Women’s education in Baltimore: Goucher & Lutherville

A few weeks back, I wrote about my interest in the Lutherville Female Seminary, a now defunct college in Baltimore County that was devastated by a fire in 1911. This week, I’ll be focusing on the kinds of education offered at two early Baltimore area women’s colleges with connections to the Club—The Woman’s College of Baltimore City (now Goucher College) and the aforementioned Maryland College for Women in Lutherville—as well as their roles in Baltimore society.

In Anna Knipp and Thaddeus Thomas’ (quite extensive) The History of Goucher Collegethey quote an 1860 article of the Saturday Review which encapsulates, almost hilariously, how untenable the denial of mental equality between the genders can be: “The great argument against the existence of this equality of intellect in women is, that it does not exist. If that proof does not satisfy a female philosopher, we have no better to give.”

But we can see this kind of circular logic as exemplifying just how absurd this viewpoint had become. In 1860—and especially in Baltimore—it could no longer be defended.

First, though, it’s only right to note that the higher education of women in Baltimore had initially failed—twice. The first of these failed institutions was initially on St. Paul Street: The Baltimore Female College, funded by the Methodist Episcopal Church, opened its doors in 1848 and closed them in 1890. Then there was The Mount Washington Female College of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which opened in 1856 and closed in 1860. This latter school, though, is of particular importance to us at Loyola: it was sold to the Catholic Church and eventually became Mount Saint Agnes College, which merged in 1971 with Loyola College as it became co-educational. It’s part of our heritage.

But in her book In the Company of Educated Women, author Barbara Miller Solomon points to a tremendous boom in women’s education between the 1870s and 1910s. Although she makes no mention of the Lutherville Seminary (which seems, as I lamented in my last post, to have been practically erased from the annals of history), she does make mention of two Baltimore schools: The Woman’s College of Baltimore and the College of Notre Dame in Maryland.

Facade of Old Goucher College, or the Women’s College of Baltimore City, at 2227 Saint Paul St.

Like the Lutherville Seminary, what strikes me—and Solomon—about these two schools is their religious roots. As for the College of Notre Dame, the religious connection is obvious; in fact, it was the first Catholic women’s college in the United States. But as for Goucher college, its religious roots are more obscure—it received much of its funding from the Methodist Conference in 1884. But it runs deeper than that; as Solomon points out, these schools “adhered to the religious ideal of virtuous, True Womanhood,” and more overtly religious schools such as Notre Dame stressed “religious rather than academic ideals.”

But, apparently, Notre Dame and present-day Goucher offered some of the best education available to women at this time, and “extended woman’s sphere beyond the familial roles.” Solomon attributes this, in no small part, to the proximity and influence of Johns Hopkins University—then also present in downtown Baltimore, as opposed to its present-day Homewood Campus. In fact, she points to The Woman’s College of Baltimore City as being rivaled in terms of its “high intellectual standards” by Randolph-Macon College for Women in Virginia (sponsored by Presbyterians).

From the very beginning, The Woman’s College of Baltimore City did much to emphasize its academic rigor. It was no “seminary”; it was a college, and one of the finest available for women. Consider the statement of Bishop Andrews, quoted here in its entirety:

I would not give a fig for a weakling little thing of a seminary. We want such a school, so ample in its provisions, of such dignity in its buildings, so fully provided with the best apparatus, that it shall draw to itself the eyes of the community and that young people shall feel it an honor to be enrolled among its students.

But what of seminaries? Clearly, their reputations were less stellar; according to Bishop Andrews of Goucher, they were something to be scoffed at. But the Lutherville Female Seminary was not exactly a joke; information is scarce, but even in its infancy in 1853, its classes included “moral and mental philosophy, handwriting, ancient languages, natural philosophy, chemistry, mathematics, German, English literature, music, drawing, and painting.” Its reputation eventually became such that students attended the school from out of state, whereas its initial students seem to have come primarily from the city and the county. In 1895, it was appropriately rechristened the Maryland College for Women.

Facade of Maryland College for Women in Lutherville, prior to fire and restoration in 1911.

But, in spite of the grandeur of its facade, conditions within the Seminary were gloomy. The Heritage Committee of the Greater Timonium American Bicentennial Committee (!) dug up an invaluable insight into the daily lives of the students there. The reminiscence of an alumna is printed in their volume The Limestone Valley. Here’s an excerpt:

The school building was large and insufficiently heated. The girls went around the house enveloped in shawls and then were not warm. There was a large dormitory with about thirty beds and each bed was a little apartment with curtains for a dressing room. The provision for the table was also very primitive; bread, butter and molasses for breakfast and supper, with tea or coffee and ham, potatoes and hominy for dinner.

But what’s most remarkable about the Lutherville Seminary is that it existed at all. According to The Limestone Valley, it was from the very beginning meant to be the center of the community; in their words, “the village of Lutherville was planned around the Lutherville Seminary.” Lutherville is rather unique to Baltimore county (largely an amalgamation of unplanned, spontaneous demiurban sprawl) in that it was a planned community. Its street grid was very deliberately laid out, and has hardly changed in a hundred and fifty years.

In this respect, one can rightly call Lutherville a community that was, from its very inception, centered around women’s education. In the 1850s, this was progressive. And to Lutheran founders John G. Morris, Charles Morris, and Dr. Benjamin Kurtz, it was never to be a “weakling little thing of a seminary” at all—it was to be a “first rate Female College.” And that’s what it became.