Home » Zilpah Polly Grant (1794–1874)

Published: June 28, 2011

Zilpah Polly Grant (1794–1874)

A pioneer in women’s education and one of the first educators to expand the women’s curriculum beyond the range of the so-called domestic and ornamental arts that prepared women for lives as wives and mothers. Born in Connecticut, Grant lost her father when she was two and began teaching in nearby schools when she was 15. After her mother remarried in 1820, her family was able to afford to send her as both a student and teacher to Byfield (Massachusetts) Female Seminary. Founded by the Rev. Joseph Emerson, Byfield was the first school in the United States to teach its students more than the ornamental arts. In addition to Grant, Byfield’s alumnae included such pioneers in women’s education as Catherine Beecher and MARY LYON, who went on to found the world’s first college for women at Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts.
After two years of teaching, Grant took over as head of the newly founded Adams Female Academy at Londonderry, New Hampshire, in 1824. She left in 1828, following a series of quarrels with the trustees over her attempts to expand secular instruction beyond the ornamental and domestic arts into the liberal arts that were then taught only to men. Declining an offer of $1,000 a year to serve as principal of Catherine Beecher’s world-famous Hartford Female Seminary, she moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, where she opened the Ipswich Female Seminary in collaboration with Mary Lyon, her former schoolmate and friend from Byfield. With Grant as principal and Lyon as a teacher and assistant principal, Ipswich became one of the first schools to train women for careers as teachers. In 1839, Grant resigned due to poor health, and her failure to raise funds for an endowment to sustain the school eventually led to its closing. It was a financial lesson not lost on Lyon, who, after raising funds to found Mount Holyoke, went on to raise an endowment that helped assure its survival to this day. Grant never returned to teaching. In 1841, two years after her retirement, she married a prominent Massachusetts lawyer, William Bostwick Bannister, whose family name she assumed and by which she is sometimes referred to in educational references.
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