Source: The Early Life of Lexington [KY] before the Year 1820, Mary Estelle Delcamp, A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Transylvania College in Candidacy for the Degree of Master of Arts June, 1916

"Superlatively happy must that country be, where education is disseminated with a liberal and not unequal; where precept and practice march rank and file together in the education of youth, and the formation of morale; where public spirit (another name for general opinion), which gives strength to vice, may be serviceable to the cause of virtue; for in thus directing it, the whole secret, the beauty and simplicity of natural education consists, and the harmony and happiness of society depend (July 12, 1817). Such a statement as this, from an issue of the Gazette, makes apparent the attitude of the early Lexingtonians towards education. They felt that their children must have at least a few of the advantages which they themselves had enjoyed in the East.

In 1783, under the direction of John McKinney, the first school was held in a little log house on Cheapside. Just a few years later, in 1788, a notice in the Gazette stated that the Lexington School was again opened. The learned subjects of Latin and Greek, and the different branches of science were taught by Isaac Wilson, formerly a professor in Philadelphia College. The expense of schooling was reasonable. A tuition of four pounds in cash or produce was charged, and boarding could be had in the district on reasonable terms (Jan. 12, 1788). In the same month a seminary was proposed, which was to begin the following April. Good boarding, washing and lodging were guaranteed at the very small sum of nine pounds per year. The courses taught included the French language, with all the arts and sciences (Jan. 18, 1788). In the fall of 1788 another seminary for instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar, speaking, composition and geography was opened. There were two classes of scholars in this school: one class was taught reading, writing and arithmetic for the sum of eight shillings per quarter; the others received training in all studies for ten shillings (Oct. 4, 1788).

Teachers of ability were not lacking. In one instance a person, qualified to teach the three R's, book-keeping, surveying and navigation, geography or the use of the globes, advertised for a school. He was willing to take only a small part of his quarterly salary in cash, and the rest in "property" (May 24, 1788). Another young man, seeking a position, agreed to give instruction in geometry, trigonometry and algebra (Oct. 11, 1788).

In 1789 Transylvania Seminary, which was chartered by the Virginal legislature in 1780, began its long, historic career in Lexington (June 6, 1789). The first grammar school, under the direction of the trustees of Transylvania, occupied a house adjacent the Presbyterian Meeting House (Trustee Bk., T.U., May 1789). At a meeting of the trustees in May, previous to the opening of school, Isaac Wilson had been appointed teacher. Altho the tuition was but three pounds, there were only thirteen scholars; and in April, 1791 this number had dwindled to five (Trustees Bk., T.U., Apr. 1791). The tardiness of the board in fixing on a permanent seat may have been one cause of the decreased enrollment (Mar. 16, 1793).

Among other schools of the day were: Hugh Wilson's, at the corner of Walnut and Hill; the Lexington School; and Thomas Steele's Night School (Jan. 15, May 21, Nov. 12, 1791).

In the years following 1791, the schools prospered and became numerous. In 1797 and 1798 the trustees of the Lexington Academy employed a teacher to open an English School, in which reading, writing, arithmetic geometry and place trigonometry held chief place (Mar. 11, 1797; Sept. 12, 1798). At the examination of the students of this school, on the second Wednesday of March in 1806, the teacher delivered an address to parents on the importance of educating their children (Mar. 8, 1806). The next semi-examination was held in September.

Great care was taken in the education of small children. Only school masters, who were well-qualified and well-recommended for "sobriety and attention" met with encouragement (May 28, 1802). In 1806 Mr. and Mrs. Lockwood opened a boarding school to educate "youngsters" (Nov. 13, 1806). The primary objects of Thomas M Prentiss' care in the instruction of young masters and misses were the morals and manners of the youths (Mar. 17, 1812). Another school master of the time considered the education of children too important to be much tampered with, and hence promised faithfully to make all necessary progress (Jan. 26, 1813).

The hours of work for the students were rather long. In one school, during the summer months, the students went from six to twelve a.m., and from two to six p.m. (Jan. 26, 1813).

In 1813 a Pestilozzian seminary was established in the city (Mar. 9, 1813). The terms of the new school were as follows: "First, this school shall be permanently established in Lexington, and all expenses, house-rent, wood, books, stationery and apparatus shall be defrayed by the teacher; second, the children of both sexes shall learn reading, writing and calculation at $8.50 per session, which shall consist of 75 school days; third, pupils who have learnt these branches shall be admitted as scientific students at $12 per session; fourth, separate accommodations shall be provided for the girls" (Feb. 7, 1814).

In the same year a Lancastrian school was established by J.P. Aldridge on Upper Street, south of the court house. During the first four weeks the school was conducted behind closed doors until the students could be adjusted to the new system. The teacher philanthropically agreed to give free tuition to a few poor children of respectable parents (June 27, 1814). In 1816 an academy was annexed. In this "annexed Academy," as it was called, the students had to buy their own books (Feb. 26, 1816). In March of this year, because of objections raised by a few people to the use of slates, the public was invited to attend an examination, to see if writing on slates made poor scribes. By the next spring so much progress had been made, that a new building was erected. In the school year there were semi-annual examinations, and vacations of two weeks after each examination period. Books were kept to show the progress of the children under the new system (Mar. 31, 1817). The school is described thus by a visitor: "There is an air of military order and arrangement. All orders are given by a telegraph erected over the desk of the principal teacher, to which the boys' attention is called by the sound of a small hand bell, when all buzz ceases and order is instantaneously obeyed. Hats are taken off and hung up; seats are occupied; and slates are handled- all in marked time. Each boy is monitor in turn for one hour; he is held strictly accountable for any neglect or fault committed therein. Christianity is taught alone from the Bible. The scheme of the vowels is in unison with the standard of English orthography for some considerable time to come; so that a proper and uniform pronunciation (a matter to be devoutly wished thruout the nation) is insured- the incongruities of Webster and other spelling bookmakers are obviated and avoided" (July 12, 1817).

Special courses of instruction were found essential to the welfare of the frontier society. As early as 1794 Alexander Woodford had opened a school, where the following branches of mathematics were taught "plane and spherical geometry, surveying, navigation, conic sections, gauging, algebra and dialing" (Mar. 8, 1794). A few months after, Peter Valentine proposed to teach the French language, if as many as twelve pupils over twelve years of age subscribed (July 12, 1794). The time of study was only two hours a day; the tuition, four dollars a quarter, with an entrance fee of two dollars. French continued to be the popular subject. In 1795 Citizen Charles Barbier arrived, with the intention of starting a French school in Transylvania Seminary. He was also willing to give instruction to private houses (Aug. 8, 1795). Woldemarde Mentelle combined the teaching of the Romance tongue and dancing (Aug. 1, 1798). His academy was open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from six to eight p.m. In 1802 Samuel Mennet gave private lessons in the daytime, and held a school at night (Nov. 9, 1802). In 1816 Stephen Deforge, after having been here ten years, tool up the teaching of his native tongue (July 29, 1816).

The trinity of cultural subjects at this time seems to have been French, dancing and music. Music was cultivated assiduously. Besides the general training received at singing schools, special instruction was accorded to individuals. In 1795 a music school was opened in the "Colledge Lower Room," where were taught the "several parts of vocal music upon the late improved plan, and agreeable to the most accurate established (June 13, 1795). Several years later Mr. Pris opened a school for piano, piano-forte and guitar (Mar. 13, 1809). In 1810 Mr. G. Gerb on Main Cross Street, one mile north of the court house, gave lessons to young ladies (June 12, 1815). Mr. Green was another music teacher of the time (June 12, 1815).

Perhaps because of the same French influence, which gave an impetus to the study of the French language, a fencing school was established in 1796 by R. Gilbert. He gave lessons from five to seven p.m. in the "upper brick house on Main Street" (June 6, 1798).

It was not until the close of the second decade of the nineteenth century that the people felt their need for writing lessons. In 1820 G. & J. Ely held a writing school at Mr. Giron's Ball-room. The gentlemen were instructed from six until eight a.m.; the ladies from four until six p.m. Those who were unable to attend during these periods came from eleven a.m. until one p.m. (Aug. 10, 1820).

The early Lexingtonian, tho eager for an education, must have been a busy man. From 1791 on evening schools became prominent (Nov. 12, 1791). Some were run in connection with day schools, while others were strictly limited to evening hours. In 1799, a German, Jacob Lehre, started an evening school on High Street. He offered not only "a course in numerical and specious arithmetic," but also one in the German language (Aug. 8, 1799). In 1813 J.R. Brown opened an English school in Transylvania University from six until nine p.m. on all days except Sundays and Tuesdays. The tuition was $3.25, with no extra charge for firewood and candles (Oct. 19, 1813).

French was not the only language whose study was pursued under private tutors, but the mother tongue was also thus taught. E.B. Hannegan in 1810 offered to give private lessons in the English language, going from house to house (Oct. 30, 1810). Another gentleman of liberal education, and unexceptionable recommendations, wished to become an instructor in a private family (Aug. 22, 1814).

There were also experiment and lecture classes. In 1817 James Blythe offered at his laboratory a summer course of lectures on natural philosophy and astronomy, and lessons in mathematics. With his lectures there were "chemical experiments to shed light on the various parts on natural philosophy." This course began on the first Monday in May, and continued until the last week of September. The hour was five p.m. every day in the week except Saturday (Mar. 31, 1817).

From the beginning of her history, Lexington may be proud of the way in which she has provided for the education of her girls. Except for the few schools in which young masters and misses were received, it was customary to educate the girls in separate institutions. Where instruction was open to both sexes, different rooms were provided. As early as 1787 Mrs. Walsh had opened a school to teach girls spelling, reading and needle-work (Mar. 27, 1787). This school continued as such for many years, but by 1803 the instruction was limited to the art of needle-work (Mar. 1, 1803). Ten years later Mrs. Lucy Gray established an academy at her country home four miles from town. This was a much more pretentious effort than the former. Not only reading, writing, needle-work, and the drawing of spring and flowers were taught, but the teacher could also write Italian, and if required promised to teach the most useful rules of arithmetic. Her terms were four pounds per quarter (Mar. 29, 1797). The following year, "in order to prevent an indiscriminate intercourse of the sexes so injurious to the morals, and incompatible with the delicacy of the 'Fair'," Mr. James W. Stevens proposed to start a young ladies' academy, "for the purpose of conferring the degree of a classical education" (Feb. 21, 1798). In the upper story of Mr. Montgomery Bell's stone house, between the stores of Messrs. G. Trotter and Samuel Price, this academy found its home and here were taught orthography, reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar, geography, and composition at the very moderate price of ten dollars per annum (Mar. 28, 1798).

However small at the beginning was the effort to educate the 'Fair', the close of the eighteenth century saw a growing emphasis being placed on this phase of education. The following years show even greater development. In 1805 Mrs. Beck's academy for young ladies started a very prosperous career. The courses offered included grammar, composition, geography, music, dancing, drawing, embroidery, the art of making ornamental card-boxes, fancy baskets, and needle-work. These studies, including board, bed, bedding, use of piano, globes and maps, were given for $250 per year. For those who could not afford the finishing touches, the common branches, plus bed, board and globes, were offered for $150 (Feb. 12, 1805). The following year much interest was aroused in the examination of the pupils. The several branches of literature, in which they were examined, consisted of those mentioned above and rhetoric, logic, natural philosophy and astronomy (July 19, 1806). The importance laid upon the work of this institution was stated thus by one of the citizens: "in an age of science-- in a country where polite education is essential to our intercourse with society-- and at a period when we are shaking off the prejudice of Gothic barbarism, it was a source of pain to the philanthropic bosom-- to the mind of enlarged views and to the heart which held in proper estimation the importance of the female character to our happiness-- to see the minds of that sex wrapped in ignorance and subjected to all inconveniences attendant on a want of education. These have now been removed, and the female race has become what Providence intended: the soother of our cares, the consolation and adornment of the human race." Shortly after these August examinations, Mrs. Beck's school closed for a vacation, until Sept. 1 (Aug. 5, 1806). The spring examinations were held in February (Feb. 20, 1809). The Academy continued its work thruout the period under consideration, and became known as the Lexington Academy of Arts and Sciences for Young Ladies. It also opened its doors to day pupils. The tuition for these pupils was $12 per quarter, not including music and painting. The fee for music was $18; for painting, $9 (Apr. 25, 1814).

A few months after the establishment of Mrs. Beck's Academy, Mr. and Mrs. Green started a school on a modest scale for the benefit of the "fair sex." Common branches in music were the only courses offered. The next year, because of Mrs. Green's bad health, Mr. Green was forced to make alternations in his plans and to open his Academy to both sexes. With this change practical geometry, mensuration, navigation and bookkeeping by double and single entry, were added to the list of subjects (Dec. 26, 1805, Sept. 18, 1806). For the next few years these two academies, with the aid of a few other schools, carried on the work of educating young women. Among the latter places for instruction were: Mrs. Levett's Academy, Mrs. Rucker's School, and the Misses Spencer and DeCharns' Academy one mile from Lexington (Aug. 28, 1810, Mar. 16, 1813; Mar. 13, 1815).

In 1817 Mrs. Howard, from the city of Washington, founded the Lexington Lycaeum. The course advertised was elaborate. The curriculum included history, moral and profane; chronology; geography; topography; drawing; painting in water colors and on velvet; needle-work plain, embossed and open; cotton works; landscape; flowers; fancy crewel; chenille works; embroidery in gold, silver, silk and worsted; tambour artificial flowers; fillagree; mosaic; chimney ornaments; table mats and hearth rugs; French language; music and dancing (June 9, 1817). Two years later Mr. Edward Cassidy, in his Select Female Academy at the corner of Main and Upper, taught these subjects: reading on Walker's principles; analytic penmanship, ancient and modern geography, and stereography, but omitted entirely embroidery work and dancing (May 7, 1819).

In 1819 the following notice appeared in the newspaper: "impressed with the necessity of affording our daughters as well as our sons the means of acquiring a substantial as well as ornamental education, a number of citizens of Lexington have agreed to promote a female academy on the following principles: first, a board of visitors shall consist of Henry Clay, Robert Wickliffe, Charles Humphreys, John Bradford, Alexander Parker, Charles Wilkins, James Morrison. Fred Ridgely, J. Haggin, Elisha Warfield, Thomas January, William Berry, J.C. Breckinridge, William Richardson, George Clarke, Samuel Trotter, J. Tilford, John Postlethwait, R. Higgins, and John Brand; second, it shall be the privilege of this committee to visit, and the duty of five to attend examinations; third, the officers shall be a principal, a first preceptor, and a female preceptress; fourth, the principal shall teach mathematics, natural and moral philosophy, chemistry, astronomy, criticism and composition; fifth, the preceptor shall teach spelling, reading, writing, English grammar, geography and history; sixth, the preceptress shall teach French and drawing, and must be present during all school hours; seventh, there shall be two sessions in the year of five months each; eighth, there shall be two meetings each day of not less than three hours each; ninth, there shall be entrance examinations for arithmetic, English grammar and geography, and none shall enter for less than one session. For one year students will be granted a certificate of good behavior; for two years, a certificate of good behavior and the studies taken; for three years, a certificate with the seal of the academy. Above thirteen years of age a girl shall not be reproved more than twice; but the parents are to be notified after the second occasion, and asked to remove her. Dr. James Blythe has accepted the principalship, and the session is to begin the 8th of November (Oct. 22, 1819).

Only a few more schools need to be mentioned to complete the list for this period. In 1819 Mrs. Jones established a school at the usual terms of $3 (Nov. 12, 1819). The next year Mr. George Holton promised to give particular attention to the morals of the young ladies under his case, at his school on Mill Street (Jan. 7, 1820). At the corner of Hill and Upper, Mrs. Grace, who had kept academies in Charleston and Augusta, opened a select school for young ladies (Aug. 17, 1820).

Transylvania Seminary, as already mentioned, was one of the earliest institutions and one of the greatest importance to the frontier community. Altho destined to have such a brilliant career, many difficulties arose in the early years. The inability to keep principals was not the least of this troubles. Rev. H. Toulain resigned after less than two years' service, because the salary was inadequate and the position too precarious. According to an act of the legislature, the office had to be filled from year to year. It was also the law that the vote of the thirteen trustees must be unanimous in selecting and paying a president or professor. Sometimes whole days were spend getting seven members together, only to find that because of the discordant sentiments of these honorable gentlemen nothing could be accomplished (Apr. 9, 1796). In addition to these internal troubles, some vandals broke into the Academy and tore up a number of valuable books, belonging to the library (Sept. 28, 1793).

In the Seminary advertisement of 1793 it was stated that the school was now equipped with teachers of natural and moral philosophy, or mathematics, and of the learned languages. An English teacher had also been introduced as a member of the faculty. The article in good advertising fashion boasted: "in this Seminary great attention is paid to reading, not only to prose but to poetry as well. It is the best seat of education on western waters. The time is not far distant when even prejudice will not make it necessary to send your youth East" (Dec. 7, 1793). In 1794 the studies were classified under two heads: professional, consisting of Greek, Latin, French and book-keeping; non-professional, consisting of geometry, geography, politics, composition, elocution, moral philosophy, astronomy, history, logic and natural philosophy (Trustee Bk., T.U., Oct. 6, 1794).

The year 1793 saw the appointment of a committee by the trustees to promote the best interests of the school. Any three of these five men were to "look into the state of the Seminary, to see what progress had been made in literature, what regard had been paid to their education, their lives and their morals, and by what means the management might be rendered more conducive to the instruction of the youth." Furthermore the said committee was authorised to admit into the school "any number of poor orphan boys, whose parents are too poor to give them any education, and whose genius in the opinion of the said committee deserves to be fostered, provided that the number does not exceed ten at any time" (Trustee Bk., T.U., Oct. 9, 1793).

The school year consisted of two sessions. A four weeks' vacation after each session began June 22 and December 22. The morning of every Saturday was employed in repetitions, orations and such scholastic exercises as the president might direct (Trustee. Bk., T.U. Apr. 6, 1795). It was the custom of the students to give annual exhibitions; it was the law of the Seminary to hold public examinations (Oct. 5, 1793; Sept. 28, 1793).

Boarding might be had with Mrs. Richardson at the Seminary, or in the homes of Lexington. For fifteen pounds per annum the student was 'dieted' and his clothes washed and mended, but he had to furnish his own bedding, firewood and candles (Jan 17, 1798).

In 1799 Transylvania Seminary became Translyvania University (Trustees Bk.) Altho changed in name, the institution was not altered much in character. Boarding was continued at the University: breakfast was served at eight, dinner at one, and supper at seven. The steward was obliged to keep the doors of the dormitory open until eight o'clock, but after that he might use his own discretion. Students who kept late hours were to suffer the consequences (Trustee Bk. T.U., Apr. 12, 1799).

In 1800 the students presented a petition to the trustees, asking for the postponement of vacation for a few weeks in order that they might have sufficient time to prepare for the occasion. The request was refused because the time of vacation was set, and the excuse

was not considered valid (Trustee Bk., T.U., Feb. 22, 1800). However in 1805 the vacation periods were shifted, when the spring session was changed to begin the first Monday in May, and the fall session, the first Monday in November. At this time the cost of boarding, tuition, use of library, and fires for recitation rooms was $110 for the year (Trustee Bk., Oct. 1805).

The preceding year (1804) a visitor to the region made, in a letter, the statement that there were professors, but very few students. He averred that the few matriculated spent their time in the pursuit of the inferior and less dignified departments of literature, with almost a total rejection of the scientific and classical training. In his opinion the education was not calculated to form the scholar, the statesman, or the divine. He further remarked that the pupils were not shown the beauties of the classical; hence the common opinion existed then that the study was useless, and the scholar failed to see any of those beauties which had been the admiration of the ages (Feb. 7, 1804).

In 1817, due to differences of opinion among the members of the board, the character and number of the students sank much lower. The investigating committee from the General Assembly reported that the institution was composed mostly of children; and that there were at least two rival institutions on a private establishment in the town; one of these, of considerable magnitude, filled with the youth of a more mature age, and extorting a price of tuition triple that demanded by the University, eclipsed the government school. The reason that the committee gave for this was the division among the school board in political and religious matters. Altho the board could ensure a salary of $2,000 per year, there had been no permanent president for eight or nine years. The board had thought of calling Dr. Holley of Boston to the presidency; but before the committee appointed by it could act, its powers were withdrawn, - not because the capacity, or talents of Dr. Holley were doubted, or that his moral conduct was reproachable, or his christian deportment called in question; but merely because of the report that he had adopted some sentiments formerly entertained by the celebrated orator, Priestly, which did not exactly quadrate with Calvanistic orthodoxy. (Another instance of this bigotry occurred in 1816, after Dr. Blythe's resignation. the celebrated Judge Cooper of Carlyle College, and the Rev. Mr. Rice, a missionary from Boston, were nominated for the office of president. Altho nothing was known of Mr. Rice's ability, except that he was a good pulpit orator, he received the nomination; whereas all literary and scientific men vouched for Judge Cooper. The indignant writer of this article said" "T.U. can never be expected to be great, until its managers think and feel with the great majority of people of the West, and consult popular opinion a little." (cf. Gazette.)

Even the faculty did not escape the criticism of the legislature's investigating committee. They were accused of showing dislike for their own government, and of upholding the British constitution as a model of beauty and excellence (Feb. 5, 1816). At the suggestion of this committee, a bill was passed limiting definitely the trustees' tenure of office to two years, and making their election depend upon the joint action of both branches of the legislature. Furthermore the governor and judges of the supreme court of the state were to be trustees ex officio (Feb. 19, 1816).

Altho the students might be few in number, the regular routine of school life was continued. The examinations were held as usual, beginning the first Monday in April, and lasting three days. Orations were delivered every afternoon of examination week at three o'clock in the Market Street Church. On Wednesday at "candle-lighting time" the Junior class read a few dissertations on some interesting subjects in natural philosophy (Mar. 31, 1817). At the end of the summer session a ticket of merit, stating that the bearer was first or second in his class, was given "at the 3 or 4 monthly examinations." In the December examinations, on account of the difficulty of deciding on the winner, tickets were distributed which bore testimony that the bearer had not missed a solitary word. The winners were further honored by publication of their names in the newspaper. In these tests only the languages were considered (Apr. 21, 1817).

The investigation and consequent action of the legislature seems to have given new life to the institution. In a catalogue of the officers and students of 1820, the following number of students was given: medical, 34; senior sophisters, 7; junior sophisters, 16; sophomores, 24; freshmen, 7; irregular, 9; ______________ 39; preparatory department, 99; - making a total of 235. These figures are exclusive of the 28 in the class in natural history, and of several medical students, studying in Lexington, but not matriculated (Jan. 7, 1820).

At various times the students engaged in patriotic exercises. On July 4, 1802 three appropriate orations were delivered by Transylvania students (July 10, 1802). In 1820 Washington’s birthday was celebrated by an oration, pronounced in the chapel at eleven a.m. On the same occasion, J.C. Breckinridge Esq. delivered a discourse "adapted the illustrate the connection of the occasion with the interests of learning, and of the University." (Feb. 18, 1820).

On the coming of Dr. Holley in 1818 Transylvania began really to do university work. One of the first acts of the new president was to address the legislature and to secure a more liberal grant (Jan. 8, 1819). This was the beginning of that wonderful period of development which gave promise of making Transylvania the Harvard of the West.

Transcribed February 2001 by pb

Back to Delcamp's Table of Contents

Back to Fayette County Genealogy and History