Eunice Stanwood Caldwell Cowles

Eunice Caldwell Cowls

*The following is an excerpt From the Cowles Papers, Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections, South Hadley, MA.which contain correspondence, writings, biographical information, Caldwell and Cowles family papers and a photograph. Chiefly focusing on Eunice Stanwood Caldwell Cowles and her connections to Mary Lyon and Zilpah P. Grant Banister through both Mount Holyoke and Ipswich Female Seminaries.

“Eunice Caldwell was born on February 4, 1811, in Ipswich, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Captain John Caldwell and Eunice Stanwood Caldwell. Her father, a sailor, drowned in the Kennebec River in 1835.

“She attended Ipswich Female Seminary from 1828 to 1829, where she met and began a lasting friendship with Mary Lyon, a teacher and an assistant to Zilpah P. Grant, the school’s principal, from 1828 to 1839. She graduated from Ipswich in 1829 and was a teacher there from 1830-1835.

“She served as the first principal of Wheaton Female Seminary (later Wheaton College) in Norton, Massachusetts in 1836. She left her position at Wheaton for Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, where she was Associate Principal from 1837-1838. She married the Reverend John Phelps Cowles in 1838 and followed him to Oberlin College, where he was professor of Hebrew.

“In 1844 they returned to reopen Ipswich Female Seminary which they ran until it closed in 1876. The Cowles had three daughters. Eunice Caldwell Cowles died at the age of ninety-two on September 10, 1903 in Ipswich, Massachusetts.”

Gravestone of Eunice Caldwell, wife of John Phelps Cowles at the Old North Burying Ground in Ipswich
Gravestone of Eunice Caldwell, wife of John Phelps Cowles at the Old North Burying Ground in Ipswich

The Ipswich Female Seminary was established in April 1828 by Zilpah Grant and 24-year-old Mary Lyon for the secondary and college-level education of young women. Girls were prepared for careers as teachers and provided with rigorous studies in academic subjects and “standards of personal conduct and discipline.” It was the first endowed Seminary for women and the first to give diplomas to its graduates.

Ipswich Female Seminary was at the present location of the Christian Scientists church
Cowles, Ipswich Seminary
Page from “Pictorial Ipswich

At the death of Mrs. Eunice Caldwell Cowles, Sept. 10, 1903, the press contained multiplied memorials to her life. The following are from “John Caldwell and Sarah Dillingham Caldwell, his wife, Ipswich, Mass., 1654 : genealogical records of their descendants, eight generations, 1654-1900.”

16 Green St., Ipswich MA
The modest home of John and Eunice Stanwood Caldwell Cowles at 16 Green St. was the entrance to the former Caldwell nursing home.

The Beloved teacher

Boston Globe, Ipswich, Sept. 10, 1903

“Mrs. Eunice Caldwell Cowles, widow of Prof. John Phelps Cowles, died at her residence on Green Street today. She was born in this town Feb. 4, 1811, her parents being Capt. John and Eunice (Stanwood) Caldwell. She was graduated from the Ipswich Female Seminary in 1829; the Institution at that time being under the supervision of Miss Grant and Mary Lyon, whose names are familiar to every scholar. While a pupil her remarkable talents were recognized by her teachers, and soon after her graduation she was installed as Teacher in the Ipswich Seminary.

“When the Wheaton Female Seminary, at Norton, was founded in 1834, Miss Caldwell became the Principal, and filled the position with marked ability. She resigned as Principal at Wheaton to accept an important position under Mary Lyon at Mount Holyoke. While serving as Teacher there, Miss Caldwell made the acquaintance of Rev. John Phelps Cowles of Colebrook, Conn., at the time Professor of Hebrew in Oberlin College. They were married Oct. 16, 1838, and went to Oberlin, where he continued with the College until 1844. In 1844, Prof. Cowles tendered his resignation, and with his wife came to this town and re-opened the Ipswich Female Seminary. They were joint Principals. Their worth and work is attested by hundreds of graduates who now reside in every section of the United States. The Seminary was continued under the direction of Prof. and Mrs. Cowles until 1876. Then it was closed, advancing years compelling them to retire from active educational work.

“Mrs. Cowles was loved by all who knew her. This regard was manifested by her pupils, many coming every year, long distances, to pay tribute; and during the past summer the number was greater than ever before; nearly every State in the union being represented in the callers. Mrs. Cowles became a member of First Church when she was thirteen years old, and for nearly eighty years was an ardent worker. She was one of the original members of the Sunday School, and actively interested in its work. A devoted friend of Foreign Missions, she was for years both President and leading spirit of the Society formed to aid and enlarge its influence and labors.

A Pioneer Woman

Boston Transcript, by the Rev, J. VV. Atwood, formerly of the Church of the Ascension, Ipswich. Sept. 10, 1903

“Mrs. John Phelps Cowles died in the old historic town where she was born in the early days of the last century; one who was a pioneer in the higher education of women and who was a cotemporary of both Mrs. Emma Willard and Miss Mary Lyon. The lifetime of Eunice Caldwell Cowles, who was born in 1811, covered the whole period of the development of education for girls, from its feeble and imperfect beginnings in the first Female Seminaries, as they were called, to the noble Colleges and higher institutions of learning of today.

“The Ipswich Seminary, of which she and her husband were the heads for so many years, was the first school in the land to give a diploma to a woman. In her young womanhood she had helped to found and establish on a firm foundation the Wheaton Seminary at Norton. Later she went with Mary Lyon, who, like herself, had been connected with the Ipswich School, to found the famous Mount Holyoke Seminary, the oldest of our Colleges for women.

“Eunice Caldwell came on her father’s and mother’s side of the best New England blood. The Caldwells and the Stanwoods had been associated with the history of Ipswich from early times. The little town, which retains its distinctive character as an old New England village better than almost any other town in Massachusetts, with its venerable trees and houses, and its historic Common, where the first church of Ipswich has stood since 1634, has been noted for the families of distinction and refinement and of intelligence that have been connected with its past history.

“Miss Caldwell married Rev. John P. Cowles, a man of unusual scholarship, of rare intelligence, a progressive thinker, alert and deeply interested in all questions of the day. During the long years in which they guarded the interests of the Ipswich Seminary, they impressed their personalities upon a large number of young women, many of whom remember them with deep devotion. Among the distinguished women who were connected with the School as teachers or pupils, and who have now passed away, leaving their impression upon American education, literature and life, one recalls Helen Hunt Jackson, Lucy Larcom. Gail Hamilton, Mrs. James G. Blaine.

“When old age had come upon them in 1876, Mr. and Mrs. Cowles reluctantly gave up the School, and the famous Seminary ceased to exist ; but the simple house on a quiet street of the town never ceased to be a center of intellectual life. Here Mr. Cowles, blind for many years, with the bright companionship of his wife, eagerly reading all the new books and discussing all the problems of the age, graciously welcomed a large circle of men and women, and the modest little parlor echoed with wit and learning and bright conversation which a famous French salon of an earlier age might have envied.

“Death sundered the happy relationship in 1889, and though Mrs. Cowles still continued to live in Ipswich for the larger part of the year, yet the spirit of the house had departed. None the less, this woman, who had entered upon the tenth decade of her life, continued almost until the very last to retain her keen interest and sympathy in all things human and divine. The wonderful eyes, so brilliant and burning, lost little of their keenness, the shrewd common sense, the wit and sarcasm, had not lost their point. She saw the frailties of men and women while she was ever cognizant of all that was noble and inspiring. Her mind was a masterful one, and with all her gentle courtesy she was unbending in her will and opinions.

“Year after year the writer of these words, from distant cities, made his pilgrimage to sit once more by the old hearth-stone and grasp the kindly hand. She never failed to recall all that concerned him and his interests, as she never failed in warm sympathy for all she knew and loved. On a fair July morning of the present year, her visitor again saw her for the last time, and marked the ravages of time on the frail form. The vision of her mind was somewhat dimmed, for she had entered upon her 93d year. The quick repartee, the keen insight into the meaning of things, the wide outlook upon life had gone, but not her immediate and kindly recognition of her visitor, and her affection for him and all that belonged to him.

“A few weeks have passed by, and this long and serene and strong life has come to an end. It is difficult to comprehend all the history that is bounded by the horizon of her life. Born in the administration of President Madison, before the War of 1812 had begun, four years before Waterloo was fought, when most of the founders of this Republic were still living, and American literature was unknown, she saw the development of the wonderful century of science, of discovery, of progress in religious and civil liberty, of philanthropy, of education. Her contemporaries had long since departed, but her enthusiasm, her faith and interest in the coming generation and in all progressive thought, did not cease with the growing years. She mingled the austerity of the Puritan with the more catholic charity of the present age. With a strong, reasoning, religious faith, she yet loved this world and thought it a good place in which to live. With her life ended, has passed away almost the last survivor of the old Ipswich residents who gave character and distinction in the middle of the last century to the town, in the simple and dignified quiet of their lives.

John Phelps Cowles

Miss Dyer, of the Congregationalist, wrote of Prof. Cowles at the date of his death, March 11, 1890:

“A unique and remarkable earthly career came to an end in Ipswich, March 11, in the death of Mr. Cowles. was born in Colebrook, Ct., 21 Jan. 1806, and graduated from Yale College in 1826, in the same class with the late Judge Julius Rockwell. While in College Mr. Cowles gained a reputation as an eminent classical scholar; and as a linguist he was almost without a peer among men of his age, being the master of no less than 30 languages, including Arabic and Sanskrit. He studied theology three years with the famous Dr. Porter, of Yale, and was ordained over the Church at Princeton, Mass. his only pastorate. At the end of eighteen months, he accepted the chair of Old Testament literature in Oberlin College, remaining three years.

“While at Oberlin he married the gifted Eunice Stanwood Caldwell, and in 1840 they took charge of the Academy in Elyria, Ohio. They removed to Ipswich, after a service of four years, to assume the Principalship of the Seminary, once the school of Mary Lyon and Miss Grant. It soon became one of the most noted halls in New England. Here for thirty-two years, Mr. and Mrs. Cowles taught, leaving the impress of their rare personalities upon thousands of young women, who never have ceased to love and honor them.”

Another pen adds yet more: “It was as a classical student, especially in ancient Greek and Hebrew, that Mr. Cowles obtained eminence as a scholar of rare ability. He was a thorough linguist, perfectly familiar with the Arabic, Italian, Spanish and French tongue, being remarkably fluent in reading, writing or speaking these languages. He also possessed a true mathematical mind, and manifested a deep interest in geometrical problems. He was a frequent and valued contributor to the Princeton Review and Christian Spectator, as well as other magazines, his papers being distinguished for their logical reasoning and brilliancy of thought. It is said that he was the author of more than one hundred pamphlets and books of a theological character. Mr. Cowles was the possessor of a remarkable collection of ancient classics and theological works, believed to be one of the most valuable private libraries, as well as the largest outside of any University in New England.”

The Ipswich Female Seminary

Ipswich Female Academy

The Ipswich Female Seminary was established in April 1828 by Zilpah Grant and 24-year-old Mary Lyon for the secondary and college-level education of young women. It was the first endowed seminary for women and the first to give diplomas to its graduates. Continue reading

6 thoughts on “Eunice Stanwood Caldwell Cowles”

  1. I’m glad you did this profile of Eunice Caldwell Cowles, because IMO she does not get enough credit for the success of the Ipswich Female Seminary. Yes, Zilpah Grant and Mary Lyon played a big role in getting it started, but it was Cowles and her husband who led the school for more than 30 years and educated generations of young women. She was apparently a force to be reckoned with, and a brilliant mathematician, and her husband (who was Zilpah Grant’s cousin) was a genius, teaching languages and literature for many years even after he became blind. The school would likely have been a mere blip on the educational radar screen if not for Rev. and Mrs. Cowles.

  2. Having spent years with the “players” of the Ipswich Female Seminary when I did my doctoral dissertation on Zilpah Grant Banister, I, too, was happy to see Eunice Caldwell Cowles featured today. I always called her the “Greek chorus” in the Zilpah-Mary story. She possessed the best qualities of both her mentors, but she was her own woman and never held back with her own, reasoned observations.

  3. I would just like to add a possible correction to your story. “In 1844 they returned to reopen Ipswich Female Seminary which they ran until it closed in 1876. The Cowles’s had three daughters.” According to my research the Cowels had three daughters and two sons. Mary b. 1839 in Elyria, Ohio d. 1925, Roxana b. Elyria Ohio, John P Cowels Jr. b. 1844 Oberlin Ohio d. 1893 lost in Nicaragua, Henry A. Cowels b. 1845 Ipswich MA, d. 1864 Ipswich MA, and Susan Abby Cowels b. 1848 dd. 1923. Susan Abby Cowels was the second wife of Daniel Fuller Appleton who co founded the Waltham Watch Company of Waltham, MA.

  4. Was the house they lived on at 18 Green Street?
    Were the Cowles family on Spring Street the ancestors of John Cowles?

    1. Yes, old maps show that their house was at 16 Green St. where the former Caldwell Nursing Home on Green Street is. The house at the front appears to be their home, great altered, but I’m not sure about that. The property was deeded to Stone Bridge Condos by Frederick Cowles, surely the same family, but I do not know if he is related to the Cowles on Highwood off of Spring St. The house at 18 Green St. was built by Isaac Stanwood in 1812.

  5. For additional information on the Stanwood family and the House on “Green Street or Green Lane” go to Internet archive: Source: A History of the Stanwood Family in America -by Ethel Stanwood Bolton. Published 1899 Rockwell & Churchill Press, Boston MA page 124. Available at: An older picture of the house is on page 124.

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