Tag Archives: Cedar Bluff College

Letters to May

May Carpenter (right), with a friend

May Carpenter (right), with a friend

We previously heard from Virginia “Jennie” Amos in 1890, when she wrote to May Carpenter of Smiths Grove, Kentucky about going corsetless at a girls-only picnic that ended up being crashed by some local “town dudes.”

In other letters, Jennie also enlivened the short life of her former Cedar Bluff College classmate (May died at 20), with trash talk about friends, life and love.  Let’s hear some more from this paragon of late-Victorian female delicacy:

On her schoolteaching duties:  “Just imagine yourself with sixty brats, all under thirteen. . . . While I was lifting them by their ears. . . a half dozen in my class would be having a fist and scull fight.”

On a friend’s impending marriage:  “It is perfectly awful to think of her associating with such a scrub. . . . I can’t help but believe something will take place yet, and do most heartily hope it will be his getting drunk and breaking his neck.”

On another friend’s marriage:  “And Miss Sallie is married . . . . Did not think she would have A. Lawson. . . . It seems like good girls never get the kind of men they deserve.”

On yet another friend’s honeymoon:  “You must make Bettie tell you how badly scared Scott was the first night.  I can’t imagine him as being so immodest as to undress in a girl’s room and to get in bed with her.  Isn’t it awful to think of?”

On a date:  “My beau was one Mr. Walter Culley who was never known to speak a word unless asked a direct question.  He did not bother me very much though as we played cards most of the time.”

And this complaint, in the middle of a gossip-filled letter , about her friend “Emma’s” tale-telling behind her back:  “She never showed any sign of talking about other people to me, but then she knew I had such perfect contempt for people so inclined that may have prevented her from talking to me.”

These letters are part of the Carpenter Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“To Be: Not to Seem”

Cedar Bluff College commencement invitation

Cedar Bluff College commencement invitation

So declared the motto on the 1886 commencement invitation for Cedar Bluff College in Woodburn, Kentucky, a boarding school that educated young ladies from 1864 until fire destroyed its building in 1892.

In June 1877, Addie Darden was class salutatorian, and her greeting to those assembled for that year’s graduation exercises touched on familiar themes of happy memories, sad farewells, and hopes for the future.  Addie used those sentiments to introduce a then-customary feature of commencement exercises, particularly at women’s colleges, where the “sweet girl graduates” showed off their proficiency in the “ornamental” subjects of their curriculum with readings and musical performances.  “Some of our number,” she told the assembled crowd, “will give you songs and music, some of it bright and fair as their own sweet lives, and some will be in the minor chords of sadness; but each strain will speak to you in its own language, telling its own story.”

But Addie rebutted the notion that she and her classmates were just charm school graduates, academic lightweights who only seemed to be educated.  Her second speaking duty was to deliver the Latin salutatory, an address that one might more readily associate with Harvard or Princeton.  For her subject, Addie chose the Catiline Conspiracy–De Catilinae Conjuratione–and read her page-and-a-half speech, in Latin, to the gathering of parents, teachers and friends.

Addie Darden’s salutatories (both English and Latin) are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections about Cedar Bluff College and other Kentucky schools, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Mistress of All She Surveys

Cedar Bluff College; Mollie Robinson's diploma

Cedar Bluff College; Mollie Robinson’s diploma

In 1864, Simpson County, Kentucky farmer William F. Whitesides established a “strictly select” school in his home to educate his two daughters.  Other girls soon joined them, and in 1867 the school was chartered as Cedar Bluff Female College.

Housing as many as 80 boarders, the school’s two-story, frame building near Woodburn hardly resembled today’s college campuses.  In fact, the proprietors of 19th-century female schools regarded it as essential to the safety and morals of their charges to maintain as domestic an atmosphere as possible–to provide, Cedar Bluff College’s catalog explained, “that care and solicitude of which young ladies should not be deprived while absent from the paternal roof.”  Students could stroll at will over the ten-acre campus, but could go no farther unless chaperoned.  Cedar Bluff was, declared its catalog, a “perfect Arcadia of quiet beauty,” undisturbed by townspeople or curious young men.

The gendered education of Cedar Bluff’s students extended to their academic certification.  Through various combinations of courses in the arts, classics, languages and natural sciences, together with “ornamental” electives such as music, drawing and French, the young ladies could earn one of three degrees: Mistress of Arts, Mistress of the English Language, or, like 16-year-old Mollie Robinson, Mistress of Science.  Mollie’s diploma, awarded in 1876 and signed by William F. Whitesides (who happened also to be her uncle), was an attractive piece of parchment from which dangled a 6-inch-long silk ribbon impressed with the seal of the college–an “MS” degree, but with a less-than-modern connotation.

Mollie Robinson’s diploma is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  Click here to download a finding aid.  For additional collections relating to Cedar Bluff College and other female schools (including Bowling Green’s Potter College for Young Ladies, begun in 1889 by ex-Cedar Bluff president Benjamin F. Cabell and the first school to occupy WKU’s “Hill,” search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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