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History and education in those Highland County hills of yore, Part 17    

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Steve Roush

By Steve Roush
HCP columnist

Ladies and gentlemen, for nearly four decades, the Rev. Joseph McDowell Mathews was a pioneer of Highland County education. From beginning a school for boys in the late 1820s, to founding the Oakland Female Seminary in the 1830s, to being the head of the Hillsboro Female College, he was a well-known educator in Highland County despite being struggling with ill health for much of his life.

In August of 1879, the Rev. Mathews passed away at the age of 74. In the Aug. 21, 1879 edition of the local newspaper, the good Reverend was eulogized on Page 3 in an article entitled, “In Memoriam: Rev. J. McD. Mathews, D.D.”

“In the death of our late venerable and respected fellow-citizen, Rev. J. McD. Mathews, Hillsboro has lost a man, who perhaps in more than any other who ever lived in this community, contributed by his long and useful labors, to give our town the high character it justly enjoys, as a center of education, morality, refinement and culture. For nearly 40 years, he was engaged in the noble work of educating young ladies in the higher branches of learning, and in those Christian graces which qualify them to adorn and bless society. For this work he was eminently fitted by nature, and his labors were crowned with a great degree of success.

“Hundreds of ladies who were his pupils in the Oakland Female Seminary and the Hillsboro Female College, are now filling honorable positions in society and exercising an influence for good which is felt and recognized all around them. Many of them are happy wives and mothers, who are training up their children for lives of usefulness, and practically applying the wholesome lessons they received from their beloved instructor. Others are pursuing the responsible calling of teachers, and leaving their impress upon the youthful minds entrusted to their care. Thus, through the labors of those he taught, his influence is being widened and extended, and even ‘though dead, he yet speaketh.’

“Not only does Hillsboro owe him a debt of gratitude for his moral and educational influence upon the community, but he also contributed greatly to the material prosperity of the town, by the large numbers of pupils from abroad who were attracted here by his fame as a teacher. The money they brought and expended while receiving their education, contributed in no small degree to the business of the town.

“Mr. Mathews was a man of rare gentleness of character, yet of unyielding firmness in what he believed to be right. Modest and retiring in disposition, he mingled but little in general society, but devoted his whole energies faithfully and successfully to the work of instructing the minds and molding the characters of the young ladies under his care.

“The last 30 years of his life were an almost constant struggle with ill health, and to judge from his bent form and feeble appearance, few of his friends, at any time during the period, would have thought it possible for him to attain the age of 75 years. That his life was thus prolonged, in spite of his arduous and unremitting labors, must be attributed chiefly to his careful and regular habits.

“For more than 30 years past, until confined to his bed, he took daily and accurate observations of the weather for the Smithsonian Institute, at Washington City, including range of thermometer and barometer, course of the wind and clouds, amount of rain and snow, etc., etc., and his records were regarded as the standard for this part of the country.”

Quite a eulogy that rolled off the presses more than 144 years ago. Yes, the Rev. Joseph McDowell Mathews certainly left a lasting impression on Hillsboro and Highland County. Definitely for that time period – and beyond.

Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next time.

Steve Roush is president of the Highland County Historical Society and served as chairman and vice chairman on the HCHS Board of Trustees for two terms, a board member of the Highland District Hospital Foundation, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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••• Publisher's note: A free press is critical to having well-informed voters and citizens. While some news organizations opt for paid websites or costly paywalls, The Highland County Press has maintained a free newspaper and website for the last 25 years for our community. If you would like to contribute to this service, it would be greatly appreciated. Donations may be made to: The Highland County Press, P.O. Box 849, Hillsboro, Ohio 45133. Please include "for website" on the memo line.

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