National Geographic : 1962 Sep
Seminary's young ladies crown an honor student OWNERS of the Virginia plantation on the page opposite may well have sent their daughters to a nearby boarding school, or seminary. The curriculum included literature, history, and languages, often taught by college graduates preparing to enter the ministry or law practice, possibly the frock-coated young gentlemen at right. Women faculty members taught the more feminine arts. Sewing, embroidery, music, and painting were combined with dancing, beadwork, and papyrotamia, or cutting paper designs so fashionable for valentines. From the painting classes came many examples of amateur art characterized by delicate coloring and sweet sentiment. Richmond, Norfolk, and Williamsburg were among Virginia cities that had semi naries for young ladies by the early 1800's. Educators differed on whether women should receive schooling on a par with men. Said one: "Women are not destined to be Navigators, nor Opticians... nor Doctors in Medicine." But he obviously was not master of the school whose prospectus announced that its young ladies were "expected to study philosophy from the original text of the master and use no easy compendiums." Here a dignified company gathers for a graduation exercise. The music stops, the valedictorian reads, and a lady in waiting places a wreath on the head of an honor student. High-waisted gowns reflect the neoclassic fashions of about 1810. The unknown artist of "A Ceremonial at a Young Ladies' Seminary" probably was a student of botany and possibly a painting instructor at the school. He reveals amateur status only in inability to depict figures correctly. Composition and subtle harmonies reveal natural talent. Complex organization of space, involving the receding vistas at left and right, suggests a stage setting.