Friday, May 24, 2013

Lutheran Ladies Seminary

Lutheran Ladies Seminary
Lutheran Ladies Seminary

Location: Red Wing, Minnesota, USA

Opened: Built in 1894

Closed: Building burned in 1920; property went into recievership in 1935

The information provided below on the Lutheran Ladies Seminary is extracted from a longer piece on Education for Young Norwegian-American Lutheran Women.

The education offered to young women at institution like the Lutheran Ladies Seminary reveals something of the community’s expectations about how women would fill their places as daughters and sisters, as wives and mothers. The message given at the schools was not, however, unambiguous. On the one hand, attending a Norwegian-American Lutheran school bound the student to her ethnic, religious community; on the other, it prepared her to move beyond it. Even as female students were trained to be enlightened wives and mothers, they had examples in female teachers and older graduates of women devoted to careers such as teaching or missionary work. The young women’s world was expanded by their studies and they were equipped with skills that could take them beyond the realm of wife and mother into careers in education, music, or the church. And yet the presence of faculty wives and explicit statements in favor of more traditional roles moderated unconventional influences, as did the possibility of forming romantic attachments. These schools could reinforce conventional expectations about female behavior and they could expand those expectations.

The Lutheran Ladies Seminary opened in 1894 with forty young women students. The founders, the (male) president, and the staff of the Ladies’ Seminary were anxious to provide a top-quality education which was both liberal and practical, which would educate mind and body, and which would contribute to their Christian growth. The stated objective was to provide a "thorough and liberal education [and] also to furnish a practical course . . . and above all to imbue the student with a true Christian spirit." The school had much in common with others for women, such as Rockford Seminary, well known for its famous graduate, Jane Addams. 

The curriculum seems designed to prepare young women for conventional domestic roles. The final catalogue made this clear: "The founder of this institution . . . realized, as we do, that the welfare of our homes depends in the highest degree upon what type of woman is making them. Thrifty, neat, and well-trained home-makers create thrifty and well-ordered households. Intelligent, educated and cultured mothers and wives understand how to make the homes centers of noble interests and elevating influences. Pious, spiritually enlightened and devout Christian women are the most zealous guardians of earnest faith, pure morals and unselfish activities." However, the possibility that some students would become teachers or business women was suggested by course offerings and by the normal and business, in fact secretarial, departments as well as the conservatory of music. So here too students received mixed messages about the ends of their education.

Lutheran Ladies Seminary
Home Economics Class (c. 1907)
Every part of the day presented opportunities for learning of some sort. When a student arrived, the contents of her luggage indicated the sorts of activities she would take part in. She had a dictionary and a Bible for required religion and literature courses, a suit for drills in physical culture, a large apron to protect her cotton dresses during domestic science labs, and napkins and a ring for proper dining. Faculty and students dined together from hand-painted china at tables covered with white linen; breaches in etiquette were corrected by notes under the offender’s dinner plate. Students in the four-year seminary and classical departments took courses such as Bible (in Norwegian or English), Augsburg Confession, physical geography, arithmetic, history, drawing, and optionally, Latin, German, or Greek. The 1894 catalogue listed housekeeping and needlework as "obligatory throughout the whole course." Students were also required to attend chapel exercises and Sunday worship. Music and domestic science, both important aspects of students’ studies, equipped them with skills especially useful in the domestic arena. Every student participated in the chorus and sang in its two annual concerts. After the (male) director of the Conservatory of Music was appointed in 1907, the program’s reputation and recruitment efforts were strengthened. The seminary octet went on tour, providing entertainment to the school’s friends and soliciting support. Some students continued their studies with private teachers or abroad and used their talents as church musicians or in concert halls. In domestic science classes students mastered the art of setting a table, serving, and preparation of dishes such as hollandaise sauce, layer cake, and stuffed eggs, skills that would be useful regardless of their occupation. 

The seminary students’ lives were shaped by "such rules as are necessary for the well-being of the students and for the best interest of the school as a Christian school-home." A daily schedule of activities with mandatory free time was enforced. Proper female behavior was encouraged and social interaction regulated; leaning out of windows and reading dime novels were prohibited and visits from "gentlemen" allowed only with written permission from the student’s parents. Students used their free time in extracurricular groups and less structured activities. Besides their Sunday trip to church, the young women were permitted to go downtown once a week.

Alumnae were encouraged to subscribe and keep up with their alma mater via the "articles contributed by the pupils, reports of lectures delivered, concerts given, and an account of everything else worthy of note that happens at the school." Each class organized upon arrival and planned activities for itself and the others: picnics, boat trips on the Mississippi, teas, and the like were recorded in photographs and memory books. Throughout that year there were traditions to be carried on; each class chose colors and a motto ("To be rather than to seem," 1911) to be placed on their class pin. 

Careful reading of enrollment rosters yields a notable number of students connected by birth or marriage to families prominent in Norwegian Lutheranism. Despite the absence of male students at the Seminary, students’ families became entwined by marriage to each others’ brothers or cousins. However, the student body was more geographically and ethnically diverse than highlighting a few students from notable families might suggest. Writing to her aunt in about 1905 student Alma Engelbert described her living situation. "I have three room-mates, one a German, Alma Bleckman, from Iowa, one a Swede, Frances Tornell, from South Dakota, and one a Norwegian, Cornelia Solberg, from North Dakota, so I have all the nationalities in my room, but they are all three very nice." Enrollment data indicates that as much as 25 percent of the student body came from outside Minnesota, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, and Iowa. 

By the 1910s, enrollment was declining because of the strains of war, changes in leadership, and organizational shifts brought about by the formation of the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America in 1917.  Then in 1919—1920 two fires ended the Seminary’s operation. The first was contained and repairs made during Christmas vacation. The second broke out the night before graduation; both the main building and the music hall were declared total losses. When local business people and the (male) president were unsuccessful in their attempts to raise the funds needed to begin anew, the Board of Trustees put the question of rebuilding to the church. The decision was made not to rebuild the Lutheran Ladies’ Seminary, the property went into receivership, and in 1935 it was sold.

The Alumnae Association (organized in 1910) continued to meet into the late 1960s when the Alumni Association of Luther College, by then coeducational, assumed the membership list. Although there were approximately 500 graduates of the school’s various programs, the total enrollment list for its years of operation was far larger, since many students attended without receiving a degree.

There is also a discussion in the "Education" piece on the heterosexual romances that began between seminary students and local men at Red Wing's drugstore and other places. 

However, what is not discussed are the romances between women. For evidence of this we turn to a blog called It's a Dog's Life. Though to be perfectly honest, the author of Dog's Life fails to understand or appreciate the evidence presented. 

The author had several female relative who attended the school, and pages from one of the relative's scrapbook are shared. Do check it out, as it's utterly charming. 

In a couple of instances, the pages show female couples that are identified as "crushes." Here's one:
"Crushes" at Lutheran Ladies Seminary (1910)

Apparently, the Blog author knows very little about women's history: "I'm not sure what the whole "crush" thing was about. Anyone?" 

It's actually quite simple. "Crushes" were "smashes." They were infatuations mixed with love, erotic attraction, and romance. One of the pioneering explorations on this topic is Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's 1975 essay on the "Female World of Love and Ritual." Read it here. "Crushes" and "smashes" were very common in women's schools and colleges. And the Lutheran Ladies Seminary was obviously no exception. 

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