The education of girls in New England in the decades after the United States became a new nation will be the topic of a special event at Gloucester’s Sargent House Museum, along with the unveiling of a gift to the museum.
The public event takes place Sunday, April 14, at 2 p.m.; the program is titled “Ornaments of the Mind: Needlework and a New England Girl’s Education.”
The Sargent House Museum, at 49 Middle St., is readily seen from Gloucester’s Main Street. The house was built in 1782 for Judith Sargent Stevens (1751-1820), a philosopher, writer and an early advocate of women’s equality. After her husband died, she married John Murray, the founder of Universalism in America after he moved to Gloucester.
Guest speaker will be Laura Johnson, associate curator of Historic New England, who will present a lecture on “female academies” of the early 19th century founded by such women as Judith Sargent Murray, Judith Saunders and Clementina Beach.
“Female education was an essential component of Judith Sargent Murray’s understanding of the promise of the Enlightenment and the principles of equality and justice that formed the intellectual basis of the new republic,” according to a press release. In that era, girls learned reading, writing and arithmetic as well as how to paint in oil and watercolor and do needlework.
Barbara Silberman, president of the Sargent House, said the museum recently acquired an excellent example of this intricate needlework. The piece was originally presented to Nancy Parsons Sargent by her nieces Anna Williams and Julia Maria Murray, the latter Judith Sargent Murray’s only child. The needlework was handed down through the Sargent family and donated by Virginia Pleasants. Her niece will discuss the Sargent family connections.
The work is based on a painting by Angelica Kauffman (1740–1807). The composition depicts Cornelia, a model of what the ancient Romans called “civic” motherhood. In the image, Cornelia, a Roman mother, is with another matron who shows off her jewels; and when this woman asks to see Cornelia’s gems, she brings out her two sons, claiming that they are her true treasures, according to a blog about the image.