On this day in Connecticut history in 1767, education pioneer Sarah Pierce was born in Litchfield. As a teenager, her older brother sent her to New York to learn to become a teacher in order to financially support herself and her siblings after the death of their father. Upon her return to Litchfield in 1792, she opened one of the first all-female academies in the United States.
Pierce was passionate about nurturing girls’ development in full: morally, emotionally, and intellectually, leading to a curriculum that was much more rigorous than other academies of the period. Pierce’s school combined the study of natural science, geography, and history — subjects which were typically taught to young boys exclusively — with elements of traditional upper-class female education like the fine arts, including music, dancing, painting, and embroidery. Some of the finest surviving examples of early 19th century embroidery were produced from students attending the Litchfield Academy. An emphasis on proper morals and manners was also woven into the curriculum; students were expected to be clean, prompt, presentable, and polite at all times.
For two generations, the Litchfield Female Academy educated over 3,000 young women, making it one of the largest and most successful academies in the history of the young United States. Among Pierce’s most famous alumnae were Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and her sister Catherine, who would go on to found her own prominent female seminary in Hartford. Together with the nearby Litchfield Law School founded by Tapping Reeve (the first law school in the United States), Sarah Pierce’s Female Academy firmly established Litchfield’s reputation as a prominent center of education in the early 19th century, and set high educational standards for female academies throughout the new nation.
Peter Vermilyea, “Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Academy,” connecticuthistory.org
“By the Virtue of its Citizens: Educating a New Nation at Sarah Pierce’s Academy,” Litchfield Historical Society
“Sarah Pierce,” The Ledger, Litchfield Historical Society
“America’s First Law School, Sarah Pierce’s Academy, and the Way We Mourned,” Grating the Nutmeg podcast