The end of the semester is quickly approaching. The students enrolled my “The Nineteenth Century City” course have completed the work for our December 2, 2015 presentation at the university’s Gorgas House. There, we will present our research on young women and education in early Alabama and an urbanizing America.
Between the 1830s and 1920, cities increasingly grew in the United States owing partly to the invention of the steamboat and railroads, two technologies that helped people move through space more easily. Historian Gunther Barth has argued that within this period an urban “culture” emerged via the arrival of apartment houses, department stores, baseball, vaudeville houses, and metropolitan newspapers. In such things, as he writes, people with very different racial and ethnic backgrounds managed to find a “common humanity” and learned how to cope in congested spaces.
Notably, Barth did not look to churches or institutions of higher learning for signs of an urbanizing America. This was possibly because in those two spaces he saw more homogeneous populations, or people whose backgrounds were similar.
The students in this course were charged with looking for signs of an urban culture in the lives of young women who attended college during the nineteenth century in and outside of Alabama. Certainly, a female academy existed in Tuscaloosa even before the University of Alabama opened in Tuscaloosa in 1831. As this exhibit hopes to demonstrate, young women in a city that still feels like a college town even today were becoming sophisticated people in the years surrounding the Civil War.
The students studied several documents to learn more about such women and others in West and North Alabama. Among the documents was an 1861 letter from a Huntsville, Alabama, girl of mixed race who attended Wilberforce, after being recently manumitted. Ultimately, the class saw how historians interpret the past while often relying on very little information. The result was four displays that will be presented on 4-5:30 pm December 2 in Gorgas House. Use this interactive map for directions.
We are pleased to have Birmingham Southern University Associate Professor of History Victoria Ott as our guest speaker. Her talk is titled ” A Safe Place to Hide?: The Role of Female Academies in the Confederate South.”
The event is co-sponsored by the Summersell Center for the Study of the South.