You are here

Nancy Nooks to Horace Mann: July 1, 1857

In this Section

Nancy Nooks’ letter to Horace Mann is perhaps the most delightfully misspelled piece of correspondence in the collections of Antiochiana. Impassioned, angry, absolutely incomprehensible in places and oddly perceptive in others, her letter is prompted by an incident at Antioch College in (we think) 1857 reported to her in the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette. A group of Antioch women had attended Chapel services wearing garb more befitting a funeral than any other event to protest “the death of coeducation” because they had been refused use of the space for a public exercise of their burgeoning oratorical skills. The typescript of a letter to “EDITOR NONPAREIL” from a July 2nd issue of an unknown newspaper (One guess is the Springfield Daily Nonpareil, which lasted until 1858.) accompanies the letter in the file, written if not by one of the mourners as it is signed, at least by a fellow student.

If this incident was even a blip on Horace Mann’s radar, it isn’t evident from his papers. What is certain is that he had many pressing issues at that moment (that is if the moment in question is the summer of 1857). The College had its first ever commencement on July 1st, 1857, and upon the conclusion of that glorious event, his attention turned immediately to Antioch’s broad and deep financial embarrassments of the time. In fact his dreams for the College (to borrow a line from Rod Serling’s 1953 Hallmark Hall of Fame teleplay “Horace Mann’s Miracle”) were being dashed upon the rocks of insolvency and denominational strife, the campus itself about to go up for auction.

Cincinnati, July 1st

Mr. Mann

Dear Sir, alow me to trouble you for information that I cannot get correctly any other way.

Yesterday’s Gazette says, that a dozen or more young ladies, appeared dresst in mourning, at the commencement at Antioc Colliege. In consequence of being refused the use of the chapel, to practice what they thought they had been spending their time and money to prepare themselves for. Others would also dress in mourning if the dress would fully indicate their felings. We have look’t forward to the time, that a voice ah! many voices, should come from Antioc, heralding thought, and announcing that thought was free as air: and thought, too, pure enough to be spoken.

Many, many among us have wish’t, for more Lucy Stones. Men unman themselves in many ways. But women never unwoman themselves by expressing pure thought, either in private or in public.

I am not willing to think that so great an advocate of education would cramp free use of it, according to the dictates of ones own conscience.

The time was when boys could with impunity take girls work, and sit side by side, and neither was out of place. But alas! girls must study, study, study, that they may be able, to oil the machinery with some yet unheard of substance that man, the mighty, engine, may move smoothly along without a jar.

Must woman rock that out of the cradle that man in his profligacy has deposited their? Or must she study on, till she can cyentificly smile that in to it, that the young father has eradicated from his own constitution by his fredom?

I may be mistaken, but I think if girls were incouraged to express themselves, more publicly and frely, and feel that they have some mission in the world, excepting patching up, and mending over, that they would be ornaments in the world, without the aid of miliners, and large manly skirt manufactorys.

With much respect

Nancy Nooks

I hope that Antioc is not necessarily anti-woman.