Thursday, January 6, 2011

6 January 1869: Madame Sophie Sosnowski's Female Institute

On this day in 1869, the following notice appeared in the Southern Watchman newspaper:

Madame Sosnowski was born in Germany in 1809, to a privileged and wealthy family that ensured her education even after the death of her parents. In 1833, she married Joseph Stanislaus Sosnowski, who had been exiled for taking part in a Polish uprising. They first went to France, but when forced out there, decided to seek a new life in the United States, settling in Erie, Pennsylvania. They lost everything, mostly money Madame Sosnowski had brought to the marriage, in the Financial Panic of 1837, and not long after, Joseph died, leaving his wife penniless with four children to rear on her own. At this time, Madame Sosnowski took a position at the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York, and began her career in women's education as an instructor in Music, German, and French.

The northern climate, however, was not amenable to Madame Sosnowski, and she left New York for positions in the southeast: Charleston, South Carolina; Macon, Georgia; and later started her own school in Columbia, South Carolina in the early 1850s. She stayed in Columbia during the Civil War, using her vacations to go to Virginia to volunteer in hospitals and ministering to wounded soldiers when their trains stopped in Columbia. Her eyewitness account of the burning of the city of Columbia on February 17, 1865, is part of the Papers of the Sosnowski Family, 1828-1948 collection at the University of South Carolina's South Caroliniana Library.

After the war, Lucy Cobb Institute hired Madame Sosnowski to be their principal, and hired her two daughers, Callie (Caroline) Sosnowski and Sophie Schaller, and her son-in-law, Frank Schaller to teach at the school. Her time at Lucy Cobb was short-lived; though there was no publicity about the matter, a disagreement with the Board of Trustees caused Madame Sosnowski to leave the school in December, 1868, at which time she placed her first ad for her own girls' school, later renaming it The Home School. Her departure from Lucy Cobb took many of her pupils with her, causing further financial problems for an institution that had struggled through the war years.

Madame Sosnowski opened her new girls' school with her daughter Callie; Sophie and Frank had gone to Sewanee, Tennessee for Frank to continue his teaching career. In 1867, Sophie Schaller died giving birth to her namesake daughter. Madame Sosnowski and Callie reared little Sophie and older sister, Ida, in Athens while running their school. Sophie would later marry Charles Holmes Herty, a revolutionary chemist and founder of University of Georgia athletics.

The Home School was known for its instruction in French, German, and music, and unlike other female academies of the time, did not have recitals or other public exhibitions by the students, since Madame Sosnowski believed they were "incompatible with true feminine grace and delicacy." Augustus Longstreet Hull noted in his collection, Annals of Athens, that Madame Sosnowski was "highly educated, a brilliant musician and of very distinguished appearance. It was an education to a girl to be associated with the Madame and Miss Callie."

The Home School closed not long after the death of Madame Sosnowski in 1899. Its final location was in the Joseph Henry Lumpkin House on Prince Avenue, now used for seminars by the University of Georgia School of Law. A collection of items associated with the Home School is available in the University of Georgia's Madame Sosnowski Collection, 1869-1917 in the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Madame Sosnowski, her daughters Callie and Sophie Schaller, and her grandaughters Sophie Herty and Ida Peacock are all buried together at Oconee Hill Cemetery.

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