Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps

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Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps
Almira Hart

(1793-07-15)July 15, 1793
DiedJuly 15, 1884(1884-07-15) (aged 91)
Other namesAlmira Hart Lincoln
Occupationeducator, author, editor, scientist
Known forauthor:
  • nature writing
  • novels
  • essays
  • memoirs
  • text books
Simeon Lincoln
(m. 1817; died 1823)
John Phelps
(m. 1831; her death 1884)
ChildrenCharles E. Phelps
RelativesEmma Hart Willard (sister)

Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps (July 15, 1793 – July 15, 1884) was an American scientist, educator, author, and editor. Her botany writings influenced more early American women to be botanists, including Eunice Newton Foote and her daughter, Augusta Newton Foote Arnold. Though she primarily wrote regarding nature, she also was a writer of novels, essays, and memoir.[1] The standard author abbreviation A.Phelps is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name.[2]

Phelps was a native of Connecticut. Her long and active life was devoted to the education of young women. She published several popular[3] science textbooks in the fields of botany, chemistry, and geology.[4][3] Some of her works worthy of special commemoration include, The Blue Ribbon Society; The School Girls Rebellion; Christian Households; Familiar Lectures on Botany; Our Country and its Relation to the Present, Past and Future; and The Fireside Friend.[5] Her views on topics ranging from elocution to corsets are contained in Lectures to Young Ladies, Comprising Outlines and Applications of the Different Branches of Female Education for the User of Female Schools, and Private Libraries.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Almira Hart was born on July 15, 1793, in Berlin, Connecticut. She was the youngest of 17 children,[1] growing up in an intellectual, independently thinking, and religious environment.[3] She and her family lived on a farm, where there was much to do and much to learn.[4] Her mother, Lydia, took interest in anatomy, examining the animals she cooked and thereby developing a rudimentary knowledge of the human anatomy.[4] This afforded her the ability to reset dislocated joints and perform other basic first aid for her family and community, in cases where a doctor was not immediately available.[4] Lydia also studied the properties of plants, and she later discussed these observations with her daughter Almira, later on after her interest in botany had begun.[4] Lydia Hart taught her children the value of the world around them, and they learned to work hard on the farm.[4] Through these lessons, Lydia also taught her daughters what she believed to be their place in the world, as women.[4]

The Hart home was an open place where members of the community would often gather to debate a vast array of subjects. Almira's father, Samuel Hart, himself loved to argue and debate, and there was often a dissenter or a preacher in their home who had stopped by to argue with him.[4] The Hart children were encouraged to question things, and to create their own opinions on various matters.[4] Almira and her family often gathered around the fireplace, where her father and mother would share tales of their ancestors and family anecdotes.[4] Almira's favorite tales concerned the Revolutionary war.[4] It was in this environment, which nurtured learning and independent thought, where Almira Hart grew up.

Through her close friendship with the elderly mother of a bookseller, Almira had access to a vast array of books from an early age.[4] She loved to read, and at first seemed to enjoy reading anything she could get her hands on.[4] One of Almira's most influential mentors was her older sister, Emma Hart Willard. Emma would become an influential reformer of women's education, and advised her sister early on to choose good books with which to educate herself, instead of merely reading for the pastime of it.[4] When Almira was 17, she went to live with Emma and her husband, as her sister was in charge of the female academy at Middlebury.[7] While living with her sister, she was also mentored by John Willard and three of his fellow students who also came to live in the Willard household. She studied mathematics and philosophy.[8] Young men from Middlebury College often boarded with the Willards, or in homes nearby, while they were attending college.[7] This allowed Almira, and other women like her, the chance to gain a secondhand college education, engaging in discussions with the boarders and thereby learning subjects which were at that time not taught, or taught only basically, at the female academies.[7] It was in this secondhand fashion that Almira was able to learn higher mathematics.[7]


Sample page from Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps' first book: Familiar Lectures on Botany

At the age of 16, Almira began her teaching career in district schools. She later continued her own education. In 1814, she opened her first boarding school for young women at her home in Berlin; and two years later, she became principal of a school in Sandy Hill, New York.[3]

In 1817, Almira married Simeon Lincoln and left her career for six years to be a housewife and mother to her three children. After her husband's untimely death in 1823, she returned to the education world as "Almira Hart Lincoln". She became a teacher and later, in 1829, vice-principal, at the well-known Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York, which was run by her sister Emma Hart Willard.[9]

While teaching at Troy, her interests in science increased, and her botanical career began under the influence of Amos Eaton. As a teacher, Almira noticed the lack of scientific books which catered to beginning college students, and determined to remedy the issue. She sought to write a textbook which was easy to understand and which would thus make it easier for young academics, particularly young women, to study the sciences. While Almira taught at the Troy Seminary, scientific study became a popular subject. She led her students in botanical field research in the vicinity of the seminary, and students who attended her lectures were excited about the field of botany.[4] Under Eaton's influence, she also took up an interest in chemistry.[4] When the Troy Seminary added a laboratory for the study of chemistry, Almira worked hard to make sure it was stocked with chemicals, so that she and her students could take part in scientific experiments.[4] She was thus able to give lectures on chemistry which were illustrated through experiments, thereby enriching the quality of scientific education at the Troy Seminary.[4]

Troy, New York, USA
Troy Female Seminary

Encouraged by Eaton and her sister's success and driven by her own financial needs, Lincoln began to write such textbooks in the late 1820s. Her first and most notable textbook Familiar Lectures on Botany was published in 1829, going through seventeen editions and selling over 275,000 copies by 1872.[3][10][4] Amos Eaton believed in women's capacity for higher education, and made it a priority to invite women from the Troy Seminary to his lectures at Renessalaer Polytechnic Institute whenever possible.[4] Eaton believed that men and women should be educated together, and made an effort throughout his life to include women in scientific instruction.[4] From Eaton, Almira learned much about several fields, including botany, chemistry, geology, and natural philosophy.[4]

A second professional mentor of Almira's was botanist William Darlington.[7] He influenced her presentation of botany in her textbooks, and encouraged her to add introductory material on the Natural System of Botanical Classification, rather than solely including the Linnean System in her book. Almira took this suggestion in subsequent editions of her textbook.[7]

In 1830, with the absence of her sister, Phelps served as acting principal of the Troy Female Seminary and gave a series of lectures related to female education that she would later publish as her second book, Lectures to Young Ladies.[3] During this time, Almira gained important managerial experience, and began to write down some of her own ideas for women's education.[4] During her acting principalship, Almira expanded the property of the Troy Seminary to include room for the students to cultivate their own botanical specimens on the grounds.[4]

Almira was remarried in 1831 to John Phelps, a lawyer and politician from Vermont. Taking the name "Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps", she once again gave up her career to raise a second family but continued to write new textbooks on chemistry, natural philosophy, and education.

In 1838, Phelps was appointed principal of the literary department of the West Chester Young Ladies Seminary in West Chester, Pennsylvania run by a local medical doctor, Jesse W. Cook. Phelps' step-daughter Eunice was appointed assistant principal, another step-daughter Ann and daughter Emma Lincoln were appointed teachers.[11] Phelps's own textbooks were used in several of the classes.[4]

Almost from the very beginning there was conflict between the Cooks and Phelpses. The Phelpses were unhappy about Mrs. Cook's interference in running the school, including bothering the staff.[12] John Phelps considered Dr. Cook to be an amiable and courteous man, but unable to run the school properly and with no idea about how to properly educate young women.[11] Another major point of contention between Almira and some of the Seminary's trustees was the place of religion in the curriculum.[4] Almira wished to include religious instruction and worship into the curriculum, and the board of trustees wished to remain secular. Almira ultimately cited this as one of the main reasons for her later departure from the school.[4]

As early as December 1838, Almira Phelps was considering leaving. She consulted a member of the Biddle family trying to gain support for opening a girl's school in Philadelphia. No support was forthcoming and Almira remained at West Chester. In April 1839, Almira offered her position to step daughter, Helen Phelps. Almira considered her position as defined by Dr. Cook as beneath her. Helen refused the offer.[13] In the spring of 1839, John Phelps had conditionally leased a building in Philadelphia, so that Almira could open her own school. However, Almira refused to leave West Chester. She and John were at an impasse. He believed his strong willed wife should not be working for anyone else. Almira was concerned about self-financing her own school.[14]

The break with the Cooks was final by the summer of 1839. Almira Phelps traveled to New York to interview with the Reverend John F. Schroeder (1800–1857) who opened a school, St. Ann's Hall at Flushing, Long Island that year. John Phelps followed after his wife and finally persuaded her to open her own school. John Phelps made arrangements to lease a building in Rahway, New Jersey and Almira Phelps had her own school in 1839.[15] Many of the students from West Chester followed her to Rahway. The West Chester School did not survive the split between Almira Phelps and Dr. Cook and closed. None of Almira's step daughters taught at Rahway. Eunice married and remained at West Chester, Ann moved to Camden, South Carolina to teach for her sister Stella, and Helen had her own school in Brooklyn, New York.[14]

Ellicott Mills (now Ellicott City) had both a boys' school, Rock Hill, and a girls' school, the Patapsco Female Institute (PFI). By 1840, neither was doing well. The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, William R. Whittingham, had a personal interest in education and became involved in both schools. The Rev. Alfred Holmead transferred from Baltimore County to run Rock Hill and Bishop Whittingham, personally interviewed Almira Phelps to become the principal of the PFI. One of the conditions for her hire was that she had to have a chaplain on the payroll. Reverend Holmead became the first chaplain at PFI. In 1841, the Phelpses closed the Rahway school and took over the PFI on a seven years lease. Almira Phelps was very hands on with her students, and had a good relationship with them. She emphasized academic achievement to enable a young woman to support herself, if necessary, as a teacher or governess. To that end, Almira actively sought positions for her students.[16]

While at PFI, Almira's textbook sales made her a successful author. Her daughter, Jane Lincoln [17] and step daughter Helen Phelps helped to edit new editions of her text books.[18] The Phelpses renewed their lease in 1848 for another seven years, and John Phelps died in 1849. Almira toured Europe in 1854 and her oldest daughter, Emma Phelps O’Brien, ran the PFI while she was gone. In 1855, her second lease had expired. She stayed on an extra year. The school was expanded so that the student body at the girl's school run in Baltimore by her successor, Robert H. Archer, could be accommodated at PFI.[19]

In 1859, Almira Phelps was the third woman elected as a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. After gaining her membership, she continued to write, lecture, and revise her textbooks until she died in Baltimore on July 15, 1884, her 91st birthday.[3]

Personal views and philosophies[edit]

Almira Phelps saw science as an aid to religion, and as something which was important for women to learn.[7] She believed that the study of science would enrich the minds of women and better prepare them to become intelligent wives to men of science, and knowledgeable mothers who were better equipped to raise children.[7][3] Raised to believe that men and women had specific roles in the world, Almira saw the things she taught as an important aid toward helping women thrive in their roles as wives and mothers.[7][4] Similarly, Almira believed that science and religion supported each other, and encouraged women to study science as a way of strengthening their religious convictions.[7] She believed strongly that such a firm faith would be beneficial to future mothers, who could rear their children to honor God.[7]

Though she was a strong advocate for the education of women in the nineteenth century, Almira herself was adamantly and vocally against women's suffrage.[4] She championed feminine grace and delicacy, and firmly believed that a woman's place was ultimately in the home.[4] Among Almira's students' generation especially, there were many suffragists who advocated for equal rights.[4]

Select works[edit]

  • Familiar Lectures on Botany (1829) [20]
  • Dictionary of Chemistry (1830)
  • Botany for Beginners (1831)
  • Geology for Beginners (1832)
  • Female Student; or, Fireside Friend (1833)
  • Chemistry for Beginners (1834) [21]
  • Lectures on Natural Philosophy (1835)
  • Lectures on Chemistry (1837)
  • Natural Philosophy for Beginners (1837)
  • Hours With My Pupils (1869)
  • Caroline Westerly (1833)
  • Ida Norman (1850)
  • Christian Household (1860)

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Early American nature writers : a biographical encyclopedia. Patterson, Daniel, 1953–, Thompson, Roger, 1970–, Bryson, J. Scott, 1968–. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. 2008. ISBN 978-0-313-34681-1. OCLC 191846328.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ IPNI.  A.Phelps.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Rudolph, Emanuel D. (1984). "Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps (1793–1884) and the Spread of Botany in Nineteenth Century America". American Journal of Botany. 71 (8): 1161–1167. doi:10.2307/2443392. JSTOR 2443392.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Bolzau, Emma Lydia (January 1937). "Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps: Her Life and Work. By Emma Lydia Bolzau. (Lancaster: Science Press. 1936. Pp. xi, 534. $3.50.)". The American Historical Review. 42 (2): 364–365. doi:10.1086/ahr/42.2.364. ISSN 1937-5239.
  5. ^ Shepherd 1911, p. 116.
  6. ^ Gold & Hobbs 2013, p. 100.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Arnold, Lois. (1984). Four lives in science : women's education in the nineteenth century. New York: Schocken Books. ISBN 0-8052-3865-4. OCLC 9557354.
  8. ^ Abir-Am & Outram 1987, pp. 77, 79, 86, 87.
  9. ^ "Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps American educator". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  10. ^ Rossiter, M. W. "Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940", 1982, The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  11. ^ a b Hinds, Grover. Howard County Maryland, Family Letters 1830 – 1855, and Route 1 Roadside America 1920 – 1960. p. 140.
  12. ^ Eunice Phelps to Helen Phelps, January 16, 1839, private collection.
  13. ^ Almira Phelps to Helen Phelps, April 16, 1839, private collection.
  14. ^ a b Hinds, Grover. Howard County Maryland, Family Letters 1830 – 1855, and Route 1 Roadside America 1920 – 1960. pp. 5–6.
  15. ^ Eunice Phelps to John W. Phelps, September 3, 1839, private collection.
  16. ^ Hinds, Grover. Howard County Maryland, Family Letters 1830 – 1855, and Route 1 Roadside America 1920 – 1960. pp. 7–8.
  17. ^ Jane Lincoln to Marion Stafford, November 26, 1844, private collection.
  18. ^ John and Almira Phelps to Helen Phelps, April 9, 1845, private collection.
  19. ^ Hinds, Grover. Howard County Maryland, Family Letters 1830 – 1855, and Route 1 Roadside America 1920 – 1960. p. 21.
  20. ^ Lincoln, Almira (1832). Familiar Lectures on Botany. Hartford : F.J. Huntington. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  21. ^ Lincoln, Almira (1834). Chemistry for beginners. Hartford : F.J. Huntington. Retrieved November 29, 2018.



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