So since I've pitched this new book to lovely agent, I've been hip deep in research creating my fictional college for my heroine. I've learned a great deal in just one day about the evolution of higher learning for females in the United States.
The very first colleges for women were Mt. Holyoke which was founded by Mary Lyons in 1837 and Elmira College which was founded around the same time. Although Mt. Holyoke was one of the first, Vassar College was actually the first to be accorded the title of College in the 1870's. Soon after Wellesley, Smith and Bryn Mawr were founded, rounded out by Radcliffe and Barnard. Bryn Mawr was actually the first to offer advanced degrees to women when the college was founded.
Even before the idea of higher education, female seminary's which offered a high school education were founded. The most famous being a school founded by Catherine Beecher in Hartford, CT. Catherine was a member of that famous Beecher family which included Henry Ward Beecher, later to get into a great deal of trouble in Brooklyn, and the most famous Beecher of all, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. A contemporary of Catherine Beecher, Emma Willard, founded a school in Troy, New York which still exists today as a boarding school.
My school, Beardsley, is going to mainly based on Vassar. I've always had a soft spot for Vassar even though they didn't accept me when I applied (the only one of the 7 colleges that I applied to that didn't). I want my campus to close enough that young men from Harvard, Yale and other male colleges can conceiveably offer romantic opportunities for my heroine and her friends. Also, Vassar is the only school to offer immense amounts of historical information on their sight. Tuition in 1861 when the school first opened was $350. Sounds like a good deal until you remember what the yearly salarly was of most working men. From 175 students at the outset by 1895, the year my book is set, the student body had increased to 475.
Also Vassar had a reputation for not just being academically rigorous but also of being the most aristocratic, meaning that the daughters of some of the best families attended Vassar. It was interesting reading what an ordinary day was like for a Vassar student. Up at 6:00 a.m. , breakfast, chapel, then classes until dinner at 1:00, more classes and than supper later on, study or free time and then all students in bed by 10:00 p.m. Weekends were taken up with clubs or letter writing to their families and church.
I haven't found out much information yet about their social lives but I'm looking foward to it. Of course, the two books that I need, the NYPL only has as reference copies. I see much xeroxing in my future!
Thanks for reading,