In downtown Shelbyville, an impressive 78-room brick building known as Science Hill houses the Wakefield-Scearce antiques galleries and import shops. The gallery has a long history of its own, having been founded in 1947. But on this visit, we reach back even further in time to remember the building’s former life as the home of the Science Hill Female Academy.
That story dates to 1825, a time when most gentlefolk believed that all a young woman really needed to be considered educated was reading, writing, and instruction in household management and the social graces. Accomplished young ladies might also speak a little French or play a little piano.
But Julia Ann Tevis had other ideas. A highly intelligent young woman whose own education had included instruction in a variety of subjects from private tutors, she was determined to give that same opportunity to other girls. So when her minister husband was called to Kentucky, she decided to found a school on land owned by her cousin in Shelbyville. Legend says that it was Julia who named the place Science Hill, in honor of her desire to teach such “radical” subjects as science, math, history, and rhetoric.
With Julia at its head, the Science Hill Female Academy weathered disapproval from those who felt young women should not be exposed to such subjects, plus the more physical perils of a cholera epidemic and the Civil War, to become one of the country’s most prominent girls’ schools. Girls from the surrounding community attended as day students, but the school also had boarders from every state.
In 1879, an aging Julia sold the school to Dr. Wiley Taul Poynter. (She would die in 1880.) Focusing on secondary education, he continued and strengthened Julia’s legacy by turning Science Hill into a leading college preparatory academy. Until the financial ravages of the Great Depression finally forced it to close its doors in 1939—after 114 years of continuous operation—Science Hill sent numerous graduates on to Vassar, Wellesley, and other prestigious women’s colleges.
During our visit to the site, we hear fond memories of Science Hill from three alumnae of those last years.
- Program 123
- Branding Louisville, the Young Chefs Academy, Science Hill, the McAlpine Locks and Dam, and nationally renowned entrepreneur Charlie W. Johnson. (#123)