While in Connecticut visiting G’s family, we took a side trip to Farmington, Connecticut. We learned several months ago that G’s grandmother had attended Miss Porter’s School beginning in 1909, so we set off one Sunday morning to see “Nan’s” school.
Farmington is a quaint little village with a big history. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington passed through the village on six separate occasions. He called Farmington “the village of pretty houses.” Indeed, it is filled with historic colonial homes.
The village was also known as “Grand Central Station” on the Underground Railroad or Freedom Trial. Many slaves passed through here aided by the villagers on their way to freedom. The Amistad captives were sheltered here after they took over the slave ship that was carrying them to America. They received a court trial and were returned to Africa from whence they came.
Map of Underground Railroad
Miss Porter’s School was easy to find since it occupies much of the village center. Miss Porter’s School is an exclusive college preparatory school for girls. The school is a significant historic and cultural institution in its own right. It was founded in 1843 by educational reformer Sarah Porter. Miss Porter’s has long been one of the most selective preparatory schools for girls in the country. Famous alumni include Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lilly Pulitzer and members of the Bush, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller families. (At the end of this post is a more extensive school history taken from their website.)
New Place Dormitory where “Nan” was housed.
Along the Farmington River lies a trail system that runs along the old railroad bed. We didn’t get to the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail or River Trail, but we were told that it is very nice. We hope to return one day when the Historical Society and Museum are open to satisfy our curiosity about the “village of pretty houses.”
Early students at Miss Porter’s School
Stanley-Whitman House c. 17th Century American Architecture,
Old Stone Schoolhouse 1790’s
1830’s Farmington Canal
1870’s Post-Civil War
1880’s Meeting House Square
1900’s Round Hill
Post Office & Stage Coach in 1906
Farmington. Miss Porter’s School is center photo.
Humphrey Dormitory for Seniors
Colony Dormitory for seniors
Crisp Athletic Center
Hamilton – English & History Departments – School Website
Thomas Hart Hooker House c. 1770
Office of Admissions
Pool and Squash Building
Sarah Porter Memorial Building
Village of Pretty Houses
Peter Curtis Home – Blacksmith
Samuel Smith Home 1769, Horace Cowles 1782-1841
Major Timothy Cowles House 1815
Chauncy Cowles Home 1846
Deming Lewis Home 1740
24 Main Street
St. James Episcopal Church
This may have been the church “Nan” attended each Sunday.
First Church of Christ Congregational Church 1652
Sarah Porter came from an illustrious and learned Farmington family. Her father was the minister of the Congregational Church for 60 years, and one of her brothers was the president of Yale University. She received the most advanced education available to a young woman of her time, including tutoring by Yale professors. A life-long scholar, she not only mastered four languages, but taught herself Hebrew when she was in her 80s. In 1843, she founded Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Conn. The school, which had only 18 students its first year, grew with the support of a progressive group of Farmington fathers who wanted their daughters to be educated in the liberal arts. By the 1880s, Miss Porter’s School had risen to national prominence and boasted nearly 100 young women as students. Sarah Porter emphasized traditional values and the importance of educating women. She recognized the value and importance of service to others, and believed that women must be prepared to shape the future by educating their own families and running their households. As such, she made certain that the school was welcoming and homelike.
However, there was nothing traditional about the educational opportunities she offered young women. In the 19th century, her curriculum included Latin, French and German, spelling, reading, arithmetic, trigonometry, history and geography, as well as chemistry, physiology, botany, geology and astronomy. Each student was expected to design her course selection to meet her individual needs and talents.
To ensure that her students were well-rounded, Miss Porter emphasized excellence in the arts as well as in more traditional academic subjects, a tradition that continues today. She also required her students to exercise regularly—a notable idea for the time. She encouraged participation in sports such as tennis and horseback riding. In 1867, the school even formed one of the first women’s baseball teams, called the Tunxises. After Sarah Porter’s death in 1900, management of the school remained in the hands of her nephew’s family. Robert Porter Keep, his wife, Elizabeth Hale Keep, and their son Robert Porter Keep Jr. ran the school from 1904 until 1943, when Miss Porter’s School was incorporated as a non-profit institution.
Today, Miss Porter’s School continues Sarah Porter’s mission of educating young women to shape the world in which they live. By providing students access to an excellent academic program, a premier arts curriculum, an array of high caliber sports teams, and community service, our graduates are prepared to become the local and global leaders of the future. Yet, Porter’s remains a place where girls are supported by a close-knit community of students and faculty. For Porter’s students, Farmington is home.