Category Archives: Litchfield Female Academy

Blog posts that relate to the Litchfield Female Academy and the students who attended the school.

Lucy Sheldon Beach, Student at the Litchfield Female Academy

Post by C.C. Borzilleri, Intern

Students arrived to Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy for a variety of reasons, ranging from hoping for a future of teaching to the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Throughout the forty-one year history of the Academy from 1792-1833 students were all held to consistently high standards of conduct and performance regardless of their motivation for attending the school

A student at the Litchfield Female Academy from 1801-1803, Litchfield local Lucy Sheldon was a model of success at the Academy, thriving on the regimented schedule and exceeding the lofty expectations of her superiors. Her diary reveals the thoughts of a young woman striving for nothing short of perfection in both her studies and her development as a young woman of society. Her good fortune to be a Litchfield resident provided her with a lifetime of exposure to two of the most prominent educational institutions of the era—The Litchfield Female Academy and the Litchfield Law School—as well as a position in the high society of Litchfield which often served as a gateway for residents, especially male law graduates, to make their way to national notoriety through strong connections to the powerful elite in Washington, DC, many of whom were also fellow Litchfield Law School alums.

Portrait of Lucy Sheldon Beach

Portrait of Lucy Sheldon Beach

Lucy was born in 1788, making her a young 13 year old when starting her studies at the Female Academy in 1801. As a Litchfield local, she lived in her own home with her family rather than boarding in another private home like many of her fellow students. Throughout her diary, Lucy references not only her dedication to studying, but her supportive role in the management of her family’s household. A particularly telling passage comes from New Years Day of 1802: “Friday. This is the first day of January the beginning of the year 1802, and I intend if it is in my power, to conquer all my faults, but as perfection is not the lot, of mortals I shall not expect to attain so near to it, In the forenoon painted in the afternoon there was not any school and I remained at home, assisted Mama & sewed.”

Her desire to thrive within all aspects of her life is clear through her writing, often providing positive feedback to the lessons heard from her teachers and the sermons heard at weekly attended meetings of the Church, which were only ever missed in extreme cases of bad weather or ill health.

Lucy was a competitive girl, likely motivated by the various prizes and awards of recognition that Miss Pierce made available to her best students. Weekly recitations of lessons were the platform from which Lucy and other stellar students could prove themselves to be well-versed in their work—and Lucy took the high stakes of performance to heart. “Wednesday. Studied a geography lesson and recited it. Had the mortification to have Miss Mary Ghen get above me, began to draw a map, in the afternoon.” This incident is followed by an increased emphasis, in her written diary at least, on the careful study of geography: most every day featuring either “drew on my map,” “studied a geography lesson,” or both for the next several weeks.

Painting by Lucy as a student at the Academy titled, "The Sailor"

Painting by Lucy as a student at the Academy titled, “The Sailor”

After her schooling was complete, Lucy Sheldon remained in Litchfield, living in her family home on North Street until her death on April 7, 1889 at 100 years of age. Lucy married physician Theron Beach, and though the couple had no surviving children of their own, Theron’s daughter Hannah Beach upheld Lucy’s legacy of dedication to studies through her time as a student of the Litchfield Female Academy from 1827-1830 and in 1832. Hannah Beach later married Edgar Simeon Van Winkle, a lawyer who had studied and trained under Litchfield Law School graduate John P Jackson.

Lucy Sheldon Beach’s life in Litchfield during the turn of the 19th century was highly characteristic of women in Litchfield of that era: her motivation toward greatness and dedication to her family made her a great success story of the sort that Miss Pierce hoped to see come from her Academy.

Complete biographies of the individuals mentioned can be found in the Litchfield Historical Society’s Ledger, and more information, associated objects, and the complete diary of Lucy Sheldon can be found through Archon and in the Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library.

School books

Contributed by intern Lauren Ericson

For the students in the Litchfield school system it is almost time to return their textbooks, clean their desks, and start their summer vacation! With graduation ceremonials underway, it seems appropriate to compare these traditions to those at the Litchfield Female Academy. Several books in the Sarah Pierce collection contain notes regarding who owned the book, when they used it, who they were associated with, and what they did in school.

For example, Jane Roxana Lewis was presented with A sketch of my friend’s family for her skill in Arithmetic. Miss Lewis also kept a reliable record of her social life at the Academy by listing her friends’ names in her copy of Sketches of universal history. This list included three girls in what John Brace Pierce referred to as “The Club” – Elizabeth (Betsey) Wolcott, Mary Landon and Elizabeth Cooke – as well as several others.

Similarly, Elizabeth Goodwin received a book for her participation at the Female Academy. Her copy of Village hymns for social worship was given to her, and signed, by Sarah Pierce as a “Prize in History & Geography & for general good scholarship.” Nancy Barclay was also rewarded with a book. Sarah Pierce presented Miss Barclay with The whole duty of women for her “perfect cheerfeeling and good term here in the family.”

So while today’s exemplary students may receive a plaque or trophy along with their customary diploma, this honor was parallel to that of receiving a book from Sarah Pierce herself. And although today’s social butterflies have friends sign their yearbook, a tangible list of all of your friends was not as unusual two-hundred years ago. Regardless of which traditions are abandoned or continued, the end of a school year is a time to celebrate accomplishments with friends. Congratulations!

Lauren Ericson is a student at Southern Connecticut State University. She worked on updating records to add to our online database of publications. She also added information about each volume with ties to Female Academy students to the Ledger.

Love is in the Air

Betsey Huntington Wolcott

There are some fantastic love letters in the Society’s collection. Here are two excerpts to inspire you from Frederick Wolcott to his beloved Betsey Huntington on June 27, 1800.

If I were to write to you as often as I think of you, the perusal of my letter would afford you a constant employment.  If, however I could flatter myself that you would read them with as much pleasure as I write them, I am sure you would not be unwilling pretty frequently to hear from me.  My mind dwells with great pleasure on our acquaintance & friendship.  I love, without reserve, to write to you & to disclose my feelings; to tell you I am your friend, & that I will always remain so… I shall leave home the next monday on a journey of business, & shall be absent a fortnight or three weeks.  Betsey, how many times do you believe I shall think of you before I return?  May I not with more propriety say how much of my time shall I not think of you? Full transcript

He later wrote of their upcoming wedding:

I will only add that I have never thought Weddings were proper occasions for much parade.  In the one in which I expect to be interested I am willing however that the good Girl whom I love, and in whose judgment I have confidence, should be the sole directress of the ceremonies…. I am entirely happy in the choice I have made and, in my most sober hours, my judgment and feelings wholly approve of my determination (provided you will still yield your assent) to form with you a connection on which in an eminent degree will depend the colourings of my condition and prospects thro life. Full transcript

Their life together was cut short when Betsey died in 1812, shortly after the birth of their sixth child, Laura. Frederick went on to marry again,  but no letters of this kind to his second wife are known.

Maria Tallmadge Cushman

Love isn’t always a bed of roses. Upon breaking her engagement with Virgil Maxcy, young Maria Tallmadge received a letter from Tapping Reeve.

By this you will perceive that I am not unacquainted with events that have given you much uneasiness the occasion of my writing this is that I know on such occasion in such cases the mind is returning to the event and inquiring whether it can be justified my dear child your conscience if rightly informed must acquit you in of any guilt in dismissing Mr Maxcy for I have no doubt that you struggled with your reluctant affections to make them yield. This you found impossible ^ the consequence must have been if you had preserver^ed until you had given your hand you would have done it without giving your heart this would have ^ been a step that could not have been retraced and most probably would have been a source of grief not only to you & would have been injustice to him you must with an aching heart have lived a life of deception and after all your attempts to conceal from him the real feelings of your heart would have been made in vain…your knowledge of his strong attachment to you and your tenderness for him of nature and wish to render him happy might lead you into an error but never stained you with any fault of heart…

She presumably found love after all as she went on to marry John Paine Cushman. Poor Mr. Maxcy’s life did not end so well. He died during an explosion on the ship “Princeton” in 1844.

Click here to find a transcription of the entire letter to download.