Dorchester Illustration 2262 Wrought at Mrs Saunders and Miss Beach’s Academy Dorchester

2262 Needlework by Eunice Bent

Dorchester Illustration no. 2262    Wrought at Mrs. Saunders and Miss Beach’s Academy

Eunice Bent made this piece of needlework at the school for young ladies operated in the first half of the 19th century by Judith Foster Saunders and Clementina Beach. The scan is from Betty Ring’s book Girlhood Embroidery, 1993). There is a verse from the Bible about Hagar on the piece itself (Genesis XII:17 … and the angel of God called unto Hagar out of Heaven…), and a statement on the matte: Wrought by Eunice Bent at Mrs. Saunders & Miss Beach’s Academy, Dorchester.

Of the many schools for young women that sprang up in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Saunders and Beach Academy in Dorchester emerged as one of the most respectable–(Betty Ring. “Mrs. Saunders’ and Miss Beach’s Academy, Dorchester.” in The Magazine Antiques, August 1976).  Today the school is especially remembered for the noteworthy silk embroideries created by the students under the supervision of the proprietors whose goal was to prepare the daughters of well-to-do families to attract an appropriate husband and to take their place in society.

The women purchased the house for their school on Meeting House Hill from William and Frederick Pope, lumber merchants based in Dorchester.  Saunders had already operated a school in her hometown of Gloucester and was known for her exceptional skillful teaching of needlework as early as 1802.  She had no children, and little is known of her husband Thomas Bradbury Saunders who died in 1810.  Her well-known cousin Judith Sargent Murray helped Saunders and Beach with the description of their new venture

“I drew up the following preamble, and subjoined terms … Informed that the Town of Dorchester is destitute of a Seminary for Young Ladies, and impressed with reports of a high idea of the salubrity of the air, eligibility of the situation, and liberal urbanity of the inhabitants—two ladies, the one a native of America and the other born and educated in England …propose forming an academy in that place, where they will receive young Ladies as boarders upon terms hereafter to be committed …”— (Letter dated November 29, 1802: Judith Sargent Murray to Judith F. Saunders).

In March, 1809, the following subjects available at the Academy appeared in an advertisement published in the Columbia Sentinel:

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Letter Writing, Geography and the use of the Terrestrial and Celestial Globes, French Language, Embroidery, Drawing and Painting, in oil, water colors, crayons, &c., tambour, plain, and ornamental Needle Work, drawing and coloring Maps and Mercator’s Charts.

No other school in the vicinity advertised its facilities more profusely or consistently. The census of 1810 shows an astonishing total of forty people were then residing in this house: one young male, thirty-six young ladies, and three women.  It is difficult to imagine how so many could have been adequately lodged in a house which had about nine rooms.  The house was enlarged by the addition of a long ell at the rear in 1817.  From 1822 to 1824 they conducted their school at other locations, but in May, 1825, they returned to their house in Dorchester, where they continued teaching at least until 1834 –(Betty Ring).

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