Elizabeth Female Academy: Natchez Trace Parkway MP 5.1

Date Visited: 4/3/2019

As we start out on the Natchez Trace Parkway, we come to our first stop just five miles north of the southern terminus. Here at mile post 5.1 are the remains of the Elizabeth Female Academy; a historic site and monument to the advancement of women through access to higher learning.

On March 25, 1976 the National Register of Historic Places received a Nomination Form recommending the preservation of this site and on May 6, 1977 the humble remains of this historic building were added to the inventory of historic places by the National Park Service.

What makes the Academy special? According to the Bishop Charles P. Galloway in his publication “Elizabeth Female Academy – The Mother of Female Colleges”

it was the first chartered institution for the higher education of young women in the South, if not in the United States.

National Register of Historic Places

How did the Academy come to be?

To explain how the Academy came to be, we must first take a quick look at the history of the State of Mississippi.

From 1802-1817 the town of Washington (where the academy is located) was the Territorial Capitol of Mississippi, having been moved there from the nearby city of Natchez. On December 10, 1817 Mississippi became the 20th state to be admitted to the Union. Naturally this made the city of Washington the center of social and political influence.

Prior to Elizabeth Female Academy opening its doors many young women attended Jefferson College, which was opened in 1811, but in 1818 Elizabeth Roach donated the 104 acres and the buildings to the Mississippi Conference and on November 12, 1818 the academy opened its doors. The female population of students at Jefferson College quickly moved to the new female academy.

Although the academy which was operated by the Methodist, focused on the spiritual culture of the students it also included studies in the disciplines of Latin, botany, history, chemistry and natural and moral philosophy. The academy awarded the degree of Domina Scientarum which is said to be equal to today’s four-year degree. This gives cause for some scholars to claim that it was the first institute to offer degrees to women; however, this fact is disputed by others who claim that Georgia’s Wesleyan College was the first to offer degrees to women, stating the Elizabeth female academy was merely a preparatory school, but the academy in Mississippi did receive its state charter in 1818, some 21 years before classes began at Wesleyan on January 7, 1839. This is a contentious topic and I think I’ll leave it for the historians to argue out.

Another interesting fact concerning the Academy is the brief teaching stent of a famous bird enthusiast. Yes, John James Audubon, taught art and drawing at the center for two short months during the summer of 1822 before taking a teaching position in Natchez.

The school remained open until 1845 before finally closing its doors forever. The closure was caused by a culmination of the effects of 1.) the capitol of Mississippi being moved to Jackson which caused a shift in the population center, 2.) several epidemics of yellow fever and 3.) a dwindling enrollment.

In 1870 a fire gutted the academy and all that was left was the few remains that are standing today.

These remains are both haunting and beautiful and the historical significance of this location made it a great first stop to kick off our journey down the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Join us next week when we stop at the second largest mound site in the United States.

Until then…

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