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Posts Tagged ‘helen peabody’

Emily Jessup

For a little more than five years of my life, I supported myself, something I could not have achieved without the education I was able to receive. The past sometimes seems so distant that it is hard to remember that, had I been born just a century earlier in the same place, my sex might have prevented me from receiving any more than a rudimentary education. It is exceedingly unlikely that I would have been able to obtain a college education, let alone a master’s degree.

Helen Peabody

I stand on the shoulders of educators like Helen Peabody, Emily Jessup, and Caroline D. White, women who not only fought for their own right to be educated, but then taught the next generation after them. They lived in a time when women’s very capacity for learning was questioned. They inhabited a society that accused educated women of neglecting their natural destiny and damaging the reproductive systems merely by learning.

Caroline D. White

these women made what were probably in some case hard choices, choices that aligned them to their academic institution more closely that most women are today.  They paved the way for myself and countless other women. This post is but a small token of my gratitude.

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Helen Peabody

When I was a student at Miami University of Ohio, everyone knew about the ghost of Helen Peabody. Helen Peabody was graduate of Mount Holyoke and a teacher there before she moved westward and became the first principal of Western Female Seminary (once Western College for Women, now preserved as Western Campus of the University). By all accounts, she loved her school and her students, although she did not love the proximity of the male students at the University. By all accounts, she did not believe in coeducation After thirty-five years of service, she left her name on Peabody Hall, a stately dormitory and classroom building, and, some say, her spirit inside. (The existing Peabody Hall was built on the foundations of previous seminary buildings that burned down.) Even though she died in California in retirement, her body was brought back to local cemetery in Oxford for burial. The stories about Peabody Hall and President Peabody are multiple.

The simplest is that she still roams the halls, and students see her apparition walk by, which they recognize by the portrait of her on the first floor. Vigilant in the protection of her legacy, she supposedly shook awake the student that raised the alarm the last time Peabody Hall had a serious fire. The most sinister versions of the Helen Peabody ghost stories have her as a fierce protector of female students, engaging in a sort of psychological warfare against male students who mistreat them. A friend of mine swore up and down that a male student experienced unexplained and untraceable calls to his answering machine where a low female voice threatened him and ordered him to get out of her hall. This story sounds similar.

Whatever your belief about her spirit, the earthly remains of Helen Peabody rest in Oxford Cemetery, just a hill or two over from her beloved academic home. Her grave is flanked by other colleagues who shared her dedication to higher education for women.

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Emily Jessup

In Oxford Cemetery in Oxford, Ohio, you can find this monument to Professor Emily Jessup. The light is a little unusual in the photograph, so below I have typed for you the information on the tombstone:

Emily, daughter of William and Nancy O’Dell Jessup,
Born Wilton, Conn., Sept 3, 1824,
Died Oxford, Ohio, Sept 25, 1893.
Pupil, Teacher, Associate Principal, Mount Holyoke Seminary, 1843-1862
Teacher, Western Female Seminary, 1862-1893

Mount Holyoke Seminary, Jessup’s alma mater, exists today as the women’s institution Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Mary Lyon founded Mount Holyoke in 1837 to provide access to higher education for young women, against whom the doors of universities were generally closed. The seminary was the first college for women in the United States, and provided inspiration and practical guidance for other women’s colleges to follow. Mount Holyoke counts itself the first of the Seven Sisters: Vassar, Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe colleges; all institutions for the education of women.

According to Mount Holyoke’s records, Emily Jessup graduated with the class of 1847 and then taught at the institution for approximately fifteen more years. She, like many of her colleagues, then took that experience to Western Female Seminary, another women’s college.  Considering she graduated a year ahead of Helen Peabody (the first principal of Western Female Seminary) and then would have been her teaching colleague for about four years, it seems reasonable to assume that Peabody had a hand in convincing Jessup to move westward. We know what Professor Jessup looked like thanks to archival photographs on the web.  Despite health issues that necessitated the use of a wheelchair, Jessup instructed for 30 years at Western Female Seminary, until her death in 1893.

As we leave Emily Jessup today, I want you to look one more time at her tombstone, and reflect on the uniqueness and daring of her life.  In an era where women’s rights were severely circumscribed and American society prescribed a very rigid role for women of Jessup’s race and class, she defined herself by educational and professional accomplishments.

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