Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The School Days of Scarlett O'Hara

"Stuart and Brent considered their latest expulsion a fine joke, and Scarlett, who had not willingly opened a book since leaving the Fayetteville Female Academy the year before, thought it just as amusing as they did."
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter I

"Despite a succession of governesses and two years at the near-by Fayetteville Female Academy, her education was sketchy, but no girl in the County danced more gracefully than she..."
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter III

Quite a while ago now, we explored the education of Ellen Robillard--and now at long last we're pleased to bring you a look at the education of Ellen's own daughter, our heroine Scarlett O'Hara. Like Ellen before her, we know that Scarlett's education culminates at 15, with her graduation from Fayetteville Female Academy. (Fifteen was the typical age that women finished secondary education in the antebellum South.) And Scarlett's education at Fayetteville Female Academy would likely have been very similar to Ellen's own in terms subject matter--reading, writing, mathematics, French, music, dancing and deportment, needlework, etc. 

So knowing this all up front, what is there new to explore here? Well, plenty. You see, we're able to glean a great deal of information about Scarlett's schooling simply from Margaret Mitchell's indication that she attended a female academy, in this case the fictitious Fayetteville Female Academy. So today we're taking an in-depth look at what life would have been like at girls' academies similar to Scarlett's own alma mater, from the dress code t0 the day-to-day schedule to the social outings. 

Like the last post on Ellen's education, my research for this post comes from an amazing book called The Education of the Southern Belle: Higher Education and Student Socialization in the Antebellum South by Christine Anne Farnham. I highly recommend it to anyone who has any interest about women's education or life in general during the antebellum South. It's a fascinating read. Alright, now it's time to get started!

The Basics

The School Year Schedule - Although there was broad variety in school schedules across the South, the school year was normally divided into two terms. Most schools held class from February to mid-July and again from late August through mid-January.  

The Dress Code - Unfortunately for Scarlett and her fellow antebellum fashionistas, most schools enforced strict dress codes. Uniforms were chosen for their simplicity. If the Fayetteville Female Academy's dress code was similar to that of St. Mary's School in Raleigh, North Carolina, for instance, Scarlett would have been expected to don "dark blue for winter and pale blue or white with blue ribbons for summer, worn with a Quaker bonnet of brown straw linked with silk and a banded with a broad blue ribbon that tied under the chin." On the forbidden list? Jewelry, silk fabric, and expensive embroidery or lace. So what would the school day have been like for Scarlett, all dressed up in her plain uniform? Let's find out...

The Daily Schedule

Morning Chapel Services - For most students, male and female, the school day started at sunrise. Religious education was considered of supreme importance, especially in the evangelical South. So it's no surprise that each weekday began with chapel services.  

Breakfast-  Following chapel, breakfast was served. Unfortunately for Scarlett O'Hara and her ravenous appetite, breakfast was often a modest meal, consisting of such fare as coffee and rolls or milk and bread and butter. 

Morning and Early Afternoon Classes - Mornings and early afternoons were reserved for classes, which normally ran 45 minute intervals each. Students rotated serving as "monitresses" who rang bells to signal the start and end of classes. 

Afternoon Walk - Believe it or not, walking excursions were a key component of a young belle's school day. Walks frequently lasted up to two hours of the day and took place either after breakfast or in the late afternoon. So what was the fascination with walking? Walks served several important functions. First, they were one of the very few forms of physical exercise deemed appropriately ladylike for young girls. Secondly, walks were seen as a way to reinforce a feminine appreciation for nature and the study of botany (this was the heyday of the language of flowers and picking bouquets was an encouraged pastime). Moreover, walks served as opportunities for socialization. 

Some schools allowed girls to partner off with friends on walks. But the majority made students parade into town in rows of two, which had the benefit of  attracting the attention of local young men (and potential suitors). So if the Fayetteville Female Academy's walking schedule consisted of the latter variety, Scarlett may have enjoyed it. Otherwise, probably not so much, given that girl bonding was not one of Miss O'Hara's preferred activities.

Dinner - So after all that walking and flower picking, not to mention classwork, Scarlett and her schoolmates would likely be in need of a break. Fortunately, the main meal of the day, dinner, was served in the afternoon (often around 3pm). A common menu would include meat, vegetables, and cornbread, with water to drink, followed by dessert of fresh fruit or pie.  

Free Time, Late Afternoon - When classes weren't in session and there wasn't any walking to be done, students were allotted free time, which was normally spent studying, sewing, visiting friends, writing letters, or practicing musical instruments. (Extra credit to those students who properly guess which activity did not occupy Scarlett's free time!)

Supper - With the day winding down, it was then time for a light supper, which normally consisted of dinner leftovers, along with milk, pie, pancakes, cornmeal mush, and chocolate.

Evening Chapel Services - The school day ended as it began--with chapel services. That just leaves our belles to retire for the evening and start all over again the next day. But, fear not, school wasn't all work and no play for Scarlett and company, as we'll explore in our final section.

Social Events and Other Excursions

Friday Evening Receptions - The main purpose of a young lady's education was, of course, to provide her with the tools needed to fulfill her true calling--marriage. With this in mind, some schools made sure to leave nothing to chance when honing their pupils' all-too-crucial social skills. They held Friday night receptions where students were required to receive guests (often local townsfolk) in the school parlor. During these receptions, young ladies were expected to demonstrate impeccable manners and lead conversations with strangers. 

It was thought that such occasions would allow young ladies to display their much-prized modesty and simplicity, the culminating traits of Southern ladyhood. Yet, regrettably for teachers, many students opted to use these opportunities to further advance their education as belles, employing a more vivacious candor that could be later refined and put to use in attracting beaux. Clearly, we know how Scarlett would have acted in this scenario.

Social Outings Galore - Last but most certainly not least, we come to social outings! For although the schoolday routine was rather regimented, there were still plenty of opportunities for fun at girls' academies. With the Southern zeal for entertaining and camaraderie, most schools offered a wide variety of social events to keep students happily occupied. Here's just a small rundown of some of the outings offered at various girls' academies: dinner parties followed by dancing, lantern slide shows, Fourth of July picnics, fancy dress balls, strawberry parties, day trips, and sleigh rides (if it snowed, of course). Margaret Mitchell says that "scarcely a week went by without its barbecue or ball" in the County, so Fayetteville Female Academy likely joined in the revelry and boasted a full social calendar too. One unfortunate downside? Most school functions were strictly off limits to the opposite sex. Poor Scarlett!

So that ends our look at the world of girls' academies in the antebellum South. But be sure to stay tuned for next week, when we'll take a look at the real-life inspiration for Fayetteville Female Academy: Fayetteville Academy. 

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