Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps

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Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps
Born Almira Hart
(1793-07-15)July 15, 1793
Berlin, Connecticut, U.S.
Died July 15, 1884(1884-07-15) (aged 91)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Occupation educator, author, editor
Language English
Nationality American
Genre nature writing, novel, essay, memoir
Simeon Lincoln
(m. 1817; d. 1823)
John Phelps (m. 1831)

Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps (July 15, 1793 – July 15, 1884) was a 19th-century American educator, author, and editor. Though she primarily wrote regarding nature, she also was a writer of novels, essays, and memoir.[1]

Phelps was a native of Connecticut. Her long and active life was devoted to the education of young women. She published several popular[2] science textbooks in the fields of botany, chemistry, and geology.[3] Some of her works worthy of special commemoration include, The Blue Ribbon Society; The School Girls Rebellion; Christian Households; Familiar Lectures on Botany; Our Country and its Relation to the Present, Past and Future; and The Fireside Friend.[4] Her views on topics ranging from elocution to corsets are contained in Lectures to Young Ladies, Comprising Outlines and Applicaitons of the Different Branches of Female Education for the User of Female Schools, and Private Libraries.[5]

Early years and education

Almira Hart was born on July 15, 1793, in Berlin, Connecticut. She was the youngest of 17 children,[1] growing up in an intellectual, independently thinking, and religious environment.[2]

One of her most inspirational mentors of her life was her older sister Emma Hart Willard. While living with her sister, she was also mentored by John Willard and three of his fellow students who also came to live in the Willard household. She studied mathematics and philosophy.[6]


At the age of 16, Hart began her teaching career in district schools. She later continued her own education. In 1814, she opened her first boarding school for young women at her home in Berlin; and two years later, she became principal of a school in Sandy Hill, New York.[2]

In 1817, Hart married Simeon Lincoln and left her career for six years to be a housewife and mother to her three children. After her husband’s untimely death in 1823, she returned to the education world as "Almira Hart Lincoln". She became a teacher and vice-principal at the well-known Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York. While teaching at there, her interests in science increased, and her botanical career began under the influence of Amos Eaton. While under his direction, Phelps found her passion in botany, noticing the lack of introductory textbooks for secondary and beginning college level students. This led Phelps to write and publish her first and most notable textbook in 1829, Familiar Lectures on Botany.[2]

In 1830, with the absence of her sister, Phelps served as acting as principal of the Troy Female Seminary and gave a series of lectures related to female education that she would later publish as her second book, Lectures to Young Ladies. She remarried in 1831 to John Phelps, a lawyer and politician from Vermont. Taking the name "Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps", she once again gave up her career to raise a second family but continued to write new textbooks on chemistry, natural philosophy, and education.

In 1838, the West Chester Young Ladies Seminary was opened in West Chester, Pennsylvania.The school was run by a local medical doctor, Jesse W. Cook. Mrs. Phelps was appointed principal of the literary department. Her step daughter Eunice Phelps was appointed assistant principal, and step daughter Ann Phelps and daughter Emma Lincoln were appointed teachers. Her husband John Phelps had no position at the school and opened a business office in town. < Hinds, Grover “Howard County Maryland; Family letters” p. 4. />

Almost from the very beginning there was conflict between the Cooks and Phelpses. The Phelpses were unhappy about Mrs. Cook’s interference in running the school, including bothering the staff. <Eunice Phelps to Helen Phelps, January 16, 1839, private collection. /> John Phelps considered Dr. Cook to be an amiable and courteous man, but unable to run the school properly and with no idea about how to properly educate young women. < Hinds, p 4. />

As early as December, 1838, Mrs. Phelps was considering leaving. She consulted a member of the Biddle family trying to gain support for opening a girl’s school in Philadelphia. No support was forthcoming and Mrs. Phelps remained at West Chester. In April, 1839, Mrs. Phelps offered her position to step daughter, Helen Phelps. Mrs. Phelps considered her position as defined by Dr. Cook as beneath her. Helen refused the offer. < Almira Phelps to Helen Phelps, April, 16, 1839, private collection. /> In the spring of 1839, John Phelps had conditionally leased a building in Philadelphia, so Mrs. Phelps could open her own school. Mrs. Phelps refused to leave West Chester. Mr. and Mrs. Phelps were at an impasse. He believed his strong willed wife should not be working for anyone else. Mrs. Phelps was concerned about self-financing her own school. < Hinds, p 5. />

The break with the Cooks was final by the summer of 1839. Mrs. Phelps traveled to New York to interview with the Rev. John F. Schroeder (1800 - 1857) who opened a school, St. Ann’s Hall at Flushing, Long Island that year. John Phelps followed after his wife and finally persuaded her to open her own school. John Phelps made arrangements to lease a building in Rahway, New Jersey and Mrs. Phelps had her own school in 1839. < Eunice Phelps to John W. Phelps, September 3, 1839, private collection. /> Many of the students from West Chester followed Mrs. Phelps to Rahway. The West Chester School did not survive the split between Mrs. Phelps and Dr. Cook and closed. None of Mrs. Phelps’ step daughters taught at Rahway. Eunice married and remained at West Chester,  Ann moved to Camden, South Carolina to teach for her sister Stella, and Helen had her own school in Brooklyn, New York. < Hinds, pp. 5-6, 29-30n. />

Ellicott Mills (now Ellicott City) had both a boy’s school, Rock Hill, and a girl’s school, the Patapsco Female Institute (PFI). By 1840, neither was doing well. The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, William R. Whittingham, had a personal interest in education and became involved in both schools. The Rev. Alfred Holmead transferred from Baltimore County to run Rock Hill and Bishop Whittingham, personally interviewed Mrs. Phelps to become the principal of the PFI. One of the conditions for her hire was that Mrs. Phelps had to have a chaplain on the payroll. Rev. Holmead became the first chaplain at PFI. In 1841, the Phelpses closed the Rahway school and took over the PFI on a seven years lease.  Mrs. Phelps was very hands on with her students, and had a good relationship with them. Mrs. Phelps emphasized academic achievement to enable a young woman to support herself, if necessary, as a teacher or governess/teacher. To that end Mrs. Phelps actively, sought positions for her students. < Hinds, pp. 7-9, 30-31n. />

While at PFI, Mrs. Phelps textbook sales made her a successful author. She had her daughter, Jane Lincoln < Jane Lincoln to Marion Stafford, November 26, 1844, private collection. /> and step daughter Helen Phelps edit new editions of her text books. <John and Almira Phelps to Helen Phelps, April 9, 1845, private collection./> The Phelpses renewed their lease in 1848 for another seven years.  John Phelps died in 1849. Mrs. Phelps toured Europe in 1854 and her oldest daughter, Emma Phelps O’Brien, ran the PFI while she was gone. In 1855, her second lease had expired. She stayed on an extra year. The school was expanded so that the student body at the girl's school run in Baltimore by her successor, Robert H. Archer, could be accommodated at PFI. <Hinds, pp. 19-21./>

In 1859, Phelps was the third woman elected as a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. After gaining her membership, Phelps continued to write, lecture, and revise her textbooks until she died in Baltimore on her 91st birthday, July 15, 1884.[2]

Select works

  • Familiar Lectures on Botany (1829)
  • Dictionary of Chemistry (1830)
  • Botany for Beginners (1831)
  • Geology for Beginners (1832)
  • Female Student; or, Fireside Friend (1833)
  • Chemistry for Beginners (1834)
  • Lectures on Natural Philosophy (1835)
  • Lectures on Chemistry (1837)
  • Natural Philosophy for Beginners (1837)
  • Hours With My Pupils (1869)
  • Caroline Westerly (1833)
  • Ida Norman (1850)
  • Christian Household (1860)


  1. ^ a b Patterson, Thompson & Bryson 2008, p. 281.
  2. ^ a b c d e Rudolph, Emanuel D. (1984). "Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps (1793–1884) and the Spread of Botany in Nineteenth Century America". American Journal of Botany. 71 (8): 1161–1167. doi:10.2307/2443392. JSTOR 2443392. 
  3. ^ Salvatori 2003, p. 95.
  4. ^ Shepherd 1911, p. 116.
  5. ^ Gold, & Hobbs 2013, p. 100.
  6. ^ Abir-Am & Outram 1987, pp. 77, 79, 86, 87.


  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Blandin, Isabella Margaret Elizabeth (1909). History of Higher Education of Women in the South Prior to 1860 (Public domain ed.). Neale Publishing Company. 
  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Shepherd, Henry Elliot (1911). The Representative Authors of Maryland: From the Earliest Time to the Present Day, with Biographical Notes and Comments Upon Their Work (Public domain ed.). Whitehall Publishing Company. 


  • Abir-Am, Pnina G.; Outram, Dorinda (1987). Uneasy Careers and Intimate Lives: Women in Science, 1789-1979. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-1256-3. 
  • Gold, David; Hobbs, Catherine L. (2 May 2013). Rhetoric, History, and Women's Oratorical Education: American Women Learn to Speak. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-10494-8. 
  • Patterson, Daniel; Thompson, Roger; Bryson, J. Scott (2008). Early American Nature Writers: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-34680-4. 
  • Salvatori, Mariolina Rizzi (1 August 2003). Pedagogy: Disturbing History, 1820-1930. University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 978-0-8229-7246-4. 

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