Section Three: Female Academies in Maine


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The Misses Martin’s School for Young Ladies was founded in 1803 in North Yarmouth before relocating to Portland in 1804, when the District of Maine was still part of Massachusetts. The school was founded by William Martin, an Englishman who moved to Massachusetts with his family in 1783, before relocating to Maine in 1787. The Misses Martin’s School existed first as a boarding school, and later as a day school, for over five hundred young women from Maine, New England, and beyond until 1834. The school was a family endeavor, with siblings Catherine and William running day to day operations, and Elizabeth and Penelope teaching. Penelope Martin also served as the school’s preceptress. The three works on display here were all created by students at the school between 1814 and 1819, and would have been completed at two different locations. The school moved to its permanent home on India Street in 1817. In his 1888 history, The Schools of Portland, historian Edward Elwell noted of the curriculum that, “English branches were taught, a little French, music, painting and many kinds of fancywork, lace making and filigree, also geography with the use of globes. They were very successful and theirs was the fashionable school of the day.”

Hannah Little was a day student at the Misses Martin’s School for Young Ladies when she made her elaborate dual-hemisphere map of the terrestrial globe in 1819. In this decorative manuscript map of the globe, one can see how Hannah literally stitched her map together, as she joined the two sheets of paper with a decorative embroidery-like pattern designed to bring the composition together. The symmetry of this composition is closely related to Marcia Rice’s elaborate penmanship exercise, completed that same year. Many similarities can be seen in Rice’s and Little’s work. The penmanship sample is composed in the same manner as a hemispheric map, and the small leaf patterns surrounding each sphere are similar to the ones Hannah utilized to highlight her map title and signature. The influence of other decorative training, especially embroidery, is evident in both compositions. Harriet Cutter’s beautifully composed and rendered silk painting and embroidery highlights the superior quality of the work that came from this fashionable Portland school.

All of these works would very likely have been on display in the annual exhibitions of student work held for the public. Taken together, they highlight the role of ornamental education for young ladies in this era, and the emphasis placed on the decorative arts by the Misses Martin. Their collective work represents some of the finest schoolgirl art produced in the Federal period.


Harriet Cutter
[Needlework], ca. 1814
Collections of the Maine Historical Society
http://oshermaps.org/map/4000388

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Marcia A. Rice
[Penmanship Exercise], 1819
Collections of the Maine Historical Society
http://oshermaps.org/map/4000387

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Hannah Little
An Accurate Map of the Terrestrial Globe, 1819
Osher Map Library Sheet Map Collection
http://oshermaps.org/map/53410

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