Twenty-two of the 79 women who attended KUA before 1840 became teachers. In May 1839, the same month the cornerstone was laid for Hannah Kimball’s Third Academy building, the following paragraph was included in the annual catalogue: “Teachers Department: It is contemplated hereafter to form a distinct class in the Fall and Spring Terms, for those designing to qualify themselves for teaching; to be conducted on the plan of Normal Schools. This arrangement will accommodate both male and female Teachers. There will be familiar Lectures given on methods of Teaching, the Management and Government of Schools and on the Responsibility of the Teacher’s office.”
Adding this department, which appears to recognize the limited employment choices for women, was in addition to the Classical Department where men, with exceptions as a few women were granted access, studied Latin and Greek for three years having already become proficient in Grammar, Modern Geography, Arithmetic, and the History of the United States, and the English Department, home to both women and men, that included Math, Geography, History of New Hampshire and the United States, Astronomy, Natural, Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Surveying, Geometry, Botany, Physiology, Natural Theology, Composition and, in both departments, Elocution. But many of these women did not seek nor could they attain, higher education; for most, options in life were limited – either become teachers and remain single or marry and become homemakers. For some, there were other choices: one became president of a college; a few were college professors or principals and superintendents of schools; several worked as missionaries at home and abroad; some were suffragettes and active in the women’s movement or were uprooted with their families and joined westward pioneers. However, opportunities for self-support were not common; few women could head out on their own to explore the world.
The Reverend Charles Richards, class of 1854, told his audience at KUA’s 1913 Centenary celebrations that educated and leading women in ancient times were “regarded by our ancestors as freaks, the abnormal sports of nature, and no fit example for the average girl.” The following people are only a few examples of early Kimball Union women who dared to be “freaks of nature.”
Two women, Sarah Scales of Henniker, NH, and Mary Stevens of Plainfield, NH, were the only female members of the class of 1839; they were also the first to study beyond KUA when they entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College). Sarah and Mary became teachers, but never having married, they were free to teach outside of their community schools and found work in places far from New England such as Missouri, Georgia, Ohio and Kentucky. Two years later in 1841, there were 21 women in the class; two of them attended Mount Holyoke and nine became teachers.
Helen Peabody, class of 1844, was the youngest of 14 children raised on a farm in Newport, NH. As a child, she had a deep interest in academics and was encouraged by her two brothers and two sisters, all former KUA students, to attend the Academy. She went on to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, graduated with high honors in 1848, and remained as a teacher until 1855 when she was appointed the first President of Western Female Seminary (now Western College), in Oxford, OH. She held that position for 37 years and at one point, turned down an offer to become the first president of Wellesley College because of her deep love and commitment to Western College.
Mary Jane (Hawes) Wilmarth, class of 1856, was a four-year student, who, after graduation, married and moved to Chicago where she led a quiet life raising three children. After her husband’s death in 1885, she devoted her life to social reform and became a leader of early women’s clubs, worked hard for child labor laws and attempted to secure a Saturday half-holiday for working women. Her friend, Jane Addams, laid out her plans to found Hull House in Mary Jane’s home and they marched together as fellow suffragettes. At the age of 75, she became a member of the Progressive Party and was one of two women delegates-at-large from Illinois to the Progressive National Convention held in Chicago in 1912.
Helen Morris (Richards) Herrick, class of 1857, was the eldest child of Principal Richards (1835-1871). She entered KUA in the fall of 1846 at age nine and during her last three years, taught music at Kimball Union and continued to do so after graduation and also in New York City and Putnam, OH. In 1861, she married Reverend George F. Herrick, class of 1852, in Marsailles, France; from there they went to Constantinople where they worked together as missionaries for the next 50 years.
Kate Eugenia (Morris) Cone, class of 1875, of Hartford, Vermont, graduated with honors and considered attending Vassar College, but decided on Smith College as it was about to open its doors for the first time and she liked new and challenging things. After her 1879 graduation, although now married, Kate enrolled in the Harvard Annex (later Radcliffe College) a department recently opened by Harvard professors for women pursuing graduate study. One professor suggested an essay of hers was worthy of a doctoral degree, but her application was denied on the basis of Harvard remaining a men’s college, a decision, “a very grave one,” the authorities claimed to have made. However, Smith College accepted her graduate work and in 1882 they claimed, “she was awarded the first Radcliffe/Smith PhD.” Returning to Vermont, Kate remained intellectually active writing for the Outlook and Atlantic Monthly, and in welfare work where she was instrumental in establishing a visiting nursing system and was a charter director of the Vermont Children’s Aid Society. There is a building at Smith College given by her father and named for her.
A native of Meriden, May Belle (Chellis) Doremus, salutatorian of the class of 1879, became the first female graduate of Middlebury College. She earned valedictory rights, but the Middlebury trustees gave the valedictory and salutatory honors to her male classmates; they felt the college had not authorized the faculty to give women such an honor although they did elect her to Phi Beta Kappa. May Belle is remembered as a former teacher of President Calvin Coolidge when he attended the Black River Academy in Southern Vermont. She also has a building named in her honor at Middlebury College.
Carrie Athelia (Brown) Coolidge, class of 1881, came to KUA from Plymouth, Vermont, and also graduated salutatorian. From here she taught in schools in Vermont, and later was superintendent of the Plymouth Schools. At age 34, Carrie married President Calvin Coolidge’s father, a widower. The President later wrote in praise of his stepmother in his autobiography, “… She was a graduate of Kimball Union Academy and had taught school for some years. Loving books and music she was not only a mother to me but a teacher. For thirty years she watched over me…encouraging me in all my efforts….”
More detailed information on the lives of these women can be found in earlier blogs.