Lawrenceville Female Seminary

Lawrenceville Female Seminary

The Lawrenceville Female Seminary is open by appointment only.
For rentals or programming information, please call 770.904.3500.

In the 19th century, the words “seminary” and “college” were used to describe schools at a variety of levels. A “college” might give instruction either to university students, or to those of high school age and even younger. A “seminary” could be a preparatory school, or offer a college education or graduate and professional training. Seminaries were educational institutions that provided young women with an education comparable to that of college-educated young men. At the time of the seminary’s founding, women were barred from colleges. Although academies for girls existed, their curricula were limited to such “female arts” as conversational French and embroidery.

The Lawrenceville Female Seminary was originally built as a finishing school for the girls living in this area. The town of Lawrenceville was incorporated in 1821 and by the late 1830’s the citizens of the county felt that it had changed from a rough, frontier outpost to something a little more settled. Therefore, the leading citizens decided that it was necessary to build a school for the young women of the county. The Female Seminary was incorporated in 1837 by the Georgia General Assembly and a structure was built in 1838 by Daniel Killian, general contractor. The building was completed on July 31, 1838, and the doors first opened for classes on September 24, 1838. This structure, however, was destroyed by fire (no information available on how the fire began) sometime between October 23, 1850 and July 21, 1851 and a new seminary was erected between 1853 and 1855. This is the building that is standing today. It was built in conjunction with the newly founded Lawrenceville Masonic Lodge, No. 131, Free and Accepted Masons, with the agreement that girls would be instructed on the first floor and the masons would meet on the second floor, acting as caretakers for the building. The Masons are now located in the brick building next door to the Female Seminary.

The girls who attended the Female Seminary came from surrounding farms or were daughters of merchants, attorneys, and doctors from nearby towns. It served as an alternative for girls who were typically educated at home. In the beginning, the girls paid $12 a year for instruction in spelling, reading, writing, and common arithmetic; $20 a year for English grammar, geography, history, Moral Philosophy, and rhetoric; $30 a year for Latin, Greek, algebra, and geometry, or for Natural Philosophy, chemistry, and Astronomy. In addition to the initial fee, parents were required to supply one cord of wood for every four pupils, one-fourth of which had to be light wood, used to heat the school room during the cold winter months.

Miss Martha Wells served as the school’s first teacher, as well as the first principal. However, as was typical in this period of history, the teachers were overwhelmingly male in number at the Female Seminary. The principal’s office was located on the second floor, and he/she would step out of the office each school day and tug on the bell rope, signaling the girls to school. Around 1856, boys were admitted to the school, but they had to be under ten years of age and had to stay at school an hour after the girls left. The rules for allowing boys changed back and forth—first allowing them, and then excluding them—throughout the life of the school.

It seems that the last classes were held around 1888. The Female Seminary building was then used over the next half-century as a “civic center” for the community, frequently housing Kiwanis and Lion Club meetings dinners; as well as meetings for various garden clubs, historical organizations, the PTA, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  In the 1960s, the building was briefly used by the Hi-Hope School for Retarded Children.

The building fell into disrepair and was almost sold to a Dairy Queen franchise in 1971. Local citizens, spear-headed by Mrs. Annette Williams Tucker, put up earnest money and got the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building was restored as nearly as possible to its original appearance.

Today, the facility offers educational programming, which features exhibits on the second floor and the first floor serves as a meeting facility and rental space.

Contact Information
History and Culture Program   770-904-3500
historicsites@gwinnettcounty.com

Rental Program Information 770-904-3502
www.gwinnettEHC.org

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