Guest Blogger: Jennifer Griffin on “The Crescendo of Women Music Teachers in Antebellum America”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Jennifer Griffin is a junior Education Studies major from Polk County, North Carolina.  

Picture this, it’s the antebellum South in the late 1800’s in the small town of Davidson, North Carolina. The well to do white adults and parents of the town are buzzing with excitement as they get ready to attend the recital of the town’s music students that have been taught by Miss Eulalia V. Cornelius. Young men and women along with a sprinkling of married women are performing, the recital featuring an array of exciting duets and beautiful piano solos.  

The year is 1898 and as the country is on the verge of celebrating the turn of the century, certain shifts have taken place nationwide that contributed to the production of this recital performed on March 21st. One of these shifts to note is the growing presence of women in the field of teaching. This shift can be attributed to the increasing focus on the instruction of morality, a concept bestowed upon women as they were then seen as the “more moral” sex (Laud). Along with this, Miss Eulalia Cornelius is probably also permitted by the community as a music teacher since music instruction was viewed as more suitable a profession than the instruction of other subjects such as math or physical education. 

Scanned program for a music recital led by Eulalia Cornelius in 1898. Recital features solo singer, solo piano performances, and duets.
Program for a music recital led by Eulalia Cornelius in 1898.

Despite limitations, the encouragement women received as music teachers paralleled their increasing opportunities in the overall American society (Hinely). It is important to note that this specifically references middle- and upper-class white women. Enslaved people’s work allowed for white slave owning women to spend more time away from the home and in the job field.  

Looking over the recital, I observed the fact that Miss Cornelius’ pupils were a combination of young men, young women, and married women. The co-education of young men alongside both single and married women is a progressive notion for southern culture of the 1800s, something I was quite excited to see.  I also enjoyed recognizing Miss Cornelius’ name alongside those of the performers, noting that she was skilled enough to feel confident in performing to the community a number of times, including both a solo and being involved in the final performance of the recital.  

In short, Miss Eulalia V. Cornelius’ occupation as a music teacher marks a specific example of the shift towards white women’s increasing opportunities and influence within American society as the 20th century approached.  


DC0324s, Music Program of Eulalia Cornelius in 1898, Davidson College Archives . 

Hinely, Mary Brown. “The Uphill Climb of Women in American Music: Performers and Teachers.” Music Educators Journal 70, no. 8 (1984): 31-35.

Laud, Leslie E. “MORAL EDUCATION IN AMERICA: 1600s-1800s.” The Journal of Education 179, no. 2 (1997): 1-10.

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