Friday, April 20, 2012

Pittsburgh Female College

Pittsburgh Female College
Pittsburgh Female College (1877)

Location: Eighth Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Opened: 1854

Closed: 1896

Pittsburgh Female College is not to be confused with the Pennsylvania Female College, which was founded in Pittsburgh in 1869. The Pennsylvania Female College was renamed the Pennysylvania College for Women in 1890, and Chatham College in 1955. As of 2007, it became known as Chatham University, but it still includes three distinct colleges, one of which is the Chatham College for Women. So the college most assuredly still exists as womyn's space.

The Pittsburgh Female College, on the other hand, merged with Beaver College in 1896. Beaver College started out life in 1853 as the Beaver Female Seminary (a rather unfortunate name one would think). This was in Beaver, Pennsylvania under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and the founding names all belonged to men, even the principals which were sometimes women in those days. In 1872, the name was altered to the Beaver College & Musical Institute or Beaver College. In 1922, the college moved to Jenkinstown, Pennsylvania and then in 1928 to Glenside, Pennysylvania (near Philadelphia). In 2001, its (final?) name was changed to Arcadia University.

Got all that? Quiz next Wednesday.

It appears that Beaver College first proposed the consolidation in 1892, but the Pittsburgh Female College trustees rejected the move. Beaver College repeated the overtures in January 1894, but was turned down yet again a month later. But in 1896, Pittsburgh Female College finally accepted the proposal--though the deal was sweetened with the promise that the Beaver College president would resign his position in favor of the Pittsburgh Female College president.

But all that seems to have been partly a face-saving measure, as Pittsburgh Female College had lost its facilities in a disastrous fire some years before, and was still struggling to find a permanent home. They needed the merger as badly as Beaver College, which was burdened with a high debt load.

At the time of the merger, Beaver College was coed, as they had begun admitting men as students in 1872. But in a strange oscillating pattern sometimes seen with women's colleges, men were booted out again in 1907 and weren't readmitted till 1972.

Pittsburgh Female College (1873)
Frances Willard (1839-1898), the great suffragist, educator, and long-term president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), taught science for a time at Pittsburgh Female College.  This was around 1863.

Interesting detour: In her memoir, Willard reports that the very first saloon she ever entered was Sheffner's on Pittsburgh's Market Street--apparently in 1874. (Regular Lost readers may recall that city officials cracked down on these Market Square saloons in the early 20th century for serving alcohol to women--which was illegal at the time--and promoting licentious encounters with the male sex. The proposed solution by one city bureaucrat was a "manless saloon" that would protect women's virtue while still allowing them to hoist a brew or two amongst their lady friends. See our former post here.)
Frances Willard

However, Willard had no interest in the partaking of any liquid refreshment at Sheffner's or any other drinking establishment. She had been visiting "this dun-colored city" and catching up with "old friends at the Pittsburgh Female College" when she decided to seek out the women involved with the "the Crusade." She managed to convince her friends to do the same. So Willard found herself walking down the "stony pavement" of Market Street "arm in arm with a young teacher from the public school." They paused in front of a saloon. Here's what happened next:

The ladies ranged themselves along the curbstone, for they had been forbidden in anywise to incommode the passers-by, being dealt with much more strictly than a drunken man or a heap of dry-goods boxes would be. At a signal from our gray-haired leader, a sweet-voiced woman began to sing, “Jesus the water of life will give,” all our voices soon blending in that sweet song. I think it was the most novel spectacle that I recall.

The saloon keeper at that particular establishment denied the ladies entrance, but they were later admitted into another saloon (apparently Sheffner's) where they read Psalms aloud and sang "Rock of Ages." They then decided to pray, which turned into a life transforming experience for Willard:

It was strange, perhaps, but I felt not the least reluctance, and kneeling on that saw-dust floor, with a group of earnest hearts around me, and behind them, filling every corner and extending out into the street, a crowd of unwashed, unkempt, hard-looking drinking men, I was conscious that perhaps never in my life, save beside my sister Mary’s dying bed had I prayed as truly as I did then. This was my Crusade baptism. The next day I went on to the West and within a week had been made president of the Chicago W. C. T. U.

Today, we tend to write off temperance as a reactionary religious movement, but in the nineteenth century, these crusades were tightly connected with feminism, the suffrage movement, and the creation of womyn's space. Many women of this era were made destitute by drunken and abusive husbands and fathers--which perhaps were even more plentiful then than today. So they organized to impede at least some of the alcohol flow. But that's not all they did--especially Frances Willard. As Jone Johnson Lewis observes,

As head of the first national organization in America for women, Frances Willard endorsed the idea that the organization should "do everything": work not only for temperance, but also for woman suffrage, "social purity" (protecting young girls and other women sexually by raising the age of consent, establishing rape laws, holding male customers equally responsible for prostitution violations, etc.), and other social reforms. In fighting for temperance, she depicted the liquor industry as ridden with crime and corruption, men who drank alcohol as victims for succumbing to the temptations of liquor, and women, who had few legal rights to divorce, child custody, and financial stability, as ultimate victims of liquor.

Anna Adams Gordon (1910)
In addition, quite a few the women involved with the temperance movement were what we would call lesbian today. Certainly Willard was, who never married and lived with Anna Adams Gordon  (1853-1931), her "living and travelling companion and personal secretary," for 22 years. In fact, Willard even showed what we would identify as "butch" tendencies while growing up. She preferred "active play" with her brother over housework, boys' clothing over girls', and liked to go by the name Frank even as an adult.

At any rate, end of detour.

In 1946, Elizabeth Phillips Hart published A History of the Pittsburgh Female College. Hart was a member of the Pittsburgh Female College Association, which hosted an annual luncheon at the William Penn Hotel for many years. Here's a report of their meeting in 1932, over 30 years after the college's demise. Intense alumnae loyalty is typical of lost women's colleges, and Pittsburgh Female College was no exception.

And we can certainly see how the friendships that Frances Willard made at Pittsburgh Female College were influential to her political development, in addition to being life-long and nurturing in every way.

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