South Carolina: 1856-1857. Manuscript friendship book compiled during the academic year 1856-1857 at Orangeburg Female College of South Carolina. Comprised of 36 pages in a variety of hands, signed by women students and teachers of the schools, in addition to 9 inserted pieces. Bound in an ornate pebbled leather and gilt Album of Beauty, with all edges gilt and featuring engravings of young women throughout. Ownership signatures of Lizzie M. Solomons to front endpaper and rear pastedown. According to her own contributions to the album, Lizzie's family was from Spartanburg and she was enrolled at Orangeburg. Throughout, she is referred to by teachers as Mary (likely Elizabeth Mary) and by her cohort of friends as Cuttie. The present album is a unique example of the relationships of educated women from two different early Southern seminaries -- one highly conservative, and the other which would in a decade become absorbed into the state's first historically black college.
Both Spartanburg and Orangeburg Female Colleges were early examples of women's seminaries in the South. For the former, the maintenance of a Southern cultural identity was a cornerstone; and the President's inaugural address emphasized the specific role of female education in the South: "Women were expected to be good mothers...without proper education, he lamented in his talk, women were susceptible to corruption. Education provided the solution to maintaining a proper Southern Culture" (Richmond). Of Orangeburg, a bit less is known. But approximately a decade after Lizzie's enrollment in the college, it became a part of Claflin University, the state's first major historically black college founded in 1869 for the education of freedmen and their children. Across these two spaces, the women in Lizzie's album reach out to each other to reflect on friendship, distance, and growth into adulthood.
At the book's opening, Lizzie writes an introductory request to those who come across it: "The album's request. Greet my petition with a smile As to each friend I roam Detain me but a little while. Write and return me home." As the women travel from campus to home and back, they follow her request and leave a variety of personal notes, original poetry, and sentiments for her to peruse and reflect on -- possibly as they depart for holiday breaks, but possibly because Lizzie was graduating. "May you look back on these our school days with pleasure, and when you recall these happy hours you have spent with your friends at this place, may I not be forgotten," writes her friend on Isabella on one page. On another, Clara writes "The time has almost arrived for us to part. In a few, a very few, days we will be locked in each other's embrace for the last time, perhaps, and the brief words of parting spoken." The women all express deep connection and a sense of the importance of their relationships; but they are also aware of the reality of separation, particularly when they were destined to be wives and mothers in separate communities. Yet there is also touching and personal advice enclosed, which suggests something about who Lizzie was as a person. For example, an entry from one of her teachers advises "Take no more trouble to yourself than that which may arise necessarily out of your circumstances in life. Accustom yourself to look at the bright side of the picture; avoid moody and morbid contemplation of sorrows and misfortunes." Perhaps J. Wofford Tucker, her teacher, experienced Lizzie as a brooding and moody young woman; more likely, given the lighthearted joyfulness of many of the young women's entries, the instructor hoped Lizzie could maintain this attitude as she encountered the inevitable hardships of womanhood.
Ripe for research, the album could interest scholars in genealogy, the history of education, the history of Southern culture, gender studies, education leading up to the Civil War, paleography, and literature. (Item #3062)