Julia Tevis: Women Teaching Women
Julia Tevis: Women Teaching Women
“I confess to an ambitious desire of becoming more than a mere atom floating in the sunbeam of prosperity. I coveted a distinct individuality, yet it is my deliberate opinion that I also loved learning for its own sake.”
--- Julia Ann Hieronymus Tevis, Founder of the Science Hill Female Academy
Julia Ann Hieronymus Tevis (1799-1880) transformed the possibilities for women as both educators and students in 1825, when she founded Science Hill Academy in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Science Hill was among the first secondary schools in the state open to girls and was emblematic of an effort by female teachers to educate female students.
Though she was born in Clark County, Kentucky in 1799, Julia Hieronymus moved with her family to Washington D.C. while she was still a child. Her father was seeking better educational opportunities for his children, and Julia received the highest level of education available to women at the time. Her father often had trouble finding work in Washington. Julia and her mother stayed in Washington with her younger siblings while, her father took a job as an Indian agent in Missouri in 1820. He died months later in Missouri. On the brink of financial disaster, Julia secured a teaching job in Wytheville, Virginia. Her mother and younger siblings followed supported by Julia’s teaching salary.
Julia took another teaching job in Abingdon, VA where she met Rev. John Tevis, an itinerant Methodist minister from Kentucky. He proposed marriage via a letter and the couple married on March 9, 1824 with the understanding that Julia would continue to teach after they married. The reverend covered a 900 square mile territory and was often away from home, allowing Julia to be rather independent.
One year after their marriage, Tevis founded The Science Hill Female Academy in her husband’s hometown of Shelbyville, KY. She had a newborn baby (the first of seven children) and taught 35 students during the first year.
Tevis and Science Hill:
Tevis managed a hectic schedule. Not only was she a wife and mother of seven children, she taught classes and oversaw a school that increased in size each year. By 1838, Tevis had 65 young women boarding at the school that year. The school term was 10 months. Each July and August the Tevis’ used their “time off” to expand the campus for the increasing student body.
Tevis developed a rigorous curriculum that included philosophy, theology, algebra, geology, botany, and astronomy. Later the curriculum expanded to include trigonometry, chemistry, physiology, geology and psychology. Tevis also supplied the students’ everyday needs, which she meticulously tracked.
By 1852, 250 girls attended the academy. Students were primarily from Kentucky as well as Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Texas and California.
Tevis advocated for equal education in science for women. Despite advice to “let Chemistry alone” as a subject better suited for men, Tevis built a chemistry lab at Science Hill in the early 1850s.
“Chemistry is especially requisite for the successful progress of our inquires and researches into the nature of those things whence we derive the means of our comfort, our happiness, our luxuries, our health, and even our existence…In an experimental science, where truth lies within our reach, we should make use of our senses and judge for ourselves.”
--- Julia Ann Hieronymus Tevis
Despite the Tevis’ anti-slavery sentiments, Science Hill remained a popular school among Southern families. Rev. Tevis died in 1861 from poor health. The academy stayed open through the Civil War, with students from the deep South boarding year-round in the sanctuary of the school. After she turned 70, Tevis began to slowly relinquish her administrative duties but continued to teach. She sold the school in 1878 to Dr. Poynter. The academy remained open until 1933. It is estimated that 3,000 women were educated at Science Hill Academy.