“I have so much to learn”

By the 1790s, it was considered acceptable for girls from well-to-do families to attend female seminaries. Margaretta Ackerly was enrolled in the Moravian Female Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, noted for a rigorous curriculum that included reading, writing, arithmetic, German, English, history, geography, religion, music, and, of course, instruction in the feminine skills of sewing and knitting. As Margaretta explained to her sister in New York City, she had much studying to do.

I shall not have time to write more than this letter to you and this must be shortened, for oh if you only knew what I have to do, our examination commences this day a week. And I have so much to learn I dont know what to do with myself I hardly know what I write I think of nothing only what I have to learn, this morning I was up at 4 oClock sitting by the Lamp studying & every night I have 3 or 4 books under my head. …

In a later letter, as college students through the ages have done, Margaretta asked for a number of things to be sent to her.

You wish to know what things I shall want this summer, I shall send you a list. … Present my duty to my beloved Parents tell them though it is very seldom I write to them yet I often think of them with the sincerest affection. …
Your ever loving & Sincere sister M. Akerly

You will please to send me
1 white & 1 Light Calico frock
2 pair of stockings, garters
A stiff petticoat blue
2 vandykes*
2 pair pockets**
cap ribbon
tooth brush
a little ribbon for a hat, & vail
a skein of white & black silk Green
a white short gown
any thing else you chuse

* Vandycks were collars or kerchiefs made of lace and linen characterized by deeply cut, pointy edges.
** In the eighteenth century, pockets were not built into women’s clothing as they are today. Instead there were separate pockets that could be tied on and removed, much like an apron. They could be worn over skirts or underneath, with slits in the skirt to provide access. Try making a pair.

The first excerpt is from In the Words of Women, Chapter 8, page 232. The second excerpt is from The New-York Historical Society. Misc. Mss. Akerly.

posted January 23rd, 2012 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Education, Fashion, Letter-writing

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