Newton Female Seminary – Equal, Accessible Education for All

Authored by Pamela C. Zacher

Cover page of the Third Annual Catalogue of Newton Female Seminary, for the 1856-1857 academic year. Printed by Francis Hart, Printer and Stationer, New York, NY

America’s Antebellum period brought with it a fervor to see its women educated, despite previously held beliefs that women’s education was not as important as men’s (Sweet 1985, 41). Thus, a movement began to provide quality education for the nation’s females, that would be available for women of all socio-economic classes, would be of quality parallel to that offered to men, and expand beyond etiquette and instruction in domestic duties. “Feeling the call of God to educate women, America’s Evangelical denominations…with passionate engagement built female seminaries” (Sweet 1985, 41).

The growing role of seminaries proved that women had capable minds, not only to learn, but also to run schools, and the female seminary movement proved to be an important step towards women’s equality (Donnaway 1985). In support of this mission, arithmetic, reading, writing, geography, astronomy, history, and theology were incorporated into the curriculum of the Seminary. Courses in the languages French, German and Latin, along with vocal studies, music, and drawing rounded out the full education offered by the school (Newton Female Seminary 1857).

Interestingly, this catalog seems to be among the last evidence of the Newton Female Seminary. The only other evidence of its existence is a marking on an 1856 map of Newton, NJ, held by the Sussex County Historical Society with the notation, “The Miss Linn’s Female Seminary” (Wayne McCabe, pers. comm). Martha, Susan, and Lucilla Linn are listed as principals of the seminary in the catalog. According to the map, the school appears to have been built on the Linn Family property. It is unclear how long the school was open, and the original building was torn down about 50 years ago (W. McCabe, pers. comm). Even though many of the students listed in the catalog came from prominent Sussex County families of the time, this example of women’s equality is being erased from our history.

In 1854, Pelopio, writing to The Connecticut Common School Journal and Annals of Education regarding female education commented on the need for society to recognize the “right and duty of Education for all classes of the community, without distinction of caste or sex” (283). The Seminary’s catalogue (1857) provides the same sentiment, stating in its section on Government, “We aim at giving young ladies a finished education, and thoroughly preparing them for…duties which may devolve upon them in the maturer [sic] years.” This rings true with the Saint John’s University Vincentian mission to, “… strive to provide excellent education for all people, especially those lacking economic, physical, or social advantages” (St. John’s University 2015).


Donnaway, Laura. 1985. “Women’s Rights Before the Civil War.” Loyola University Student Historical Journal 16 (Spring-Fall).

Pelopio. 1854. “Female Education.” The Connecticut Common School Journal and Annals of Education, New Series 1, no. 9: 283-84.

Newton Female Seminary. 1857. “The Third Annual Catalogue.” New York: Francis Hart Printer.

St. John’s University. 2015. “Mission Statement.”

Sweet, Leonard I. 1985. “The Female Seminary Movement and Woman’s Mission in Antebellum America.” Church History 54, no. 1: 41-55.