Louisburg Female College, circa 1857
An article in the Aug. 5, 1857, issue of The Weekly Raleigh Register announced the opening of Louisburg Female College.
A correspondent praised the school's directors for inaugurating an institution of "endless benefit-one whose influence will spread with the progress of time . . . ." The pride of the village, the college represented not only the continuing commitment of local people to provide educational opportunities for young women, but also a trend throughout North Carolina during the antebellum period.
The decade between 1850 and 1860 was a time of relative prosperity for North Carolina. In the state's north-central counties, production of bright leaf tobacco and cotton created considerable wealth.
North Carolinians were increasingly willing to invest in the education of their youth. Under the leadership of Calvin Wiley, the state's system of public schools became the best in the south.
Often sponsored by religious denominations, female colleges were founded in Murfreesboro, Oxford, Raleigh, and other towns.
The new college in Louisburg occupied the site of Louisburg Female Academy, which had been established in 1814 on the west side of the town common.
Prior to construction of the four-story brick structure, which was underway in 1856, the college's directors agreed to move the frame academy to a spot south of its original location and to refurbish it.
Albert G. Jones, a well-known builder from Warren County, oversaw the construction of the handsome Greek Revival-style college building, which was designed to accommodate up to 100 boarders.
According to the newspaper account, the building was situated "in the midst of a beautiful grove, which has been recently improved, and which is now about being neatly enclosed."
The directors of Louisburg Female College chose James P. Nelson, who had recently served as the head of Goldsboro Female College, as the school's first president.
Teachers during the first year of operation included J. L. Kern, Mrs. Emma Taylor, Miss Mary W. Patterson, Miss Kate Eppsey, and Miss L. A. Clark.
According to the newspaper account, Dr. and Mrs. William G. Thomas, who were to oversee the Boarding Department, hoped to make the college a home rather than a boarding house. The cost of room, board, washing, fuel, and lights for each five-month session was 55 dollars.
During its first year of operation, the college enrolled students in a Primary Department and a College Department. Tuition was set at $10 and $15, respectively. For additional fees, students could take ancient and modern languages, music, art in various media, and needlework.
Final examinations took place on May 31 and June 1, 1858, and commencement exercises soon followed.
According to an account submitted to The Weekly Raleigh Register, the students acquitted themselves well.
At the graduation event, seven students offered essays on such topics as "Contemplation-The Fountain of Our Grief and Woe" and "Youthful Anticipations Flatter, Then Deceive Us."
Edward Conigland of Halifax County gave a lengthy commencement address that strongly supported more equitable legal standing and educational opportunities for women.
It was a fitting end to a momentous year for Louisburg Female College.
Published in The Franklin Times on May 8, 2014.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Credits: Dr. George-Anne Willard, Louisburg College Echoes (1988) and Louisburg College Archives.