Monthly Archives: July 2018

Rediscovering the “classical element” at NYC’s Rutgers Female Institute & College (1838-1895)

Official seal of the Rutgers Female Institute, featuring Revolutionary War personality Col. Henry Rutgers. From its 25th anniversary celebratory booklet (1864)

There is so much to admire in the new (2018) book The Douglass Century: Transformation of the Women’s College at Rutgers University, coauthored by Rutgers faculty members Kayo Denda (Libraries), Mary Hawkesworth (Women’s and Gender Studies), and Fernanda H. Perrone (Libraries), and published by Rutgers University Press. It is deeply researched, lucidly written, lavishly illustrated and wonderfully produced, and features more than a few narrative twists. In short, the volume marks an immensely engaging and indeed indispensable contribution to the history of women’s education in America.

For many readers, one startling item will leap out right at the beginning of the first chapter (pp. 4-6), the whole account of New York City’s Rutgers Female Institute. It was organized in 1838 with a bequest of three lots of land from the estate of Colonel Henry Rutgers—namesake of our university—and later (1867), with the introduction of a robust classics curriculum, transmuted into the Rutgers Female College. As such, it became the first institution in the city of New York where women could earn the degree of Bachelor of Arts—more than 20 years before the chartering of Hunter College and the founding of Barnard College.

First location of the Rutgers Female Institute (1839-1860), in NYC’s old Seventh Ward, in the lower east side of Manhattan. From the institution’s 3rd Circular (1841).

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