Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps

Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps (July 15, 1793 – July 15, 1884) was a 19th-century American educator, author, and editor. Though she primarily wrote regarding nature, she also was a writer of novels, essays, and memoir.[1]

Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps
BornAlmira Hart
(1793-07-15)July 15, 1793
Berlin, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedJuly 15, 1884(1884-07-15) (aged 91)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Occupationeducator, author, editor
Genrenature writing, novel, essay, memoir
Simeon Lincoln
(m. 1817; died 1823)
John Phelps (m. 1831)

Phelps was a native of Connecticut. Her long and active life was devoted to the education of young women. She published several popular[2] science textbooks in the fields of botany, chemistry, and geology.[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.[4] 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.[5]

Early years and education

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.[2]

One of her most inspirational mentors of her life was her older sister Emma Hart Willard. 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.[6]


At the age of 16, Hart 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.[2]

In 1817, Hart 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 vice-principal at the well-known Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York, which was run by her sister Emma Hart Willard.[7]

While teaching at there, her interests in science increased, and her botanical career began under the influence of Amos Eaton. Encouraged by Eaton and her sister's success and driven by her own financial needs, Lincoln began to write 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.[2][8]

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. She 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 [9]

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.[10] 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.[9]

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 Mrs. Phelps remained at West Chester. In April, 1839, Mrs. Phelps offered her position to step daughter, Helen Phelps. Mrs. Phelps considered her position as defined by Dr. Cook as beneath her. Helen refused the offer.[11] In the spring of 1839, John Phelps had conditionally leased a building in Philadelphia, so Mrs. Phelps could open her own school. Mrs. Phelps refused to leave West Chester. Mr. and Mrs. Phelps were at an impasse. He believed his strong willed wife should not be working for anyone else. Mrs. Phelps was concerned about self-financing her own school.[12]

The break with the Cooks was final by the summer of 1839. Mrs. Phelps traveled to New York to interview with the Rev. 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 Mrs. Phelps had her own school in 1839.[13] Many of the students from West Chester followed Mrs. Phelps to Rahway. The West Chester School did not survive the split between Mrs. Phelps and Dr. Cook and closed. None of Mrs. Phelps’ 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.[12]

Ellicott Mills (now Ellicott City) had both a boy's school, Rock Hill, and a girl's 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 Mrs. Phelps to become the principal of the PFI. One of the conditions for her hire was that Mrs. Phelps had to have a chaplain on the payroll. Rev. 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.  Mrs. Phelps was very hands on with her students, and had a good relationship with them. Mrs. Phelps emphasized academic achievement to enable a young woman to support herself, if necessary, as a teacher or governess/teacher. To that end Mrs. Phelps actively, sought positions for her students.[14]

While at PFI, Mrs. Phelps textbook sales made her a successful author. She had her daughter, Jane Lincoln [15] and step daughter Helen Phelps edit new editions of her text books.[16] The Phelpses renewed their lease in 1848 for another seven years. John Phelps died in 1849. Mrs. Phelps 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.[17]

In 1859, Phelps was the third woman elected as a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. After gaining her membership, Phelps continued to write, lecture, and revise her textbooks until she died in Baltimore on her 91st birthday, July 15, 1884.[2]

Select works

  • Familiar Lectures on Botany (1829) [18]
  • Dictionary of Chemistry (1830)
  • Botany for Beginners (1831)
  • Geology for Beginners (1832)
  • Female Student; or, Fireside Friend (1833)
  • Chemistry for Beginners (1834) [19]
  • 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


  1. Patterson, Thompson & Bryson 2008, p. 281.
  2. 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.
  3. Salvatori 2003, p. 95.
  4. Shepherd 1911, p. 116.
  5. Gold, & Hobbs 2013, p. 100.
  6. Abir-Am & Outram 1987, pp. 77, 79, 86, 87.
  7. "Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps American educator". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  8. Rossiter, M. W. "Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940", 1982, The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  9. Hinds, Grover. Howard County Maryland, Family Letters 1830 - 1855, and Route 1 Roadside America 1920 - 1960. p. 140.
  10. Eunice Phelps to Helen Phelps, January 16, 1839, private collection.
  11. Almira Phelps to Helen Phelps, April 16, 1839, private collection.
  12. Hinds, Grover. Howard County Maryland, Family Letters 1830 - 1855, and Route 1 Roadside America 1920 - 1960. pp. 5–6.
  13. Eunice Phelps to John W. Phelps, September 3, 1839, private collection.
  14. Hinds, Grover. Howard County Maryland, Family Letters 1830 - 1855, and Route 1 Roadside America 1920 - 1960. pp. 7–8.
  15. Jane Lincoln to Marion Stafford, November 26, 1844, private collection.
  16. John and Almira Phelps to Helen Phelps, April 9, 1845, private collection.
  17. Hinds, Grover. Howard County Maryland, Family Letters 1830 - 1855, and Route 1 Roadside America 1920 - 1960. p. 21.
  18. Lincoln, Almira (1832). Familiar Lectures on Botany. Hartford : F.J. Huntington. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  19. Lincoln, Almira (1834). Chemistry for beginners. Hartford : F.J. Huntington. Retrieved 29 November 2018.



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