Mapping the World: Understanding Women’s Education through Geography

Emily Isakson is pursuing an MA in Decorative Arts, Material Culture, and Design History at Bard Graduate Center. She has been a Readers’ Services page for the past three summers. Emily has always been interested in what has shaped the society we know today. Her time at AAS has only furthered her curiosity about the world.

This past spring, I graduated from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Mount Holyoke is a historical women’s college, and through the years I have grown to understand and value the importance of women’s education. One of the classes that I took my senior year at MHC was “Mapping & Spatial Imaging,” a course that not only taught me the basics of reading a map but also a class in which I learned how to use GIS (geographic information system) software.

Arathusa Fisk’s map depicting Worcester County (ca. 1825-1835).

Coming back to the AAS for my third summer, I wanted to pick a blog post topic that not only interested me but was somehow related to my most recent mapping experiences. With some guidance from Lauren Hewes, the Curator of Graphic Arts, I soon found my answer in a collection of maps made by young girls.

As a recent women’s college graduate with a personal interest in geography, I want to give a voice to these young female students who painstakingly created maps of different locations in the United States, and, in one case, a map of the world. I instantly became curious about why these student maps were created, what purpose they served and what their legacies were. And even more importantly, who were the girls who made them?

The American Antiquarian Society is home to six maps known to be made by female students and three others made by male students. The six made by school girls map out Worcester County, various states, the U.S. as a whole; one student, Jacobina O. Tuzo even drew a world map with a globular projection — an impressive feat for anyone.

Why were these maps made? My first thought was for a drawing class, as drawing was a popular subject for young girls to learn in school or to take up as a personal hobby. However, geography was another course that slowly became integral to education curricula in the 1800s. Nonetheless, skill in drawing was a popular expertise for women to have, and the drawing of maps was most likely deemed a suitable activity for learning geography because of the emphasis placed on female artistic capabilities.

Townsend’s patent folding globe from 1869 depicts numbers that can be matched to a separate pamphlet for easy learning and easy access.

In the AAS collection, there are many examples of books that address the topic of drawing instruction and geography in education, particularly in our school books collections. The process of making and studying maps was a popular activity and form of education all-around. Whether it was through hand-drawn maps, embroidered maps, outline maps, and even map games in the form of pop-up globes and puzzles, learning geography was an essential way to understand the world. After looking at some of the geography books and resources and by taking a closer look at what kind of things that are recorded and detailed on the maps, I believe that student maps were mainly made for their cartographic qualities (although their artistic ones are quite amazing, as well).

One of the maps, made by Arathusa Fisk (1810-1880), depicts a map of Worcester County (ca. 1825-1835) with each town finely highlighted by a different color. A resident of Holden, Massachusetts, Fisk knew well the in-and-outs of her surroundings. Created with a fine attention to detail, her map includes rivers and ponds and displays an acute knowledge of the area and coordinate systems. As a Worcester native myself, the map feels familiar to me even almost 100 years later, and even certain places like Quinsigamond Pond, which I still see almost everyday!

A full view of Tuzo’s map detailing the world on a globular projection. Her care is evident when looking at the small details and fine artistic skills she showcased.

All of the maps are made with a high level of precision and artistic skill — with my personal favorite being the world map made by Jacobina O. Tuzo. Hers includes not only the creative skills needed to create such an image, but the understanding of map projections, which preserve either size, shape, or distance. There are many types of map projections, with some of the most popular being cylindrical, conic, and azimuthal projections.The particular globular projection used by Miss Tuzo was one that was widely used in atlases because it created a spherical shape reflective of the globe itself.

A detail of the map, mainly showing Tuzo’s handwritten title and the cross hatching required to make such a map.

Tuzo’s map, in its precision, was most likely a copy of another map with her own flourishes added, like the specific and meticulous cross shading on the globe. My favorite part of her map, however, are the small ships that she has nestled in tiny patches of blue water. The ships highlight famous expeditions around the globe, including the voyage of Captain James Weddell, for which the Weddell Sea near the Antarctic Circle is named. Jacobina, upon some further investigation, was later listed by census records as becoming an artist. I like to think that her map, vehemently and proudly claimed by her as “Drawn By Jacobina O. Tuzo,” helped to lay the groundwork for her artistic interests.

A final detail of Tuzo’s world map, showcasing her little expedition ships! These delicate ships dot the span of the globe and help give us viewers an insight into the purpose of her map. This particular ship stamps Capt. Weddell’s trip to the South Pole.

I wouldn’t be able to finish this post without mentioning Emma Willard, a pioneer in women’s education throughout the 19th century. One of the subjects that she felt strongly about including in female education was geography. Perhaps Willard inspired young girls like Arathusa Fisk and Jacobina O. Tuzo to do things that men were doing. In our manuscript collection, there is a geography book which belonged to a girl named Sarah Miller ca. 1820. The illustrations in her geography book were inspired by Emma Willard’s teaching of  geography. The 1800s, especially the mid-1800s, were a time when education opportunities exploded for women. Female educators and activists like Emma Willard pushed for female education to shift and grow. The number of Female institutions of higher education blossomed during this time (like my dear Mount Holyoke College in 1837!). The study of geography and map-mapping is only one indicator of this.

Women’s education has been changing, and growing, for thousands of years — these girls and I are evidence of that. I am lucky to be able to not only have the opportunity to take geography courses like them, but I’m even luckier to have learned how to use and manipulate mapping software, stuffed with data and information. Through their maps, we’re able to see their worlds, what they deemed of importance, and even their dreams. From Worcester, to the U.S., to the world, I have all of it laid out in front of me thanks to those who came before!

One thought on “Mapping the World: Understanding Women’s Education through Geography”

  1. OH GOSH!!!! Emily this is quite fascinating and like you, think the maps are just beautiful art pieces in themselves. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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