By Kerry Lippincott, Executive Director
During the 1800s young ladies from middle and upper class families were educated at female seminaries. The seminaries were basically privately funded schools that provided students with a secondary education. Since there was a general belief that an overeducated woman would become “unsexed”, female seminaries offered classes that were distinctively feminine and considered much less mentally taxing than courses offered to male students. Along with the basic academic subjects, the curriculum often included French, music, painting, needle crafts, domestic arts and social graces.
was home to
several female seminaries. One school
was Geneva Female Seminary established by Elizabeth Stryker Ricord (1788-1865). Geneva
Born in Long Island and raised in
New Jersey, was the oldest child and only
daughter of Peter Stryker. Since Elizabeth was very well
educated we can assume she was taught by private tutors. On December 6, 1810 Elizabeth married Jean Baptiste Ricord-Madianna. Between 1811 and 1824 the couple had four
sons and traveled to the Elizabeth West Indies at least twice,
where Jean studied botany and natural history.
By 1824 the couple was living in the United
States and eventually settled their family in . In
1829, however, Woodbridge, New
Jersey Elizabeth was separated from her
husband and living in .
To support herself and her sons, Geneva
opened the Geneva Female Seminary. Elizabeth
Day and boarding students of all ages were accepted. Students came from the Finger Lakes,
New Jersey and New
England. To determine their class level, each student took
placement tests. Instead of focusing on memorizing and recitation (the
preferred method of instruction)
and her follow students encouraged students to ask questions and think for
themselves. The school year was two 22
week terms. Elizabeth
Though the school continued to operate until 1842, poor health forced
to resign as principal in
1840. She, however, was not quite ready
for retirement. The same year she resigned from the Geneva Female Seminary, Elizabeth turned her
lectures notes on “mental philosophy” or psychology into a textbook, Elements of the Philosophy of Mind, Applied
to the Development of Thought and Feeling. With the book’s publication, Elizabeth became the first woman to write a
textbook about psychology for women. She
would publish at least one more book, Zamba or the Insurrection (a
fictionalized poem about a slave insurrection in Elizabeth Martinique).
moved to .
In addition to writing for articles for magazines and journals, she co-founded
the Newark Orphan Asylum and served as its director until her death in 1865. Newark, New Jersey