Michigan Female Seminary: Education for Women

The Michigan Female Seminary was established in 1856 under the auspices of the Presbyterian Synod of Michigan. Located on a 31 acre bluff overlooking Gull Road and what is now Riverview Drive, the Seminary stood as a landmark in the city for more than half a century, and provided a high quality education for the young women of the area.

Origin

The seminary movement began in 1727, and by 1871 there were over 162 such schools across the country. The Michigan Female Seminary was patterned after one located in Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts and soon came to be known as the "Mount Holyoke of the West." Although at its peak it could accommodate 100 girls, the average enrollment was nearer to 60.

Michigan Female Seminary

Curriculum

The school day began for the girls at 7:00 in the morning when the maid awakened them with a ringing bell. Required academic subjects included the histories of Greece, Rome, and England, botany, geology, ethics, American and English literature, math, and foreign languages. Additional classes in the Bible, art, culture, and cooking were also taught. Music was a specialty of the school and by 1900 the seminary owned fifteen pianos. Concerts were given both at the school and in town by the girls and by visiting pianists. The curriculum was so strong that graduates were admitted to the University of Michigan with the equivalent of two years college credit.

Sunday Activities

Each girl was required to attend church every Sunday at the Presbyterian church in the center of town. The entire student population walked to church, and in the afternoon they rewrote the sermon. School rules dictated that the girls were "not to make or receive calls on the Sabbath, nor are they expected to spend a Sunday away from the Seminary during term time."

End of Seminary

Enrollment steadily declined from 1900 until the school finally closed in 1907, only forty years after it had opened. The building was torn down in 1935, and some of the original building materials were used to construct St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on the same site. The church is still in use.

Sources

Compendium of History and Biography of Kalamazoo County, Mich.

  • Chicago: A. W. Bowen & Co., [1906], pages105-106H 977.417 F53

History Room Subject File: Michigan Female Seminary

"A Michigan Landmark Passes"

  • Michigan History, Winter 1936, volume 20, page 59 

"Michigan Female Seminary"

  • Michigan History, March 1961, volume 45, page 57

Western Michigan University Regional History Collections: Michigan Female Seminary