Hartford Female Seminary Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Catharine Beecher’s Hartford Female Seminary was one of the earliest institutions to offer nontraditional studies for the intellectual development of women and helped to create the teachers who were needed in the opening of the West.

Summary of Event

Hartford Female Seminary, which Catharine Beecher founded in May, 1823, and incorporated in 1827, was the second major female seminary to promote the higher education of women. It offered young women a comprehensive education aimed at more than “finishing” them for a successful social life and, ultimately, invented the profession of teaching and trained women in it. When Beecher and her sister Mary opened the seminary in 1823, it was located above a harness shop at the corner of Kinsley and Main Streets in Hartford, Connecticut, and only seven pupils. It soon moved to more spacious quarters in the basement of the North Church. By 1826, the school had nearly one hundred pupils, and Catharine Beecher sought more permanent quarters. Hartford Female Seminary Hartford Female Seminary Women;education Education;women’s[women] Connecticut;Hartford Female Seminary Beecher, Catharine Connecticut;education [kw]Hartford Female Seminary Is Founded (May, 1823) [kw]Female Seminary Is Founded, Hartford (May, 1823) [kw]Seminary Is Founded, Hartford Female (May, 1823) [kw]Founded, Hartford Female Seminary Is (May, 1823) Hartford Female Seminary Hartford Female Seminary Women;education Education;women’s[women] Connecticut;Hartford Female Seminary Beecher, Catharine Connecticut;education [g]United States;May, 1823: Hartford Female Seminary Is Founded[1220] [c]Education;May, 1823: Hartford Female Seminary Is Founded[1220] [c]Organizations and institutions;May, 1823: Hartford Female Seminary Is Founded[1220] [c]Women’s issues;May, 1823: Hartford Female Seminary Is Founded[1220] Beecher, Catharine

Beecher knew many of Hartford’s most influential citizens through her family connections, her friendship with writer and former teacher Lydia Sigourney, and her membership in Hartford’s First Congregational Church. She appealed to business and religious leaders for subscriptions to her school. After they refused her, she undertook a religious revival for the daughters and wives of the city’s elite families, and then appealed to them. Eventually, she raised $4,850 by selling ninety-seven stock subscriptions to forty-five women at prayer meetings in her home.

Beecher obtained a legislative charter for her seminary, which by 1827 had its own building on Pratt Street with a capacity for 150 pupils and eight teachers. Its board of trustees comprised the city’s leading religious and financial men. Thomas Day served as president for twenty years, followed by the Reverend Joel Hawes, who served until 1867. The building, which was planned by Beecher and architect Daniel Wadsworth Wadsworth, Daniel , contained a lecture room and six recitation rooms. In 1862, the trustees decided that better facilities were needed and built a large addition containing a gymnasium, several recitation rooms, a music room, and a studio for art classes. The number of pupils increased from 39 to 203 in the period 1861-1868. By 1888, however, the trustees determined that falling enrollments necessitated closing the school. They voted for its dissolution and sold the building to the Good Will Club for seventeen thousand dollars, of which more than nine thousand dollars was needed to pay off indebtedness.

The dissolution of the school followed by ten years the death of its founder. Catharine Beecher was born on September 6, 1800, in East Hampton, Long Island, New York, the first child of the prominent Congregationalist minister Lyman Beecher Beecher, Lyman and Roxanna Foote Beecher Beecher, Roxanna Foote . The family soon moved to Litchfield, Connecticut, where Catharine attended a leading school for girls, Miss Sarah Pierce’s Female Academy. She also studied music and drawing in Boston. When her mother died in 1816, she helped her Aunt Esther run her father’s household until he remarried a year later. She then taught briefly in New London, met the young but eminent Yale professor Alexander Fisher Fisher, Alexander and, after hesitating, agreed to marry him. However, Fisher was drowned in a shipwreck on his way to a one-year tour of European universities, leaving Beecher with a legacy of two thousand dollars and the determination never to marry.

An invitation to spend the winter with Fisher’s parents in Franklin, Massachusetts, gave Beecher an opportunity to read Fisher’s papers and books on mathematics and physics. She discovered that her education had not been as rigorous as his, but that she was capable of understanding the topics treated in his materials. She studied algebra, geography, chemistry, and physics. During that period, she also struggled with serious theological concepts, as she tried to reconcile her father’s stern religious belief in Fisher’s lost spiritual state with her own feelings of justice and fairness.

These events, together with the need of a school in Hartford, encouraged Beecher to start the seminary and influenced not only the development of that school but also her numerous writings on the subject of education and women. The seminary, like several others started around the same time, had as its goal not only to adapt but also to improve on the curriculum of men’s colleges. Beecher believed that women had two closely intertwined honorable professions: homemaker and teacher. Mothers were teachers and should be trained as such. Beecher viewed homemaking as a profession that, in order to be done well, required scientific and technical training. She and the heads of the other women’s seminaries saw a new profession for women, that of the female educator, both inside and outside the home. Beecher also believed that women should teach women. She set up her schools so that the teachers, who were women, would be co-equal with the school administrators (who often were men, at least in the beginning) in the matter of forming policy and curriculum.

Although Beecher herself spent only a few years at the seminary she created, it was run according to her philosophies of education. Its course of studies included subjects such as drawing, music, and French—subjects that were considered proper for young ladies and enabled them to become accomplished wives for the rising middle class. The curriculum also included subjects that were taught in the men’s colleges: geography, rhetoric, ancient history, Euclid’s geometry, Abercrombie’s mental philosophy, Comstock’s philosophy and chemistry, Abercrombie’s moral feelings, Comstock’s botany, Hedge’s logic, Paley’s theology, Blake’s astronomy, Sullivan’s political book, Butler’s analogy, and Latin and Greek.

The school was soon divided into primary, junior, and senior classes. The primary division included girls from the ages of six to about twelve years old, who were taught reading, writing, spelling, grammar, composition, and arithmetic. The regular course consisted of five divisions, each with specific courses. A supplementary course was also offered, which was open to students whether or not they had attended the seminary previously. It included extensive courses in music, drawing, and painting, intended for personal accomplishment or teaching. There was also a department of physical culture, reflecting Beecher’s lifelong battle against the confining clothing and physical restraints of her period. Here, too, Beecher’s struggle between her essentially feminist feelings and her dedication to the customs of her time are evident: The catalog notes that the purpose of physical culture for young ladies is “first, bodily health and its reflex influence on mental ability; next, a graceful, erect and elastic carriage.”

At that time, teachers were needed in the new schools being built in the opening western territories. This need provided jobs for the graduates of the female seminaries and also gave Beecher an opportunity to move west when her father took a pastorate in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1831. She had some success starting a number of schools, which were essentially normal schools, in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. In 1847, she founded the National Board of Popular Education and, in 1852, the American Women’s Education Association. She also was the author of a large number of essays, articles, and books.

Beecher’s first important educational presentation was in 1829, when she was still at the Hartford Female Seminary. It was part of her continuing effort to raise endowments for her school and to set a pattern of endowments for women’s schools, so that their existence would not be so precarious. Beecher correctly foresaw that without an endowment, no lasting system of schooling could be maintained. In spite of continued efforts throughout her life, she was never successful. The lack of an endowment, the increasing popularity of the public Hartford High School, and the founding of well-endowed colleges for women at Poughkeepsie, New York, Wellesley and Northampton, Massachusetts, and elsewhere, were responsible for the demise of her school.

Beecher was principal of her school until 1831, when she resigned because of poor health and left for Cincinnati with her father. She was replaced temporarily by the Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet Gallaudet, Thomas Hopkins . In 1832, John P. Brace Brace, John P. of Litchfield, nephew of Miss Pierce and head teacher at her school, started a thirteen-year term, with women assistants. From 1845 until the school’s closing in 1888, most of the principals were women.


Beecher’s school differed from the Latin grammar schools that were common in New England during the early nineteenth century by offering a practical curriculum that revolved around domestic sciences and by strenuously attempting to cast household work in a favorable light. Her school was one of four similar institutions created during the same period in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The others included the Troy Female Seminary, which was later renamed the Emma Willard School Emma Willard School after its founder. It was founded in Troy, New York, in 1821. Zilpah Polly Grant Grant, Zilpah Polly founded a female seminary in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1828, and Mary Lyon Lyon, Mary founded one in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1837 that later became Mount Holyoke College Mt. Holyoke College[Mount Holyoke College] . Beecher’s and Grant’s seminaries did not survive, but Mount Holyoke College and Emma Willard School have endured into the twenty-first century.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boydston, Jeanne, Mary Kelley, and Anne Margolis. The Limits of Sisterhood: The Beecher Sisters on Women’s Rights and Woman’s Sphere. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988. Letters and other writings of Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Isabella Beecher Hooker. Includes brief but comprehensive and valuable introductions to the book and to each section.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Martin, Jane Roland. Reclaiming a Conversation: The Ideal of the Educated Woman. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985. Presents an imaginary conversation with Beecher and philosophers and other educators from other times.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rugoff, Milton. The Beechers: An American Family in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Harper & Row, 1981. Probing study of the lives of Lyman Beecher and his many prominent children. Valuable for details of their lives.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sklar, Kathryn Kish. Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976. Puts Beecher’s history, philosophy, and accomplishments into context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the Company of Educated Women. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985. Explains the educational settings of, and philosophies about education for, women over time.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">White, Barbara A. The Beecher Sisters. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003. Fascinating joint biography of Catharine Beecher and her sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Isabel Beecher, a leader in the women’s movement.

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Catharine Beecher; Henry Ward Beecher; Sarah and Angelina Grimké; Mary Lyon; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Emma Willard. Hartford Female Seminary Hartford Female Seminary Women;education Education;women’s[women] Connecticut;Hartford Female Seminary Beecher, Catharine Connecticut;education

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