28 July 1818: The Nashville Female Academy puts its students through their year-end paces for the first time. This article from The Clarion & Tennessee Gazette would appear to list the entire student body, noting the subjects covered in each of the four grades. Opened in August 1817 and chartered the following October, the Academy occupied more or less precisely the site of today’s Downtown YMCA on Church Street.
The students listed here likely include some from out of town. The next page of the newspaper announced the hiring of “Benjamin Harrison and his lady of Franklin” to run the Academy’s boarding house. A number of the surnames found on the list do not appear in the 1812 militia enumeration of the city.
Perhaps the most interesting name on the list is that of second-year pupil Sophia Cohen. There’s no certainty she was Jewish, of course, but the name would suggest as much. The Tennessee Encyclopedia states that the first Jews reached the Volunteer State in the 1830s. Sophia might beg to differ.
Searches in various genealogical resources have turned up no trace of our Sophia. We do find that a Perry Cohen bought property (see p. 28) at an estate sale in Robertson County in 1807, and someone of the same name had business interests in Columbia and Murfreesboro between 1819 and 1823. Was he Sophie’s dad? Or might she be a boarder sent up from one of the Cohen families of Charleston, S.C., members of which established in the 1790s what became the first Reform Jewish congregation?
The Nashville Female Academy was an early ancestor, in function if not in form, of today’s Harpeth Hall School. Soon after it died out in the wake of the Civil War, Ward’s Seminary took its place as the premier girls-only school in town. The successor of that institution, Ward-Belmont College, lasted until 1951. Harpeth Hall took up its mission that year.
This 1893 history goes into more detail about Nashville Female Academy:
Early in 1816, Robert White, Thomas Claiborne, and a number of others resolved upon the establishment of a female academy in Nashville. July 4, 1816, they bought 3 acres of land from David MeGavack [sic] for the use of the academy, paying for it $1,500. August 4, 1817, the Nashville Female Academy was opened, with Dr. Daniel Berry and wife, of Massachusetts, as principals….
The patronage of Nashville Female Academy was large…. In 1860 the number of students in attendance was 513. The school had a widespread reputation. At the same time it was thoroughly identified with Nashville, and the “Old Academy,” as it was called, grew to be very dear to the hearts of her people. When Lafayette came to Nashville in 1825, it had a share in his reception. In 1846 it presented a flag to the First Regiment Mexican Volunteers, and in 1861 another to the First Regiment Confederate Volunteers. The academy grounds and buildings occupied 5 acres, a whole square, on Church street, just east of the depot of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway. The buildings fronted 180 feet on Church street and ran back 280 feet. Federal soldiers took possession of the academy property in 1862. With the year 1861 the life of the institution had virtually come to an end.
From a genealogy site comes this 1823 student body list.