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The Stafford Hotel in Tuscaloosa sits on site of first female college dating back to 1830 [old pics]

Stafford Plaza in 2009 stands on old site of first Alabama Female Academy in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Stafford Plaza in 2009 stands on old site of first Alabama Female Academy in Tuscaloosa, Alabama


(First called  Alabama Female Academy then 1885 became Stafford School  – After it was demolished in 1955, the Stafford Hotel was built on the site at 9th Street and 22nd Ave. Now it is the Stafford Plaza)

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

(This has been transcribed from History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography (in Four Volumes) by Thomas McAdory Owen

Alabama was somewhat unique in that the state at a very early point in its history felt there was a need for the education of young women. One of the earliest educational institutions for women organized in the State was located at Tuscaloosa, and opened in the fall of 1830, as the Tuscaloosa Female Academy. The next year Mrs. Mary I. Kinner became principal, a position she held for many years.

Forests near Tuscaloosa ca. 1887

(Library of Congress – Published 1887 by Press of Keating & co., Cincinnati in Tuskaloosa, Alabama)Forest 1887 cityoftuskaloosa00tusc_0018 (1)

The State University had been located in Tuscaloosa, and when Cahaba proved an undesirable location for the capital of the State, Tuscaloosa was chosen as the best location for the capital. Thus the little town became a place of much importance and many interests centered there.

Four Colleges For Females Open in Tuscaloosa in the 1830’s

Location of Schools:

  • The Alabama Female Institute, Ninth street, and Twenty-second avenue;
  • Washington and Lafayette, Tenth street and Twenty-fourth avenue;
  • Wesleyan Academy, Fourth street and Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth avenues.
  • The Athenaeum was on East Major street;

Sims Academy transitions to The Alabama Female Institute by 1833

A school called ” Sims’s Female Academy ” was opened in the building in October, 1829, and on January 15, 1830, a charter for this school was approved by the Legislature of Alabama….

Since this school continued for so short a time, little is known of it, no records are extant, nothing to show what the curriculum was, except the name “Academy.”

When Mr. Sims decided to close the school he sold the building to Dr. Leach, and it is still known as the “Leach Place”

About the same time the Sims’s Academy was chartered, at the session of the Legislature of 1830 there was chartered an association called “The Tuscaloosa Female Association,” whose object was the “promotion of female education, and a higher standard of morals in the community.”

Sim’s Academy and Tuscaloosa Female Educational Society combine in 1830

In the Tuscaloosa Gazette of September 10, 1830, under heading, “Tuscaloosa Female Academy,” A. Ready, Esq., secretary of the board of trustees, made the following announcement : “A union between the ‘Tuscaloosa Female Educational Society’ and ‘Sims’s Academy ‘ has been effected. The first session of the Tuscaloosa Female Academy commenced on Friday, September 6, 1830, under management of Miss Brewer, Miss Howe, and Mrs. Robinson. Mr. A. Pfister and Mrs. Patrick have charge of the music department. The board is making arrangements for the erection of a suitable edifice.”

Tuscaloosa Female Academy Name Changed to Alabama Female Institute

Notwithstanding the favorable conditions under which the academy began, its career, for some unexplained reason it did not meet the expectations of its friends and they agreed to promote the establishment of the Alabama Female Institute chartered January 9, 1835 –

The legislature of 1830-31 incorporated the academy, exempted its property from taxation, and authorized it to raise $50,000 by lottery. A literary society was organized in 1831; and in 1832 the school had a library of 400 volumes. The friends of this school proposed to raise the standard of education for girls, to extend the curriculum, and to establish a school of collegiate grade.

The Alabama Female Institute was the heir of the Tuscaloosa Academy, and thus owned commodious buildings and a suitable equipment for the departments of music, art, and natural science, as well as a boarding department. The school opened November, 1833, but was not chartered until January 9, 1835. This charter empowered the trustees to grant such rewards and confer such honors on graduates as might be deemed expedient, and conferred the usual powers relating to purchase and disposal of property, but made no stipulation as to amount of property.

The merging of one school into another seems to have been authorized by the Legislature, for one section of the charter granted to the Alabama Female Institute reads as follows: ” The lots, grounds, and buildings erected by the trustees of the Tuscaloosa Female Academy now the property of the trustees named in this charter, together with all other buildings they may erect or grounds they may purchase for the exclusive use of the said female institution, shall be exempt from taxation whatever.”

From this statement it would seem that the trustees of the Tuscaloosa Female Academy had made extensive preparation for maintaining their school; and it would be quite interesting if the causes of the merging of one school into another could now be known.

The first, Sims’s Academy, continued only one year, and was merged into the Tuscaloosa Female Academy, which had an existence of three years and was merged into the Alabama Institute. It is almost certain that the curricula of the first and second were nearly identical, and the teachers the same for both, therefore the character of the schools could have had little to do with the change. However, the Institute was very popular and quite successful as to numbers.

Tuscaloosa Female College 1887

(Library of Congress – Published 1887 by Press of Keating & co., Cincinnati in Tuskaloosa, Alabama)

Tuscaloosa Female college2

According to an old catalogue, 1836, only three years after its commencement, there were 10 teachers connected with the school, and 184 pupils; 60 in the primary department and 124 in the advanced department. The trustees of the Institute for the year ending July 14, 1836, were Hon. Peter Martin, president: Wiley J. Dearing, secretary, John O. Cummins, treasurer, John F. Wallace, James H. Dearing, H. C. Kidder, William H. Williams—just the same, with the exception of John J. Webster, who had retired, as the trustees named in the charter, January 9, 1835. The following extract from an old catalogue will show something of the views of educators of that early time: “

This institution proceeds upon the principle that education does not consist merely in acquiring knowledge, or in unfolding the reasoning powers, or faculties, or in cultivating the moral feelings, or in forming the manners, or in developing the physical powers; but in the pursuit of all these objects combined—or rather, in rendering the mind the fittest possible instrument for discovering, applying, and obeying the laws under which God has placed the universe; if either of these objects be pursued exclusively, the result is, the character is not well balanced.

“The object of this institution is, to aid young ladies to educate themselves to answer the great end of their being—to enjoy and impart happiness. ” The system of government is really one of self government, induced by the principles of moral rectitude.

The interests of teachers and pupils are one and the same, and the co-operation of both to promote the general good renders the business of instruction and study, of communicating and receiving instruction peculiarly delightful.” The health of the pupils was a prime consideration with the management; provision for exercise in the open air, and suitable recreation hours was made. ” Calisthenics, designed to give ease, grace, and elasticity of motion, and erect forms, and bodily and mental vigor, is a daily exercise in the institution. Indeed, the entire arrangements, both general and particular, are conducive to health.”Worcester Elements of history

From an old catalogue the following classification and curriculum have been copied: “After completing the primary studies, the pupils are arranged in three classes: junior, middle, and senior; pupils .who pass a satisfactory examination may enter either class. “Junior Class: English grammar—exercises, analyzing, critical reading of the poets, transpositions, etc. Watts on the Mind, ancient geography, introductory lessons in botany, political economy, algebra, rhetoric commenced, philosophy of natural history, ancient and modern history—Worcester’s Elements of History, with Goldsmith’s Greece, Rome, and England and Grimshaw’s France. “Middle Class: Geometry—Euclid or Legendre; natural history—Olmstead’s; chemistry, astronomy, botany, physiology, evidences of Christianity, ecclesiastical history.

*”Senior Class: Geometry—finished; rhetoric— concluded ; mental philosophy—Upham’s; Logic— Whateley’s; moral philosophy—Wayland’s; natural theology, Milton’s Paradise Lost, analogy of natural and revealed religion.” Latin was studied throughout the course, and usually French also; vocal music, drawing and needlework were taught to the whole school without extra charge, and competent teachers for modern languages and music were employed. Reading, spelling (until the pupils were proficient in spelling), composition, writing, and vocal music were daily exercises throughout the course; also calisthenics and such other exercises as tended to advance a “moral, intellectual, physical, and polite education” A part of every Friday afternoon was devoted to ornamental needlework.

City of Tuscaloosa ca. 1887

(Library of Congress – Published 1887 by Press of Keating & co., Cincinnati in Tuskaloosa, Alabama)

City of Tuscaloosa 1887

The equipment included a philosophical and a chemical apparatus, and a telescope, maps and globes, but just how complete this equipment was cannot now be known. It was the original intention of the founders of the State University to establish a “branch of the University for female education,” but this intention was never put into effect. However, a few years after the establishment of the Alabama Institute the regents of the University decided to extend the advantages of the University to this school, by allowing its classes to attend such lectures of the professors of the University as the principal of the school should select, especially those lectures on natural science and mathematics.

The first principal of this school was Rev. W. H. Williams, his principal teachers were Miss Maria Belle Brooks (afterward Mrs. Stafford) and Miss Abby Fitch (afterward Mrs. Searcy) One of the successors of Mr. Williams was Miss M. B. Brooks, “a woman of great versatility of talent and engaging manners,” a native of New Hampshire and a graduate of Mount Holyoke. After teaching some years, she married Prof. S. R. Stafford, of the University of Alabama.

In 1842 Professor and Mrs. Caroline Lee Hentz took charge of the school. In 1852 Miss Lavinia Moore was principal and the assistant teachers of the collegiate department were Miss Mary W. Humphrey’s, Miss Martha A. Inge, and Miss Sarah W. Bigelow Professor and Mrs. Stafford again became principals in 1856. A few years later they associated with themselves, Mrs. W. C. Richardson, and Mrs. R. E. Rodes. widow of General Rodes. They retained charge of the Institute without interruption, except during a few months while Tuscaloosa was occupied by Federal troops, until Professor Stafford’s death.

Tuscaloosa Female College and City of Tuscaloosa in 1887

(Library of Congress – Published 1887 by Press of Keating & co., Cincinnati in Tuskaloosa, Alabama)

Tuscaloosa female college 1887

Mrs. Stafford continued in charge until 1888, when she sold the property to the city of Tuscaloosa for public school purposes and left the State. The school attained a high degree of excellence under her direction. It enjoyed the rare advantage of having the professors of the University as lecturers. Early in the beginning of the War the school was suspended, and was never again opened under Mrs Stafford’s direction.

The information on which this sketch is founded was furnished by Hon. W. C. Richardson of Tuscaloosa, also the catalogues; the charter is on record in the Acts of Legislature of 1834-5.)


  1. Catalogues, 1832, 1836, 1837, 1838, 4 vols.;
  2. Clark, History of education in Alabama (1889), p. 213;
  3. Acts, 1830-31, p. 44; 1834-35, p. 98.
  4. History of higher education of women in the South prior to 1860 By Isabella Margaret Elizabeth Blandin: pp.77
  5. Tuscaloosa

The Dothan Eagle, Houston County, Alabama 1908 Newspaper Abstracts 1407 pages – click to see Surnames mentioned

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  1. This information is incorrect.

    1. According to History of higher education of women in the South prior to 1860, Neale Publishing Company, New York. 1909. These are the locations of four female schools in Tuscaloosa starting in the early 1830’s. Please note the Alabama Institute address and the Stafford Plaza address. – The Alabama Institute was on Ninth street and Twenty-second avenue;
      Washington and Lafayette was on Tenth street and Twenty-fourth avenue;
      Wesleyan Academy was on Fourth street and Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth avenues.
      The Athenaeum was on East Major street; You can read the book here.

  2. Okay. I was thinking of the Tuscaloosa Female Academy that was located on Queen City Avenue and 6th Street. It was originally the home of Dr. John Drish. In the old days, female’s had to have their own institutes for higher education because they weren’t accepted into the University at the time. Very interesting Tuscaloosa history.

    1. There was some thought of letting girls attend classes at the University of Alabama from the Institute, but it never happened. Several professors form UofA gave guest lectures at the Institute. It’s sad that it took so long for girls to be accepted at UofA. That’s why you seldom see biographies on women before the 1900’s. Most everything was written by men because they were given a better education and of course they wrote what interested them, their male contemporaries, war etc. We have a big gap in a woman’s viewpoint before 1900.

    2.,5743.aspx I attended a lecture by Sarah Wiggins about the life of Sarah Haynsworth Gayle. She was the wife of John Gayle, Alabama’s 7th Governor and the mother of Amelia Gayle Gorgas. She wrote extensive journals that give a rare women’s viewpoint of society in Alabama from 1827-1835.

  3. […] purchased by private parties, and in 1876 re-sold to Prof. Alonzo Hill, who opened in it the “Tuskaloosa Female College.” The school started with about 100 scholars, one-third boarders, and eight teachers. The […]

  4. […] female colleges in the South: the “Alabama Central Female College,” and the ” Tuskaloosa Female College.” The University High School for boys, in addition to its local patronage, draws a large […]

  5. […] A recent school census shows that this population is on a steady increase, and even without any marked industrial awakening it would continue to grow, on account of its fine agricultural surroundings, large commercial territory, and superior educational and social advantages It has two of the largest and best equipped female colleges in the South: the “Alabama Central Female College,” and the ” Tuskaloosa Female College.” […]

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