Skilled Hands and Cultivated Minds: Art and Education in the Early Republic

Laurie Nivison's picture

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October 22, 2021 to October 23, 2021
Massachusetts, United States
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Childhood and Education, American History / Studies, Fine Arts, Public History

According to the best political science of the 1780s, a well-educated citizenry was crucial to sustaining a healthy republic. New England and especially the Connecticut River Valley became a center for education and reform in the early 19th century, with dozens of academies founded to teach young men and women. Many offered a curriculum in English grammar, foreign languages, arithmetic, geography, and science including astronomy and natural philosophy.  For additional fees, girls could take drawing, painting, embroidery, and other ornamental work. A few academies even rivaled the resources of universities by comprising museums, libraries, and expensive scientific equipment. Twice a year students demonstrated their newly acquired knowledge during a program of speeches, dialogues, and orations attended by parents, trustees, and townspeople. Workbooks displaying exercises, and special projects such as drawings, maps, needlework, and painted furniture prepared for school exhibitions survive in sizeable numbers and testify to the skills and at times budding activism of young learners.

This two-day virtual forum brings together a dynamic roster of academic and museum professionals discussing the development of early New England academies, their goals and curricula, and the decorative and graphic arts produced.  Lectures will include topics ranging from educating children in the New Republic, a survey of art from academies, ornamental arts at the Litchfield Female Academy, New England schoolgirl needlework, the creation of anti-slavery needlework by white schoolgirls, drawn and copied maps, scientific instruments (orreries, telescopes, microscopes, sextants, air pumps, etc.), and short talks by Historic Deerfield staff about objects from the collection. 

This program is presented live via Zoom webinar. The link to the webinar is sent to registrants prior to the event. Recordings are available to registrants for a period of two weeks after each session.

For more information, contact Julie Orvis at or (413) 775-7179.

Please Note: Registration closes at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 21, 2021.

Contact Info: 

For more information, contact Julie Orvis at or (413) 775-7179.