My biography of Julia Wilbur focuses on her time in Alexandria, with doses of the Rochester area before the war and Washington, DC, after it.
But she was born in 1815 in Milan, NY, near Poughkeepsie, and spent her earliest years in Dutchess and Columbia counties. For at least a year, she attended Nine Partners Boarding School. The school is famous as the Quaker school that educated Lucretia Mott, Daniel Anthony (father of Susan B.), and other prominent reformers.
And, here's something cool that turned up in my life recently--a picture of the school, drawn by Julia, in 1829!
Provenance of the Drawing
A few months ago, while doing one of my umpteenth "julia wilbur" Google searches, I came across something new--newly showing up on Google, that is. A brochure from a 2009 conference on the area's Quaker roots by the Dutchess County Historical Society used illustrations of drawings and a sampler by none other than "our" Julia! The originals, as captioned in the brochure, belonged to a private collector and to Oakwood Friends School, the present incarnation of the original Nine Partners Boarding School.
I emailed the info@ address of Oakwood. A few days later I heard from student archivist Matthew Voorhees. He wrote, "I was forwarded your email and was excited about this information. It is always nice to learn about former students - even if it was over a hundred and fifty years ago. I recognized her name immediately and knew that in the Alson and Irene Van Wagner Archives Room here in the library, there was a copybook that she had written in 1829."
As Matthew juggled the rest of his life (including getting ready to graduate), he scanned and shared pages from Julia's "copybook," as well as the illustration above. (The copybook consisted of just that--poems written by others, copied by her; alas, no original works.)
Despite being super-excited when I saw the drawing, I had to put on my skeptic's hat. As you can see from the notes at the bottom of the drawing, Julia annotated it later in life. And she never talked much about her artistic side. So did she draw it?
Matthew looked again at the original with magnifying glasses. He said he discovered "two other signatures. Julia Wilbur - 1829 written in a different, much more faded ink. Then with the glasses I was able to make out Julia Augusta Wi- the rest of the last name had torn unfortunately. My theory is she signed it in the corner with the much lighter ink that matches the color used on the edges of the building. Then sometime later, someone possibly of the Wilbur family or wherever it was before wrote her name and when she attended."
I know from the handwriting that Julia herself annotated the picture later. She might have made up a packet of papers to give to the school. As an adult, she periodically visited Dutchess County and could have stopped in. Several family members still lived in the area, as did a lifelong friend and fellow Nine Partners student named Sally Ann Ferris.
Matthew also sent a copy of an 1816 drawing that looks very similar to Julia's 1829 rendition. Perhaps drawing the school was a common assignment, along the lines of copying lines of poetry. Still, it is amazing to envision Nine Partners students drawing and coloring these illustrations, and the tints have remained more or less intact 200 years later.
Nine Partners, now Oakwood
The Nine Partners were, as the name suggests, nine settlers who received land patents in the late 1600s-early 1700s from the New York governor of the time. Thus, they became the early movers and shakers of the area. Julia claimed lineage to one of them through her mother, Mary Lapham.
Nine Partners Boarding School opened in 1796. According to a 1920 article in the Bulletin of Friends' Historical Society, "There was a certain prestige in having attended Nine Partners and many old pupils still revere its memory." It was coed in that both girls and boys could enroll, about 100 to 150 in all, but they attended separate classes and had little contact.
Lucretia Coffin Mott attended in the early 1800s, about 20 years before Julia, as a student and teaching assistant, and she met her husband James there. According to Carol Faulkner, author of Lucretia Mott's Heresy, boarding schools like Nine Partners were set up in rural areas to inculcate Quaker values and discourage materialism. The school taught reading, math, and the like to both sexes, as well as "business and domestic employment," separated by age and sex. Many people like the Motts embarked on lives as abolitionists, grounded in their Nine Partners education.
The school building that Julia (and others) drew closed in 1863. Its endowment transferred to the Friends Academy at Union Springs, which became Oakwood Seminary, and now Oakwood Friends. Oakwood Friends is a flourishing school with students in grades 6 to 12.
School Days for Julia Wilbur
Like many 19th-century middle class children, especially girls, Julia attended a number of different schools, patching together an education without attaining a degree. In 1828, around the time she attended Nine Partners, her father purchased land near Rochester. I do not know the exact chronology (and have not to date discovered her own account), but she may have needed to leave Nine Partners and Dutchess County to join her family in this next stage in their lives. Throughout her life, she spoke well of the school and remembered Dutchess County with nostalgia, in part because it represented her girlhood.
*Thanks also to Charles Lenhart, a family member of Julia Wilbur through her father, for sharing some of this background information with me.