school and was enrolled for half days during the summer session, which was taught by a woman.

Amelia was a good student. At age three she had learned “her letters” from her mother’s teaching. At four she had started public school, entering, as her brother would, during the summer session. The following year, when Amelia “balked” and would not go because the teacher—probably a man disciplining older boys during the winter term—”thumps and knocks them about so.” Her mother removed her and taught her at home, but at some point returned her to school with dubious results. But after a single year with Mrs. Noyes, Amelia was able to write to her father with improved skills in composition, penmanship, and spelling. She had also begun to attend dancing and singing schools. No wonder that, in villages like Lyme, where there was no public secondary school, private schools flourished.

Although the village of Lyme was small in population, it had an identifiable class of elite families. These were families of English descent who had settled in Lyme during Colonial times—property owners and Congregationalists who had thrived with Yankee astuteness and who had intermarried to retain their positions. They prepared their sons for college at academies and educated their daughters in private all-girl schools. Education played an important part in the life of the town, and private schooling was accepted as necessary for those who could afford it. During the course of the 19th century, various forms of private schooling came and went.

Early in the century, Rev. Lathrop Rockwell, longtime minister of Lyme’s First Congregational Church from 1793 until 1828, established a large and successful school for boys. Located in a house on prestigious Lyme Street, it attracted local students as well as “Gentlemen’s sons from distant places.” Rockwell was regarded as an educational leader, but his attitude toward women’s education was ultraconservative. In 1818, when several young women from leading families decided to form a Female Reading Society, Rockwell cautioned, “I trust you have been moved by the spirit to associate together for the pious and commendable purpose of reading the Scriptures.”

Vice-president of the Female Reading Society was Mrs. Phoebe Lord, the mother of Phoebe Griffin (Lord) Noyes, whose school Amelia Chadwick described in her letters. Phoebe Noyes is remembered today by the Phoebe Griffin Noyes library building, donated to the town by her son-in-law, Charles Ludington. In her lifetime, however, Mrs. Noyes was honored as a dedicated and talented educator whose home-school illustrates an educational path for girls, unique to the period (which was also to include Florence Griswold’s school), and one that differed considerably from that of boys.

The School of Phoebe Griffin Noyes
Phoebe Noyes was descended from Mathew Griswold, who had come to New England in 1639 and received the first grant of land in what is now Old Lyme. She also came from a family of educated women. Her maternal grandmother, Eve Griffin, was so talented artistically that her parents sent her to Boston to study crewel embroidery. As a girl, Phoebe’s mother, Phoebe Griffin Lord, had studied with her brothers as they prepared for Yale. Later, as a widow, she not only managed the family farm but the education of her eight daughters. One of her brothers offered to educate Phoebe, as her mother’s namesake, in New York, where he was a successful lawyer.

While studying in New York, Phoebe helped to teach her young cousins, and in addition to her own academic studies, she also became proficient in French and in painting miniatures. When she returned to her home in Lyme she taught her younger sisters and then, in order to contribute to the family income, she began to teach village children. In 1827, at age 30, she married Daniel Noyes. They set up housekeeping and started a family, but Phoebe had no intention of giving up teaching, which would become her life’s work. In 1830, Daniel bought an old house just south of the Congregational Church which had enough room for their growing family and also for classes, including a few boarding students. In addition to the “usual studies,” she taught embroidery, drawing, and watercolors. Phoebe taught two generations of Lyme women, whose artistic work, accomplished under her supervision, decorated neighboring homes.

Reminiscences by members of her family record with admiration Phoebe’s accomplishments and, above all, the lively intellectual engagement she stimulated in her young students. She obviously loved young people and ran a lively household. In spite of the criticism of some of her more strait-laced neighbors, she quite approved of card playing, dancing, and theatricals and was always ready to join in tableaux, concerts, charades, and games that required a quick wit and creativity. Despite the burdens of household management and generous hospitality to large numbers of guests, Phoebe brought to her roles of motherhood and teaching an open-minded spirit of enjoyment. She was ideally suited to conduct her school for girls within a tradition of encouraging women’s sensibilities as preparation for a life of domesticity enlivened by intellectual and artistic achievement. According to her granddaughter, Katherine Ludington, “her whole life was spent beating down the narrow barriers of place and circumstance and reaching out for something wider.”

In contrast to the Noyes home-school, was the Lyme Academy. Housed in a building of its own constructed in 1839 at the corner of what is still known as Academy Lane. Organized on a business basis for the preparation of boys, it was governed by a board of managers and a president. Until it burned in 1885 its graduates included many “Yale men” and others who went on to become distinguished alumni. But up the street from this model of the future “prep school,” another, more traditional home-school for girls was opened in 1878 by Mrs. Robert H. Griswold and her daughters.

Florence Griswold’s School
An undated broadside from around 1885 a detailed description of the Griswold school:

Mrs. Robert H. Griswold and Daughters In their Home-School at Lyme Connecticut

Are assisted by Miss Anna F. Webb, a graduate of Wellesley College, and recent teacher in the Nashville College for Young Ladies. Besides giving careful attention to English, and the usual rudimentary studies, they teach Latin, Greek, French and German, and the higher mathematics. Pupils can be fitted for college.

Miss Webb bears high testimonials from the President of Wellesley College and the Professor of History, a branch to which Miss Webb gives special attention.

These ladies offer unusual advantages for the piano, harp, guitar, singing, mechanical and free-hand drawing and painting. They give instruction in rich and elegant styles of French embroidery, ancient and modern not elsewhere taught in this country.

The school is recommended to young girls taking the ordinary course, to those who wish to pursue particular studies, and to graduated young ladies desirous of higher attainments in special branches. Terms moderate.

The very large, commodious, elegant old house is cool in summer, thoroughly warmed in winter, and very pleasant and delightfully situated in large grounds, on a branch of the Connecticut River, near its mouth. With its refined influences it is a charming home for young girls of all ages, especially for those who have no permanent home of their own. They can remain in vacations. Few pupils being received, great care is taken of their health and mental and moral development.

This skillfully written advertisement covers every expectation that parents might have in selecting a girls’ school. If they are looking for academics, as was the increasing trend in educational reform circles, the school offers a full array of subjects, taught by an experienced graduate from a women’s college. If they prefer an emphasis on the more traditional “ornamentals,” the Griswolds offer a variety of needlework, music, and art. They can accommodate girls at different levels and with different courses of study. They can even provide a home for those students who lack one.

Appended to this description is a list of fourteen distinguished people, presumably references. The list reflects a shrewd use of names, including those of some people only remotely connected to the Griswold Home-School. It was headed by Chief Justice M.R. Waite, whose connection was that he was a native son of Lyme. Others were friends and relatives. Also listed was Mrs. M.J. Young-Fulton, of Union Square, New York, who was the head of a teachers’ agency, which undoubtedly supplied Miss Webb, who came with academic commendations from distinguished educators. Miss Webb’s connections were then appropriated for the Griswold list of references. The four inexperienced Griswold females had learned to make use of the modern business tactics used in advertising private schools. Miss Florence Griswold was not known by her later artist boarders for her business acuity, but it was she in the end who ran the school.

Florence Griswold, her two older sisters and her brother all attended the District #1 public school in Lyme until age sixteen, when the girls entered the private Perkins School for girls, run by their aunts in New London. Here they learned music, languages, embroidery and painting. Florence studied piano, harp, and guitar, as well as French, which she later taught in the home-school. After Florence’s father’s health began to fail and his family’s financial situation worsened, his wife Helen and three unmarried daughters decided to open a school. They started slowly, with only five students, as the following letter from the mother of one of the first students describes. The letter also makes clear that it is Florence who is in charge:

…Bertha commenced school with Florence this morning and she likes going. It is very pleasant. Florence has taken the north front room and fitted it up for a schoolroom. She has but five scholars. I send you this her circular, perhaps you may influence someone to come for Florence cares more, I think, to have a boarding school than a day school. I think it is a desirable place in regard to health and comfort and if Florence teaches the ordinary branches with French; Louise music and Adele painting and drawing, the course seems quite complete…

By the time the broadside advertisement appeared, Robert H. Griswold, Florence’s father, had died, leaving the not uncommon combination of widow and unmarried daughters engaged in schooling. The addition of Miss Webb, a graduate of the newly-founded Wellesley, shows how Florence was moving ahead with the times by emphasizing a challenging academic course of study. By 1890, Florence was further enlarging her teaching staff. She placed several large advertisements Magazine of American History, a well-regarded periodical published in New York. (Its editor, Martha J. Lamb, was listed as a reference for the school.) Miss Webb had been replaced by Miss Mary M. Morse, another Wellesley graduate, and Miss Lilian Griswold, a recent teacher in the Black Hall School, another private school for boys in Lyme. Mademoiselle Eugenie Arnold, “a French lady from Paris,” taught French and German. Greek was no longer offered.

The impression given by these advertisements is of a flourishing school able to support an enlarged teaching staff, yet around two years later the school was closed. We are left to speculate on the reasons. In 1891, Evelyn McCurdy Salisbury, a close friend of the family described their situation in contrast to their rich Griswold relatives:

[Robert Griswold’s] widow and three daughters had the mortgage lifted off the house by friends and now live in it, but they have absolutely no income except what they make by teaching music, embroidery, etc…and taking such few boarders as they can get. Their case is very hard when it might be made easy by their rich relatives.

The writer may have overstated her point, but it seems probable that the school was never very profitable with its limited space for boarders, its all-encompassing offerings, and its paid staff.

Another and perhaps even more persuasive reason was that Boxwood, a formidable rival girls’ school, had arrived on Lyme’s educational scene to open its doors in 1892. Mrs. Richard S. Griswold (perhaps one of the rich Griswolds whom Mrs. Salisbury had in mind) had enlarged her elegant and spacious family house on Lyme Street by adding an annex to serve as school building. She also engaged college graduates as teachers and was soon to enroll an average of 40 students. Florence Griswold bowed to the competition and closed her school. After fourteen years of teaching young ladies, she may have been ready for a change and have sensed that a more interesting future lay elsewhere. As it turned out, Florence’s boarding house for artists would subsequently earn her a lasting place in the history of Old Lyme, while the Boxwood school is all but forgotten.

When the genealogists Edward and Evelyn Salisbury wrote their history of Old Lyme families in 1892, they commented, “The one successful industry of the town now is its boarding-schools, for which it is the ideal place.” But this was not to last. The Academy burned in 1885 and Boxwood was to close its doors in 1907. It was not until 1940 that a four-year public high school in Old Lyme opened its doors to students—both girls and boys. By that time, public education had become standardized across the nation and teaching had become a profession. The home-schools of Mrs. Phoebe Noyes and Miss Florence Griswold appear as relics of the past, when education for girls was strongly linked to individual women educators who brought to their practice a dedication based on a shared heritage but also the possibility of new beginnings.


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