Friday, October 10, 2014

The Litchfield Female Academy & Schoolgirl Embroidery in the 18C & 19C Connecticut River Valley

"Between 1650 & 1850, the Connecticut River Valley was one of the most important areas in America for the teaching & production of embroidery works by young school girls. Tutored in various academies, these precocious needleworkers created images that have become widely recognized for their importance in American history in recent years.

"Due to the parents' emphasis on refinement among wealthy New Englanders, young ladies in population centers like Boston & Providence often attended more than one "finishing school." Executing their samplers, canvas work pieces, memorials, & silk pictures, the schoolgirls signaled their suitability to be wives capable of managing a household & educating offspring.

"Three important academies that taught embroidered needlework were established in Connecticut during this period, by Miss Sarah Patten in Hartford (1785), Miss Sarah Pierce at the Litchfield Female Academy (1792), & Mrs. Lydia Bull Royse in Hartford (c 1800).  The Litchfield Female Academy is believed to have educated between 1,800 & 3,000 young women in 41 years.  Because of similarity of needlework designs executed by the girls at these schools, it is thought that instructors may have taught at more than one school.

"The Patten school encouraged students to develop compositions with floral garlands & padded eagles surrounding colorful pictorial scenes based on allegorical or biblical subjects.  Designed for display in the homes of daughters of prominent people, family coats of arms were important products of Miss Patten's school in Hartford in the early 19C.  The large padded eagle holding a floral garland, ears of wheat or fronds & an inscription ribbon identify the anonymously executed family coats of arms as a symbol of status & wealth.

"Among the works painted at the Pierce's Litchfield Female Academy is an elaborate watercolor on silk memorial to the Butler family.  Created by an unknown maker, it depicts family members who were likely involved in international trade.  Samplers & other simpler items were staples of public schools, whereas silk pictures were the province of private schools & academies.  Silk embroideries often required six to 12 months to complete, at which point they were taken home for exhibition in the family's "best" parlor.

Mary Lockwood antique canvas work picture from Carol & Stephen Huber

"Some of the most graphic, color-filled, & fanciful Connecticut Valley embroidery creations emerged in the form of canvas works around the middle of the 18C, before the formal finishing schools for girls appeared.  While some images derived from established designs, many were original and innovative. Some of these needlework pictures featured identifiable buildings, animals & people; others were more whimsical & adventurous.

Alice Mather antique sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"The reclining shepherdess figure was popular on canvaswork pieces in Boston in the mid-18C and the palm tree became a signature characteristic on later work stitched at the Misses Pattens' school in Hartford. Silk on linen with a printed chintz border.

Anna Burr antique sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"Teachers in the area's urban centers, with ties to New York, Boston or Providence, were exposed to current styles, which they passed on to their pupils. Schoolgirls in rural Connecticut Valley towns had instructors untutored in contemporary trends who relied instead on their own vernacular creative designs or British precedents.

Maria Hulbert antique silk embroidery memorial sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"Often beginning before the age of 10 with elementary samplers worked on linen, Connecticut Valley girls developed a variety of increasingly sophisticated stitching techniques.

Alethea Stiles antique tent stitch picture sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"Embroidered pictures & memorials, often displayed in a family's home, reflected a schoolgirl's mastery of the principles of "politeness"- suggesting knowledge of religious & literary subjects, as well as an appreciation for art & music.

Mary Ann Post antique sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"Young girls started with simple stitching projects involving alphabets & numbers before progressing to more advanced needlework, as their skills improved.

Plenty silk embroidery antique sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"This rendition of "Plenty," which was most likely was adapted from an Edward Savage engraving of 1796 "Liberty Giving Sustenance to the Bald Eagle." Patriotic themes were widely copied in the early 19C. She is flanked by trees with a grouping of buildings in the lower left background, which are found on other Connecticut silk embroideries.

Polly Jennings silk embroidery antique sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"This delightful courting scene depicts shepherd and shepherdess in a landscape complete with sheep, cows and dog with a house spewing smoke from the chimney and a tree laden with grapes. Garden and pastoral scenes were romantic indulgences and often created in paint or needlework.

Wealthy Griswold antique sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"This composition was worked in 1804. The alphabet, numbers, flowers, baskets, birds and trees are worked in crossstitch and the background completely filled in. The center vine-bordered oval depicts a playful shepherdess with garland looking over her sheep, while birds rest in a nearby tree and a house in the background fill out the landscape. The asymmetrical design of the elements surrounding the oval portion includes a crowned lion, a motif found on English samplers from the 18C. The sampler features an unusual combination of oval picture and sampler surround with a difficult long-stitch filled background. 

Lucy Chillson watercolor on silk memorial antique sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"Watercolor memorials on silk were more difficult to execute and are not as plentiful those painted on paper or worked as silk embroideries. The artist used short brush strokes to imitate embroidery stitches in her memorial to her father and surrounded her work with gold paper. 

Sarah Smith antique sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"Scenic samplers depicting identifiable houses and buildingswere popular in the Connecticut River Valley. The river stitched in the foreground leads the eye to the central building, the First Congregational Church in the artist's home town.

Melancia Bowker antique sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"A paper-faced girl holding a bouquet stands in a disproportionate landscape with paper sheep and a lavishly embroidered floral border on this large sampler.

Chandler Woodstock, CT canvas work needlework picture antique sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"Canvas-work with Chandler Home," 1758. Two courting couples, waited on by servants with food and drink, are arrayed in front of the Chandler home as the man at the right is about to be smitten by cupid's arrow.

Maria Williston silk embroidery antique sampler from Carol & Stephen Huber

"Wearing the latest empire fashion, Liberty, holds a staff topped with a liberty cap and an inverted cornucopia spilling fruit."

The information in this article was taken from an exhibit at The Florence Griswold Museum, with research done by Stephen May, & Stephen and Carol Huber.  This link will lead you to the website of collectors & dealers Stephen & Carol Huber.

The museum is located at 96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT. It has an excellent online review of this exhibit here.  This website will give you directions to The Florence Griswold Museum plus a schedule of its exhibits & activities.

About the Litchfield Female Academy

A copy of J. Napoleon Gimbrede's ca. 1830 watercolor of The Litchfield Female Academy by Emily Hart, ca. 1856 - The Litchfield Historical Society

From "The Litchfield Female Academy." 1997 10 Oct. 2014 .

"Rapid Growth . It is not known how many students Sarah Pierce had when she began teaching in her Litchfield, Connecticut, farmhouse in 1792. Six years later the Litchfield Female Academy had thirty pupils, and the town’s most prominent citizens, led by law-school teacher Tapping Reeve and including congressmen, state legislators, and local judges, contributed to a campaign for “the purpose of Building a House for a Female Academy to be placed upon the land of Miss Sally Pierce.” Some 1, 500 students would attend Sarah Pierce’s Academy by 1814, and in 1816 alone it had enrolled 169 students. While the Academy was primarily for girls and young women, at least 125 boys are known to have attended. Students came from all parts of the country, and though a stagecoach ride from New York cost ten dollars, Litchfield was at the hub of New England’s road systems, making the town accessible. Boys tended to be from the Litchfield area, but girls and young women came from as far away as Georgia, Ohio, and even Canada. It would cost as much as $350 each year for tuition, room and board, and other expenses, which made the Litchfield Academy significantly more expensive than most schools of its day, and even more expensive than Harvard or Yale, which would cost only $250 to $300 each year.

"Boarding System . Students might board with the Pierce family, but most found rooms with other families in town. One widow living with her two unmarried daughters kept such a close watch on her boarders that students at Tapping Reeve’s law school called her house the “convent.” Rev. Lyman Beecher, who taught religion at the school in exchange for his children’s education, also boarded pupils. At any given time the Beecher home would accommodate eleven of Pierce’s students, a few young men studying for the ministry under Beecher, a law student or two, two servants, as well as the Reverend and Mrs. Beecher and their own eleven children. One Pierce pupil recalled that more than twenty people shared one large kitchen sink and several small wash basins, so“We could not take much of a bath—which was a great trial to me.” Beecher’s daughter Harriet later remembered the whole crowded scene fondly, recalling the “great household inspired by a spirit of cheerfulness and hilarity.” To help the students avoid the dangers which might come from too much cheerfulness and hilarity, Sarah Pierce every Saturday would read the school rules to the students, who would have to copy them down as Miss Pierce expounded on them, noting any that had been broken during the week. Families housing the boarding students also kept a certificate on which to list student faults, and Miss Pierce conducted weekly “fault-telling” sessions, open to the public, at which students would confess their failings. The Litchfield Academy, in Sarah Pierce’s eyes, acted as a bridge between the private world of childhood and the public world in which her students would live as adults. By boarding with families they were partly in the private, family world, but they were also becoming part of a community which needed to enforce its rules.

"Lessons. The Litchfield Academy followed a traditional course of instruction. The teacher dictated lessons; the students copied and memorized them, and at the end of the week or the term would recite them from memory. The students studied history, geography, composition, religion, logic, chemistry, philosophy, math, and needlework. For an extra fee students could study Latin and Greek. With four or five teachers, the Litchfield Academy had one of the largest staffs of any private school of the day: Yale College had only five professors and six tutors in 1812, and most comparable boarding schools had one headmaster and two or three assistant teachers. Sarah Pierce often hired former students to teach, and she sent her nephew, John Brace, to Williams College in 1812 to groom him as her assistant and eventual successor. The way these schools offered instruction allowed them to get by with few teachers: it required only one teacher to read the lesson and listen for proper recitation. The recitation method also allowed schools to function with few books: only the teacher needed to read the text, and the students copied from what was read aloud. The most effective way to teach using this method was through a series of questions and answers, such as in a religious catechism. Most textbooks were written in this question-and-answer format. In 1811 Sarah Pierce wrote her own Universal History textbook, since she had not found a satisfactory history book which used the question-and-answer method.

"Wives and Mothers. Few of the students would earn a diploma. Instead, they came for a few years of study to help them become wives and mothers to the nation’s leaders. Some graduates became schoolteachers, but the overwhelming majority married. Of 376 students for whom marriage information is available, 126 married lawyers, and 69 of those lawyers had attended Tapping Reeve’s Litchfield law school. Thirty-seven of the lawyers became judges, and 71 held elective office, including three U.S. senators, twenty-five congressmen, three governors, and five mayors. Sixty-eight husbands were ministers, and five were college professors. Litchfield alumnae tended to marry well; at the time, only one man in one thousand attended college, but 143 of the 747 Litchfield husbands identified were college graduates. While Sarah Pierce might have presented a role model for women seeking a career without marriage, she emphasized the prevailing belief that women’s proper role was in marriage as a partner. The two most famous of the school’s students, though, were Catherine Beecher, who became the preceptress at the Hartford Female Seminary and wrote influential books on household economy, instructing women in how to manage their homes, and her sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) was a savage indictment of the institution of slavery both for its brutality and, more importantly, for its violent disruption of domestic relations."

Theodore Sizer, Nancy Sizer, et al., To Ornament Their Minds: Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy, 1792–1833 (Litchfield, Conn.: Litchfield Historical Society, 1993)