Auburn, NY: 1867. Full sheep record book stamped in gilt on spine and boards. Foot of spine perished and boards rubbed; front hinge cracked but holding. Containing 113 manuscript pages in the hand of Lena M. Gould, daughter of Michigan businessman Amos Gould, during her time as a student at a New York women's seminary. The notebook contains three key sections: notes and short essays for her Intellectual Colloquy 35 pages), notes and short essays for a colloquy on religion (35 pages), notes keeping a running dialogue of commentary documenting discussion of her and classmates in her Moral Philosophy Colloquy (43 pages). The result is a research rich document not only revealing one young woman grappling with ethical questions of the world, but further showing how she and her peers used a space of higher learning to debate, raise more complex questions, and rely on each other to improve their understanding.
Lena was 18 years old at the time she recorded these notes at the Young Ladies Institute of Auburn New York, far away from the town of Owasso, Michigan, where her father was a founding father and prominent businessman (as such, his papers are now housed at the University of Michigan). It was a rigorous school whose graduates included Elizabeth Custer, and it took Lena out of her safe and familiar Midwestern home to the far reach of upstate New York. The school sat in the small town of Auburn, roughly equidistant to Rochester on the west and Syracuse to the east. While the present notebook is limited to three classes in her final year, it is an incredibly revealing document. Here, we see the near final product of the institute -- a young woman articulating complex questions about the world, and capable of engaging with others in discussion about them.
The first two sections show the Socratic method being used in the institute's classrooms. First, Lena copies out a broad question provided by the, for example, "What is meant by the essence of mind versus matter?, " "Is the life of the vegetable and the animal alike?," or "Can you give satisfactory reasons for believing the bible to be from God and not the invention of man?" Then, drawing on her own reading and research, as well as her own circumspection, deduction, and induction, she composes essays on the topics. It is notable that she is not required to provide answers only; indeed, her essays are rife with further questions designed to complicate the topic and unpack its complex relationships to other ideas and concepts, including instinct, sentience, and faith.
The final section shows Lena engaging with her peers in this fashion. A question posed by the instructor leads the women to discuss with each other -- and Lena is careful to note classmates' names like characters speaking in a play. She even names herself in the third person, recording her responses and contributions. The result is striking; and it suggests that these three courses were not taken simultaneously, but were designed to unfold one after the other, training the young women to become logical thinkers as well as orators. Again, Lena and the women raise questions as well as giving answers. And thus the notebook troubles stereotypes of Victorian women's education being limited to domestic graces and "feminine" arts. Sadly, like so many women of the age, Lena would die young in childbirth only ten years later, according to town census and grave records. Unable to use her education to create long-term change in her lifetime, this surviving record is her legacy.
An incredibly rich document, presenting research opportunities including but not limited to the history of women's education, the history of education in America, genealogy, the relationship between philosophy and religion, private versus public education, the role of boarding schools in women's communities, oratory and argument construction, and paleography. (Item #3419)