Sunday, July 9, 2017

Botany - Sarah Pierce 1767-1852 of Litchfield Academy introduces Science & Botany to Female Students

Sarah Pierce, born in 1767, was the 5th child and 4th daughter of Litchfield, Connecticut, farmer & potter John Pierce & his wife Mary Paterson. Sarah’s mother, Mary, died in 1770; and 2 years later her father remarried & had 3 more children. As Sarah grew, the town of Litchfield became a center of transportation, commerce, & civic life. It developed strong trading ties with New York City, Boston, London, and the Far East. By the 1780s, Litchfield boasted a population of growing occupational diversity that included attorneys, physicians, merchants, tailors, a goldsmith, a clockmaker, a silversmith, joiners, blacksmiths, & no fewer than 18 tavern keepers.
Sarah Pierce 1767-1852. Sarah's father died in 1783, leaving her brother John Pierce, responsible for his step-mother 7 younger siblings. During the Revolutionary War, Pierce became the Assistant Paymaster of the army; and after the war, he was named Commissioner of the Army, responsible for settling the army’s debts. As he prepared to marry, Pierce sent his younger sisters Mary and Sarah to New York City schools specifically to train to become teachers, so that they could help support their step-mother and younger half-siblings. Returning to Litchfield, Sarah Pierce brought a few students with her from New York and established her school. It was a commercial family undertaking. Her sister Mary handled the boarders and the school accounts, while her sister Susan’s husband, James Brace, also taught in the school. The Litchfield Female Academy was one of a small group of early schools that played a critical role in shaping later educational, social, and economic opportunities for women. Over 3000 young ladies attended the school over its 41 year history. From 1792-1833, the Litchfield Female Academy attracted students from 15 states and territories, Canada, Ireland and the West Indies.
Rebecca Couch Mrs James C. Denison 1788-1863 View of Litchfield 1805. Opening in 1792, initially the school differed little from the large number of small female academies opening throughout the country. Pierce first offered a limited curriculum of a smattering of English, ancient and European history, geography, arithmetic and composition. Pierce continuously improved and expanded her academic curriculum, offering many subjects rarely available to women, including botany,logic, chemistry, and mathematics.  At the same time, Pierce experimented with innovative ways to unite the academic and ornamental subjects.Botany and natural history lessons were often illustrated with watercolor drawings. Students drew and painted maps and made charts of historical events to reinforce geography and history lessons. Students also illustrated poetry, literature, and mythological and biblical readings with elaborate embroideries and detailed watercolor paintings.

Although primarily interested in a strong academic curriculum, Sarah Pierce knew that teaching the ornamental subjects was critical to the success of her school. In the 18th century, most wealthy parents were willing to invest in a son’s education, because it increased his chances of pursuing a profitable career. For young women, advanced educational opportunities were few, and the ability of their families to pay the high cost of an education became a symbol of wealth. The decorative paintings and needleworks made by the girls at female academies were hung in their parents' formal parlors as proof of family prosperity. Learning dancing, music, foreign languages, art and other ornamental subjects was also important for those students who wanted to become teachers, start their own academies, or marry well. Sarah Pierce encouraged her students to become involved in benevolent and charitable societies. The Litchfield Female Academy students organized to support local missionary, bible and tract societies and raised money for the training of ministers. Two of her students, sisters Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote books; others became teachers.

Sarah Pierce 1767-1852. Piece never married and died at the age of 83 years old. The Litchfield Enquirer newspaper published an obituary on January 22, 1852 which read "We regret the necessity which compels us to announce the departure from this life of one who has perhaps been more extensively known for a period of sixty years than any other lady in New England. Miss Sarah Pierce died at her residence in this village on Monday morning, the 19th last, at the advanced age of 83 years. In 1792, Miss Pierce established a Female Seminary in this place which, as it was the first institution of the kind in this part of the country required great celebrity and pupils resorted to it from distant States as well as from various parts of our own State. This institution was incorporated by the Legislature of Connecticut under the name of the 'Litchfield Female Academy.' Miss Pierce retired from the institution several years ago and has since lived in quiet enjoyment of an ample fortune, universally respected for her constant piety, systematic benevolence and cheerful hospitality."
See:
Atwood, Barbara P. “Miss Pierce of Litchfield.” New England Galaxy9 (1967): 32-40.
Blauvelt, Martha Tomhave.The Work of the Heart: Young Women and Emotion, 1780-1830.Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2007.
Brickley, Lynne Templeton.Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy, 1792-1833.Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1985.
Litchfield Historical Society.To Ornament Their Minds: Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy, 1792-1833.Litchfield, CT: Litchfield Historical Society, 1993.
Loto, Judith Livingston. “One Voice: The Work and Words of Litchfield Female Academy Student Charlotte Hopper Newcomb, 1809-1810.” Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings 27(July 2002): 65-77.
Pichnarcik, Lisa Roberge. “On the Threshold of Improvement: Women’s Education at the Litchfield Female and Morris Academies.” Connecticut History 27 (Sept 1996): 129-158.
Pichnarcik, Lisa Roberge. The Role of Books in Connecticut Women’s Education in the New Republic: As Examined in Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy and James Morris’ Coeducational Academy. Master’s thesis, Southern Connecticut State University, 1996.
Vanderpoel, Emily Noyes. Chronicles of a Pioneer School from 1792 to 1833, Being the History of Miss Sarah Pierce and her Litchfield School. Cambridge, MA: University Press, 1903.
Vanderpoel, Emily Noyes. More Chronicles of a Pioneer School from 1792 to 1833: Being Added History on the Litchfield Female Academy kept by Miss Sarah Pierce and her Nephew John Pierce Brace. New York City: The Cadmus Book Shop, 1927.
Von Frank, Albert J. “Sarah Pierce and the Poetic Origins of Utopian Feminism in America.” Prospects 14 (Oct 1989): 45-63.

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