Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Robert C. Kenzer

Second Advisor

Dr. John D. Treadway

Third Advisor

Dr. Sydney Watts


Until recently, serious study of women's education has been neglected, and studies of the educational systems of the South have lagged behind those of similar institutions in the North. This thesis examines female educational institutions in the South during the period 1850-1890, focusing specifically on four schools in Virginia: the Buckingham Female Institute in Buckingham County, the Southern Female Institute in Richmond, the Lynchburg Female Seminary in Lynchburg, and the Virginia Female Institute in Staunton. Using support from diaries, letters, and autograph books, mainly kept by the elite and upper middle class students who attended these schools, this study attempts to determine the effect of a woman's education on her social interactions, specifically her matrimonial prospects. This thesis concludes that many Virginia women actively sought an education, regardless of the societal restraints of marriage and family. These young women believed that an education enhanced marriage prospects, and through the formation of a female culture, were able to exert the beginnings of change in Southern society.