The Education of the Southern Belle

The Education of the Southern Belle: Higher Education and Student Socialization in the Antebellum South

Christie Anne Farnham
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    The Education of the Southern Belle
    Book Description:

    The American South before the Civil War was the site of an unprecedented social experiment in women's education. The South offered women an education explicitly designed to be equivalent to that of men, while maintaining and nurturing the gender conventions epitomized by the ideal of the Southern belle. This groundbreaking work provides us with an intimate picture of the entire social experience of antebellum women's colleges and seminaries in the South, analyzing the impact of these colleges upon the cultural construction of femininity among white Southern women, and their legacy for higher education. Christie Farnham investigates the contradiction involved in using a male-defined curricula to educate females, and explores how educators denied these incongruities. She also examines the impact of slavery on faculty and students. The emotional life of students is revealed through correspondence, journals, and scrapbooks, highlighting the role of sororities and romantic friendships among female pupils. Farnham ends with an analysis of how the end of the Civil War resulted in a failure to keep up with the advances that had been achieved in women's education. The most comprehensive history of this brief and unique period of reform to date, The Education of the Southern Belle is must reading for anyone interested in women's studies, Southern history, the history of American education, and female friendship.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2860-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Education is power—the power to inculcate a worldview or to empower a viewer of the world. Yet, the subject of women’s education has received much less attention than its importance as a key aspect of women’s changing status dictates. As late as 1984, Anne Firor Scott complained of “a curious myopia” that afflicted revisionists as well as traditionalists. For both groups of historians education meant either the instruction of men or of children whose sex was unspecified.¹ Recent studies are beginning to challenge this erasure of women’s experiences; however, most of the new scholarship focuses on elite eastern institutions...

  5. PART ONE Academic Life
    • CHAPTER 1 What’s in a Name? Antebellum Female Colleges
      (pp. 11-32)

      The project is novel; it stands out on the map of the world’s history alone—isolated—a magnificent example of public spirit and Catholic feeling—of devotion to literature, and of zeal for Female Education,” wrote George F. Pierce,² the first president of Georgia Female College, who would go on to become a Methodist bishop and president of what is now Emory University in Atlanta. Not in England, not in France, not in Italy—indeed, nowhere in Europe or the rest of the world had such efforts been made to establish a college for women that had its own professors...

    • CHAPTER 2 From Embroidery to Greek: Raising Academic Levels
      (pp. 33-67)

      The educational achievements of the female colleges are best appreciated when viewed in the context of the incremental advances made in female education that began in the colonial period. Despite the slow nature of the process of raising academic offerings, the distance traversed was significant. “How should women be educated?” asked Rev. William Hooper in an address before Raleigh, North Carolina’s Sedgewick Female Seminary in 1847.² This question marked a momentous advance over the previous century’s query, “Should a womanbeeducated?” and a milestone over the seventeenth century’s general inattention to the subject.

      Placing the colonies on a firm...

    • CHAPTER 3 Educating a Lady: The Formal Curriculum
      (pp. 68-94)

      Proponents of higher education for females faced a paradox: Their goal was to offer young women an education equivalent to the best that was available to young men; but they and society, generally, believed that males and females were diametrically different. Their dilemma, then, was to convince parents and the general public that they offered the best possible education (i.e., a male-defined curriculum), which nevertheless produced the best possible female (i.e., a Southern lady).

      By the 1850s, and even earlier, educators were grounding their defense of women’s education in the demonstrated ability of females to learn. After several decades in...

  6. PART TWO The World of the Female School
    • CHAPTER 4 The Yankee Dispersion: Faculty Life in Female Schools
      (pp. 97-119)

      Approximately 360,000 Northerners moved south before 1860. Yankees dominated the field of education, both in academies and colleges. Men like Yale-trained Josiah Meigs and Princeton-educated Robert Finley, both early presidents of the University of Georgia, were typical.² However, very little is known of their counterparts in the movement for Southern female education. Even less is known of those young women who came south to teach. Unlike their successors—the “Yankee school ma’ams” of the Reconstruction period who were characterized as prim New England spinsters set on substituting a “superior” Yankee culture for the “Southern way of life”—these young women...

    • All illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 5 Trying to Look Very Fascinating: The Informal Curriculum
      (pp. 120-145)

      The Southern belle may be but a “moonlight and magnolias” myth; yet the reality of Southern educational institutions for women was the organization of all aspects of the educational experience around the goal of producing an exalted notion of womanhood. Schooling was concerned with more than the intellect. As Richard T. Brumby explained to his daughter, Ann Eliza, studying at Tuskegee, Alabama, “the great object of female education should be, the development of the girl into alady, healthy in person, refined in feeling, pure in morals, & humble in religion.”² How well educators and Southern society, generally, succeeded is legendary....

    • CHAPTER 6 Sisters: The Development of Sororities
      (pp. 146-154)

      School is more than classes and books, routines, and regulations. A vibrant student culture developed in the interstices of academic activities, promoted by the close contact of a large number of young women confined to a small space and severed from the emotional support and secure position that family life had so recently provided them. On this new and largely unfamiliar terrain they struggled to make a place for themselves. As a result of their feminine socialization, that place would necessarily be defined in terms of loving relationships. Although competition and assertiveness were traits assigned to masculine roles, the best...

    • CHAPTER 7 Lovers: Romantic Friendships
      (pp. 155-167)

      The emotional needs of many students required a more intense relationship than a sororal one could provide. Even with the companionship of sisters and cousins some students desired the exclusive commitment of a single individual to share the joys and sorrows of their personal lives. In fact, so many students overcame their sense of isolation by pairing off with others in emotionally intense relationships that such a practice became a common feature of boarding school life. Indeed romantic friendship was a phenomenon not limited to the South but common to the Anglo-American experience. Yet, like most things Southern, it bore...

    • CHAPTER 8 Queens: May Day Queens as Symbol and Substance
      (pp. 168-180)

      Asizable crowd gathered in the grove on the campus of Edgeworth Female Seminary to witness the crowning of the May Day queen.² Ten floras preceded her majesty, Mary Corinne Morehead, as she was led to her throne among the trees by a scepter bearer and a crown bearer. The stately entourage, with Lady Hope and the Archbishop on either side of the queen, wended its way past the spectators to the sounds of music. The procession included two first maids of honor, ten pages, and fourteen maids of honor, all specially attired for the occasion. Bringing up the rear...

  7. Epilogue: The Enduring Image of the Southern Belle
    (pp. 181-186)

    Disunion destroyed most schools, but the South remained devoted to the female college and seminary as it was known before the Civil War. Holding on to those that it was possible to sustain, the South sought, not only to rebuild but to extend this form of women’s education. However, from 1861 to at least 1877, if not beyond, the South remained wedded to the old forms. The initiative in women’s education was seized by the Seven Sister schools which were established in the northeast to bring to women the rapid advances in education being instituted in men’s colleges. Southern schools...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 187-228)
  9. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 229-246)
  10. Name Index
    (pp. 247-252)
  11. Subject Index
    (pp. 253-259)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 260-261)