Philadelphia School Prospectus (June 8, 1787)


In this prospectus for a Philadelphia school for women, an anonymous writer, presumably Elizabeth Harriot Barons O’Connor, lays out the school’s governance structure and the core curriculum of the belle lettres, which includes oratory, written composition, and the critical analysis of texts. It is unclear whether the advertisement yielded students or subscribers, and there is no evidence that O’Connor’s school was ever established. O’Connor’s mention of a “celebrated institution already established for the education of ladies” is probably referring to the Young Ladies’ Academy of Philadelphia, governed by men, which was established the same month.


To the Public.

It has been suggested in the public prints, that the Lectures upon Language, Eloquence, and Poetry, lately delivered in this city, might be advantageously rendered and foundation of a permanent school for cultivating the Belles Lettres. Institutions of this kind are, indeed, common throughout Europe; and, perhaps, there is not any vehicle for the communication of knowledge, which is better adapted to accomplish it’s object, or which has been more successfully employed. The youthful mind being attracted by the shew of pleasure, which a mixt assembly and an evening meeting generally produce, will insensibly imbibe the useful with the agreeable, and from the same source recruit the spirits, and strengthen the understanding.

If, therefore, an encouragement, adequate to the trouble of continuing the lectures alluded to, can be obtained, the lady will deem herself happy in being instrumental to the advancement of rational entertainment, and of enlarging, upon the following plan, the objects of academical studies.

Let it, however, be remembered, that the exertions of a female should, in this instance, be considered, independent of every other consideration, as presenting an example to be imitated, and improved upon, by future candidates for literary fame: for the encouragement given to early attempts in science, like the influence of the sun upon the blossom, is necessary to their preservation and maturity: and though we usually consult only our feelings in acknowledging the satisfaction we have received from the talents and labours of another yet, to the emulation excited by the acknowledgement, posterity will probably be indebted for superior wisdom, and more exquisite gratifications.

Plan for establishing a School to promote the study of the Belle Lettres.

1st. It is proposed that a society be formed under the denomination of The Society of Belles Lettres, associated for the purpose of cultivating the education of young ladies in the city of Philadelphia.

2d, That this society consist of thirteen gentlemen, and as many ladies, who are to meet quarterly in an Academy opened for the instruction of young ladies in the French and English Languages.

3d. That all subjects connected with such a liberal institution, shall be discussed, determined, and concluded by a majority of the council assembled.

4th. That this young seminary shall for ever be governed by a lady capable of reading French and English; and who will engage herself to read the latter once in every fortnight, in some public hall capable of holding at least three hundred persons.

5th. That the benefit of this institution shall extend in one hundred subscribers exclusive of the members of the society.

6th. That every subscriber shall pay Eight Dollars per annum: in four quarterly payments, for which a ticket will be delivered, that will introduce such subscriber and two ladies into the public hall every fortnight, and one lady into the Academy three times a week, in order to improve in French or English at their option.

7th.  That these weekly learners shall be divided in to three classes, to attend regularly at such hours as shall be appointed by the governess.

8th. That examinations shall be held quarterly, and premiums be annually distributed to those who will display any pre-eminence of merit.

9th. That this seminary shall be known and distinguished by the appellation of the French Academy of the city of Philadelphia, into which no lady unacquainted with English grammar, can be admitted, except the children of members, or such as they shall particularly elect, at quarterly meetings.

10th. That these rules shall be enlarged or contracted at the pleasure of the society, whole particular care is to be exerted, and this school shall not interfere with any celebrated institution already established for the education of ladies.

Philadelphia, June 7, 1787.

APA Citation:
Advertiser, Pennsylvania Mercury, and Universal. Philadelphia School Prospectus (June 8, 1787). (2023, July 26). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Advertiser, Pennsylvania Mercury, and Universal. "Philadelphia School Prospectus (June 8, 1787)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (26 Jul. 2023). Web. 20 Apr. 2024
Last updated: 2023, July 26
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.