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Sign Up. First Name. Last Name. Confirm Email. Confirm Password. The firm prospered and was known up and down the river. Lovejoy hid his printing press and was murdered in After leaving the banking business, Captain Godfrey became a railroad promoter and built the line between Alton and Springfield. During the construction, he lived in a railway coach and followed the work as it progressed.

When the railroad was completed, Godfrey returned to his stone mansion on the outskirts of Alton and once more devoted himself to the Monticello Female Seminary.

Godfrey chose Reverend Theron Baldwin, a Yale-educated minister, to be the first principal of Monticello, which was now being called the first "female seminary in the west". Baldwin had also been instrumental in founding several other Midwestern colleges, including Illinois College at Jacksonville. In , most girls' schools were merely finishing schools that emphasized music, needlework and other "womanly arts". The goal was a good marriage.

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However, at Monticello, the ladies were actually given a higher education. They studied difficult courses in mathematics, English, history, religion, philosophy, foreign language and music. The goal was still a good marriage, but the faculty at Monticello was determined the ladies would learn something as well. For 50 years, the plan had flourished, right up until a terrible fire in that threatened to close the school for good. Two weeks later though, re-building was already under way. The camaraderie between the students and the staff, created by the fire, intensified the school spirit and the feeling of family at Monticello.

This was a feeling that would last until the school closed down in After Theron Baldwin retired, he was replaced by Miss Philomena Fobes, who continued the original plan for the school through the Civil War. As the college grew, it began to gain national notoriety and attracted students from all over the country. During the Civil War years, the campus became bitterly divided as girls from both Union and Confederate families attended Monticello.

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However, in , Harriet Newell Haskell arrived as the new principal at Monticello and quickly mended the rift. She devoted the next 40 years to making the school one of the most respected female institutions in the country, battling everything from a shortage of funds to the tragic fire of Harriet Haskell had been born in Waldoboro, Maine in Always regarded as a tomboy, she was a favorite companion of both the boys and the girls of her neighborhood.

She had a fertile imagination and was educated at Castleton Academy and Mount Holyoke, then went on to become the first female headmaster of the Franklin School in Boston. She would also be named as president of Castleton and when she was first asked to come to Monticello, she refused. Strangely, as the school would later inspire so much devotion from her, she made her decision after visiting the college and found that it wasn't to her liking. The Monticello board elected her to the job, despite her refusal, and this time Miss Haskell accepted, perhaps seeing the school as a challenge that she could meet head-on.

The students at Monticello took to Miss Haskell right away, perhaps because of her wit and her sharp sense of humor.

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She was also an early advocate of sports for women, believing that if they were well off physically, they would be fit emotionally and morally as well. The great fire of became a history-making event for the school and in lesser hands, the seminary would have closed down for good. For Harriet Haskell though, it was merely a minor setback. Even so, it nearly had tragic consequences. The fire began on November 4, a quiet fall evening. Standing on the campus and looking at the five-story stone building that night, a visitor would have never suspected that anything was amiss.

In fact, the college, with its looming tower, stately trees and shadowed walkway was the model of silent serenity. But within a few short hours, all of that would come to an end with a fire that would sweep through the college and destroy the dormitory and the classrooms. No one was injured in the blaze but it nearly wiped out the entire structure, little of which was covered by insurance.


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  • The fire, which started in the laundry room ovens, awakened the servants first and in a panic, they sounded the alarm throughout the building. Almost young women were asleep in the building at the time and they were soon roused from their beds. An alarm was sounded and people from all over the community, in wagons, carriages and on foot and in all manner of dress, began to arrive to help put out the blaze. As word spread, residents from Alton began arriving as well. Meanwhile, Harriet Haskell stood calmly in the doorway of the dormitory, carefully inspecting each of the girls as they rushed from the building.

    She made sure that each was properly dressed and in clothing befitting a Monticello lady. A few of them returned to their rooms for proper attire, as they were well aware of Miss Haskell's standards of propriety. Several of the students also managed to drag their heavy trunks and bedroom furnishings downstairs and out the door. Arriving volunteers who realized that the buildings were a lost cause, began helping the ladies to salvage their personal items instead.

    Fortunately, Miss Haskell's rooms were next to the front doors, so the men were able to slide her collection of rare books down boards that were propped up to the windows. They even managed to save her piano, which was taken over to the Godfrey Congregational Church for safe-keeping.

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    Other volunteers ran from room to room, wrapping the ladies' belongings in bed sheets and tossing them from the open windows. Eventually, even these efforts had to be abandoned when fire fighters mounted the roof to chop off a wooden drainpipe that was being engulfed by flames. As they clambered onto the roof, it collapsed and all of the men were almost killed. When the fire was over, all that remained of the "first female seminary in the west" was a pile of smoldering embers and a hollowed-out and blackened shell that was once the tower.

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