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Monticello Ladies' Seminary

Kristen Brueckner
Civic Memorial High School, Bethalto

"When you educate a man, you educate an individual; when you educate a woman, you educate a family." This quotation was the basis for the formation of Monticello College in Godfrey, Illinois. Captain Benjamin Godfrey was convinced that women had a vital role in the growing nation. Benjamin Godfrey was described as a "man of wide vision" and to this day, Alton benefits from that vision. In his family, Godfrey observed the important role played by the woman of the house in forming children's character and educating them. He decided to open a seminary to properly train young women, one devoted "to the moral, intellectual and domestic improvement of females." Thus, he erected the Monticello Ladies' Seminary.

Benjamin Godfrey was born in Chatham, Massachusetts, in 1794. He went to sea at the age of nine and received a practical education in navigation. He demonstrated ability as a businessman early in his life. After a merchant vessel under his command was shipwrecked, Godfrey was stranded in Mexico. His merchant business was in Matamoros. He eventually accumulated a fortune of $200,000. He was transporting it by mule when he was attacked by guerrillas and robbed of the entire amount. In 1832 he came north and located in Alton, and with W. S. Gilman founded the business named Godfrey, Gilman & Company. Godfrey was very active in his community. He constructed a public building for the use of early churches and other groups. He served in the Presbyterian Church. He was the father of eight children, five girls and three boys. He was a financier, entrepreneur, builder, and also a family man. From Yale Divinity College, at this same time, came Reverend Theron Baldwin, a member of the famous "Yale Band" a group of men sworn to dedicate their lives to bringing education and religion to the pioneer area. He worked with Godfrey in founding the "female seminary."

Benjamin Godfrey owned about ten thousand acres of land in the area known as Scarritt's Prairie located north of Alton, and it was there that he built the seminary at a cost of approximately $53,000. Its buildings were made of native stone, quarried in Alton and moved to the building site over roads built by Godfrey. Many of the laborers he brought into the area to complete the school settled in the North Alton area. The 110-by-44-foot seminary building was five stories high, including the basement. The basement was divided into a dining room and recitation rooms. The second story was divided into a library, recitation, and family rooms. The next two floors contained forty rooms. Each one of these rooms was made for two young ladies



Students at Monticello Ladies' Seminary enjoy a leisurely afternoon on campus.

to live in them. The fifth story was divided into painting and music rooms. The 45-by-70-foot south wing contained two large halls and twenty-two rooms that were centrally heated and illuminated by gas. Also located on the thirty-acre campus was a cottage near the seminary, designed as a boarding house for mothers who wished to be with their daughters. The cottage also served as a place for guests to stay. The classes at Monticello College began in April 1838, and a charter was granted by the state of Illinois to Monticello Female Seminary. The Reverend Theron Baldwin of Yale served as first headmaster. Philomena Fobesand and Harriet Haskell were both influential in establishing the fine reputation enjoyed by the school. Haskell was an innovative administrator, a fine complement to her teaching abilities. When she died in 1907, "Haskell girls" throughout the world were saddened by her death. The Haskell Memorial Entrance Gates on Godfrey Road were built by students in her memory. Hatheway Hall, now located on the campus of Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, is an entertainment and recreational complex given to Monticello College by Mr. and Mrs. Spencer T. Olin in 1961. The facility was named after Mrs. Olin's mother, Norah Hatheway Whitney, who was a Monticello graduate in the class of 1889. Her daughter, Mrs. Olin, was also a graduate and served on the board of directors. The curriculum for Monticello included courses in advanced mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, mineralogy, logic, political economy, arts, music, and needlework. In June 1841 the first class graduated from Monticello Ladies' Seminary. The Monticello graduates, their families, and their friends sat in the Godfrey chapel for the ceremony.

On November 4, 1888, the original Monticello buildings were destroyed by fire. A temporary building was promptly constructed and occupied from January 1889 to June 1890. The cornerstone of the new building was laid June 11, 1889, and the completed building was dedicated June 10, 1890. In 1965 young women came here from thirty-six states and three foreign countries to make the annual enrollment of 392. Many girls who enrolled followed their mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers to Monticello. In the 1960s enrollment dropped due to a waning interest in separate schools for boys and girls, and the seminary was forced to close in 1975.[From Alton Community Unit School District Number 11, A History of Alton; W. R. Brink & Co., History of Madison County, Illinois; W. T. Norton, Centennial History of Madison County, Illinois and Its People; The Telegraph and Alton Museum of History and Art, The People of River Bend: The Way We Were; Charlotte Stetson, Alton Illinois.]


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