Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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@ElizaBTweetin: May 6-13 – Riding Habits...& Boys!

Posted on May 6, 2013


A student riding in front of Mrs. Wheaton's home. Is she Mary Chapin W1873?

Eliza Wheaton paid fees for several “extras” for her niece Mary Chapin to enjoy beyond the usual Seminary tuition.  These included $5 for Drawing, $8 Elocution, and Horseback Riding (not to mention having a riding habit made for her by Mrs. Babbitt). Thirteen riding lessons cost $16.25, plus an additional $7 for the use of a horse.  Mary took her first lesson with Mr. Cobb on May 6.

Mary wasn’t the only student to take riding lessons.  The July 1872 Rushlight noted that,

Some twenty three of our number, having through the past year, with resolute perseverance, overcome the difficulties of horsemanship, are now ready for any ride less perilous than Gen. Putnam’s or General Sheridan’s.

While trotting no more do they rise from their saddle,

Beat the air with their elbows like so many paddles,

Or frighten their teacher half out of his senses

By making straight up to the ditches and fences.

Much commendation is due to the young ladies for their persevering efforts, and also to their teacher Mr. Cobb for his kindness and attention.

Henry A. Cobb Receipt, 10 Dec. 1872

Receipt issued by Henry A. Cobb for Mrs. Wheaton's payment for Mary Chapin's riding lessons, 10 Dec. 1872

Henry Austin Cobb (1831-1910) taught Horsemanship from 1870 to 1876, thus becoming the first acknowledged male teacher connected with the Seminary. The same issue of the Rushlight offers another view of this connection:

The co-education of the sexes has long been discussed in Wheaton Sem., as well as elsewhere, but its feasibility had never been put to the test, until this last Spring term of ’72, when our worthy principal [Caroline Cutler Metcalf] determined to have the experiment tried under her own supervision, and invited a young lady and gentleman living in Norton, to meet the only son of Mr. Cobb in her pleasant office every morning, and with him pursue several studies, hitherto omitted in the regular course. The enthusiastic progress made is wonderful! the deportment greatly improved, and the success of the entire plan so unparalleled, that with the approval of the trustees the halls of Wheaton will probably soon be opened wide to both sexes!

This first experiment in coeducation was short-lived, to be followed a few years later by the enrollment of a few local boys, including Harry Cobb (1866-1910) and Laban E. Wild, who was the son of Mrs. Wheaton’s business agent and nephew of Eliza’s deceased adopted son.  However, the excitement roused by the possibility of coeducation did not result in permanent change until 110 years later!

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