ExploreSouthernHistory.com - E;izabeth Female Academy, Mississippi
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Elizabeth Female Academy, Mississippi
Elizabeth Female Academy
The first school for women chartered by the State of
Mississippi, the academy was founded in 1818.
Instructors included John James Audubon.
Elizabeth Female Academy
Only ruins remain of the
school that many believe was
the first U.S. college to award
degrees to women.
Audubon in Mississippi
The famed naturalist John
James Audubon was among
the instructors at the Elizabeth
Female Academy. He taught
there in 1822.
School of a Future First Lady
Varina Howell Davis, the
future First Lady of the
Confederacy, was a graduate
of Elizabeth Female Academy.
Elizabeth Female Academy - Natchez Trace, Mississippi
Nation's First College for Women
D.A.R. Monument
This memorial was placed at
the academy site by the
Daughters of the American
Revolution during the 1920s.
The picturesque ruins of the Elizabeth
Female Academy stand down a short path off
Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi.

Located just five miles north of the historic
city of Natchez, the academy was the first
school for women to be chartered by the
State of Mississippi. Founded in 1818, it was
one of the premier institutions for young
Southern women of its day.

In fact, there is a possibility that the Elizabeth
Female Academy may have been the first
college for women in the United States.
According to a 2009 article in the Natchez
Democrat by historian H. Clark Burnett of
Historic Jefferson College (
please click here
to read), Methodist historians believe that the
church-supported institution may have been
the country's first school of higher learning
opened exclusively for females.

Named in honor of Elizabeth Greenfield
Roach, who donated 104 acres of land and
the buildings of the school, the academy
began operation in 1818. Its charter from the
state was received the following year.

Mississippi was a pioneer state in providing
education for women and the curriculum of
the Elizabeth Female Academy reveals that
this was far from a token effort. The young
ladies attending the school studied Latin,
botany, history, natural and moral philosophy,
chemistry, mythology, Christianity and more.

Those who completed their courses were
awarded a Degree of Domina Scientarum,
roughly the equivalent of a four-year degree
today. This leads Mississippi researchers to
claim that Elizabeth Female Academy was
the first college for women in the United
States, although Georgia's Wesleyan
College also makes that claim. It is a fact that
the Mississippi school was the first to award
advanced degrees of any kind to women.

Some idea of the quality of the education
provided for the young ladies is evidenced in
the fact that one of the instructors there is
said to have been the famed naturalist John
James Audubon. Famed for his research
and paintings of American birds and wildlife,
Audubon is known to have been in the
Natchez area in early 1822 and began
teaching at Elizabeth Female Academy in
May of that year.

He hiked back and forth from Natchez to
Washington, where the academy was
located, to teach drawing. He walked back
and forth from Natchez to the school each
day along the Natchez Trace. It was summer
time and the extreme heat and exposure to
mosquitoes and other insects brought
Audubon down with sickness after only six
Audubon himself described the experience in
a diary entry dated July 8, 1822:

July 8. Constant exposure in the tropical
climate, and the fatigue of my journeys to and
from Washington, brought on a fever and a
renewal of a certain kind doctor's attendance,
who not only would accept of no
renumeration, but actually insisted on my
taking his purse to pay for the expenses
connected with the education of my sons....

Upon recovering, Audubon accepted a job
teaching in Natchez and his brief association
with the Elizabeth Female Academy came to
an end. It is worth noting, however, that while
an instructor at the school he worked on the
art and observations that would become part
of his acclaimed book,
Birds of America.

The academy continued to operate until the
1840s, when the depression of that decade
caused a decline in attendance that forced
the school to close its doors. Among the
young ladies who graduated during its
quarter century of service was Varina Howell,
future wife of Jefferson Davis and future First
Lady of the Confederacy.

The picturesque brick ruins of the Elizabeth
Female Academy are located at mile marker
4.1 on the Natchez Trace Parkway. The
historic site officers interpretive signs and a
short path leading to the ruins.

Please click here to learn more about the
Natchez Trace Parkway.
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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