In putting together this exhibit, we selected books from the Florida State University Libraries' collections published in 1851, the year of the legislative act that established the Seminary West of the Suwannee. In January of 1851, four schools advertised for students in the Tallahassee paper The Floridian: the Leon Female Academy, the Quincy Male and Female Academy, the Atheneum Classical Institute at Bradford, and Tallahassee High School. From territorial days until 1857 when the West Florida Seminary was finally located in Tallahassee, a series of private schools, tutors, and governesses educated the local white children. Schools for boys came and went until 1850, when the City Council established a Free School for the education of boys. The Free School evolved into the Florida Institute whose lands and buildings were deeded to the State as part of the arrangement for the establishement of the West Florida Seminary at Tallahassee. The education of girls during the same period was more stable due to the existence of the Leon Female Academy which was founded in 1844 and absorbed by the Seminary in 1858, when instruction was opened to girls as well as boys. In that year, the City Council agreed to pay $6.26 per quarter for every child in the city over the age of seven to be taught at the Seminary. The education offered was typical of the times. For boys, classes in mathematics, the classics, Greek and Latin, natural history (the biological sciences) and natural philosophy (the physical sciences), history, English (which included rhetoric, composition, declamation, and literature), and logic. For girls, a modern language (generally French), arithmetic, English, history, piano, and the ornamental arts (drawing, painting, needlework, and wax work).
In looking at these books, we may speculate on how many of these titles might have been read by local inhabitants or used in the education of local students. Many of the residents of Tallahassee traveled regularly for business, to visit families and friends, and to escape the yellow fever epidemics that swept through the area regularly. Undoubtedly, they returned with books. Books were precious on the Florida frontier and would have been shared among friends and neighbors. They would have been carefully preserved against the effects of climate. They served as a means of recreation, as well as a source of education and reference. Many of the books included in our list are by authors well known in the twenty-first century but still struggling for recognition in the middle of the nineteenth. Some were well known in their own time and are mostly unknown by us now. The subjects include the nascent sciences, art, mathematics, archaeology, and collections of poetry and songs. There is some fiction, including first editions of Moby Dick and The House of the Seven Gables. Overall, the list of authors publishing that year is impressive, including Herman Melville, Alfred Tennyson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Washington Irving, Caroline Bowles Southey, Grace Greenwood, Louis Agassiz, Hans Christian Andersen, Lydia Sigourney, John Greenleaf Whittier, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas De Quincey, John Ruskin, Henry Schoolcraft, Augustus Gould, Leigh Hunt, and Charles Kingsley. Some of these books show the effects of their age and actual use by previous owners or library patrons, others are still in almost new condition.
We hope that you will find this glimpse into the past as fascinating as it has been for us to prepare it for you.
Lucia Patrick, Ph.D.
Deborah Rouse, MLS