Portraits of American Women Writers That Appeared in Print Before 1861 - Header and Menu


ALMIRA H. L. PHELPS (1793 – 1884)

Sarah J. Hale, ed. Woman’s Record (1853), p. 770; also 1855 ed.

ALMIRA H. L. PHELPS (1793 – 1884)

The youngest of seventeen children, Almira Phelps received much of her education in her family's house, where her siblings debated literature and politics, and at the local district school. After traveling around New England to study and teach, she returned to her hometown of Berlin, Connecticut, and opened a boarding school for girls in her family's home.

When her first husband, editor Simeon Lincoln, died in 1823, Almira Phelps went to Troy to teach at the female seminary that her sister, Emma Willard, had founded. There she began to write her first texts, and Familiar Letters on Botany (1829) launched her career as a science textbook writer. She wrote books on chemistry, geology, and natural philosophy, thus opening up these subjects for popular instruction all over the country.

In 1831 she married John Phelps, the widowed father of one of her students, and together they moved around the country taking positions as teachers and administrators. Invited by the Episcopal Bishop of Maryland to take charge of the Patapsco Female Institute, Almira Phelps took the position and continued to teach there long after her second husband's death.

Determined to teach her student's to resist the era's idealization of frail, helpless women, Almira Phelps taught her students not only the traditional feminine "accomplishments" of music and art, but also practical and moral lessons to prepare them for their domestic futures and "hard" academics such as history, mathematics, and natural science – at that time, subjects usually reserved for young men. Though she advocated quality education for women, she joined the Women's Anti-Suffrage Association and wrote numerous articles voicing her opposition to female enfranchisement.



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