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9 a.m. The Educated Girl: Lydia Withington’s Embroidery

Silk Thread on Silk Cloth, 1799.



Lydia Withington, daughter of Mary and Samuel Withington, created this silk embroidery in 1799 at the age of fifteen while attending Mrs. Rowson’s School in Boston. Famous for penning Charlotte Temple as well as for being an actress, Susanna Rowson founded her girls’ school in 1797. School-made works of “ornamental embroidery”, such as this one, were frequently framed. Proudly hanging in the family’s home, they demonstrated the girl’s skill as well as the money spent on her education.

Lydia’s embroidery embodied new educational trends which occurred after the Revolutionary War. Parents felt that their daughters needed a stronger sort of education to become valuable members of the nation. Girls seeking more than a basic education were no longer confined to subjects such as embroidery. They were now able to enroll in female academies, like Rowson’s, which offered academic subjects such as literature and geography in addition to traditional topics like embroidery. By using embroidery to depict the geographical Boston Harbor, Lydia was able to combine both old and new aspects of female education. It is not surprising that this example came from Mrs. Rowson’s academy: besides teaching geography, she also wrote two geography textbooks for girls.

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