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Her-Story

Local Landmark: Patapsco Female Institute

Article by Veronica Barnes

Photography by Photos from Visithowardcounty.com and Alchetron.com

Originally published in Columbia Lifestyle

Upon Ellicott City’s highest point rests a beautiful, historic edifice that has been a part of the heart of our community since 1837. The Patapsco Female Institute was an institution of higher learning where women were taught subjects like Math, Chemistry, and Botany during a time when it was thought that they were not capable of learning such things. The women who attended this elegant finishing school were taught, molded, and guided by prominent female leaders of the time. Among those leaders was Almira (Hart) Lincoln Phelps. An experienced school leader, Phelps served as Director of the Patapsco School for fifteen years, lifting the school to national recognition and raising enrollment to 150. Directing the curriculum toward sciences, mathematics and natural history, Phelps strove to train highly qualified teachers. Before, during and after her tenure at the Institute, Phelps authored many books, including Familiar Lectures on Botany, referred to as “Lincoln’s Botany,” Lectures to Young Ladies, Botany for Beginners, Geology for Beginners, Chemistry for Beginners, Natural Philosophy for Beginners, Lectures on Natural Philosophy, Lectures on Chemistry, and Dictionary of Chemistry. She also wrote novels, like Caroline Westerly: or The Young Traveller from Ohio. Phelps was one of the first women to be elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Since closing its doors as an institution of higher learning 1891, this magnificent structure has served as a hotel, a theater, a convalescent home, and even a WWI hospital. Thanks to the efforts of The Friends of the Patapsco Female Institute and Howard County, its deteriorating structure was restored in 1995 and it is currently used for weddings, educational events, and historical tours. The Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park is located at 3655 Church Road in historic Ellicott City. Tours are on Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 pm, April through October. Private and group tours are available year-round, weather permitting. For more information, call 410-313-0421.

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