Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Monticello College

Monticello Ladies Seminary (Monticello College) (1890)
Monticello College

Location: Godfrey, Illinois, USA

Founded: 1838

Closed: Last Monticello class graduated in 1971; first coed Lewis and Clark Community College class began in 1970, the same year the Monticello campus was purchased

Monticello College was a two-year college for women. It was founded by Captain Benjamin Godfrey, a native New Englander, who arrived in the southern Illinois area in 1832. Captain Godfrey, the father of eight daughters, was an advocate of higher education for women and made a large donation of funds and land for the college. (I imagine that Mrs. Godfrey was far too burdened by pregnancy and childcare to take much of an interest either way.) Monticello Female Seminary, later renamed Monticello College, was established in 1838.  

Not surprisingly, a man (The Reverend Theron Baldwin of Yale) was selected as the first headmaster. But two women, Philomena Fobes and and Harriet Haskell, are credited as the ones who were "influential in establishing the fine reputation enjoyed by the school."

Here is a description of the early campus:

The 110-by-44-foot seminary building was five stories high, including the basement. The basement was divided into a dining room and recitation rooms. The second story was divided into a library, recitation, and family rooms. The next two floors contained forty rooms. Each one of these rooms was made for two young ladies to live in them. The fifth story was divided into painting and music rooms. The 45-by-70-foot south wing contained two large halls and twenty-two rooms that were centrally heated and illuminated by gas. Also located on the thirty-acre campus was a cottage near the seminary, designed as a boarding house for mothers who wished to be with their daughters. The cottage also served as a place for guests to stay.

In 1888, these original buildings were destroyed by fire.

Though sometimes dismissed as a "finishing school," Monticello offered coursework in advanced mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, mineralogy, logic, and political economy--as well as the the obligatory offerings in art, music, and needlework. Monticello enjoyed tremendous alumnae loyalty. But by the 1960s, the rising popularity of coeducation, combined with low enrollment, lead to Monticello's demise. As Kristen Brueckner has reported,

In 1965 young women came here from thirty-six states and three foreign countries to make the annual enrollment of 392. Many girls who enrolled followed their mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers to Monticello. In the 1960s enrollment dropped due to a waning interest in separate schools for boys and girls, and the seminary was forced to close in 1975.

Elsewhere it is reported that the campus was sold to Lewis and Clark Community College in 1970, with coed classes beginning that year. The last Monticello class graduated in 1971.

No doubt it would be tempting to write-off Monticelllo's graduates as little more than decorative young ladies, but that would be wrong. As we have seen before, even the most conservative or conventional of womyn's spaces have a way of creating strong and independent women--even if that is not their expressed intent. 

One Monticello alumna was a member of Annette Daisy's Amazons, who were intent on setting up an all-woman town in Oklahoma back in the 1890s. As the press announced at the time (and with evident alarm), "Each of the young women is armed with a rifle and a revolver, and as a whole they are fully capable of taking care of themselves." Can't get less ladylike than that!

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