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History and education in those Highland hills of yore, Part 7

The Highland County Press - Staff Photo -

The Highland County Press

Ladies and gentlemen, we've reached the seventh offering in this series on history and education in Highland County back in the early 1800s.
In Part 3, we began examining the life and times of the Rev. Joseph McDowell Mathews, a pioneer of education in Highland County in the 1800s, but spent most of Parts 4 through 6 talking about the good Reverend's relatives, including several Congressmen, Revolutionary War patriots, along
with other interesting folks.

Now that we've "buried" Rev. Mathews' uncle, Hillsboro Congressman Gen. Joseph Jefferson McDowell (1800-1877), let's get back to Mathews, who was born Dec. 8, 1804 in Augusta County, Virginia.
Joseph McDowell Mathews' family moved to Kentucky when he was 10 years old and he grew up on a farm. He was a student at a private academy under the direction of Dr. Lewis Marshall, who was the brother of U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall. John Marshall served as chief justice of the United
States from 1801 to 1835 ­ the longest tenure of any chief justice ­ and was also the second cousin once removed of Thomas Jefferson.
Mathews was also a nephew of Allen Trimble, who became Ohio's 10th governor, and Mathews began preaching at a young age. In 1827, Trimble asked Mathews to come to Hillsboro, and he became a teacher and principal at the Hillsboro Academy for Boys, a school he helped found with Gov. Trimble. Then in 1831, Mathews went into the Methodist ministry and held positions in Chillicothe and Cincinnati for around four years. However, during the winter of 1833, his health failed, and he was in ill health for the rest of his life, and he returned to live in Hillsboro.
Living on a farm, he spent the next six years pondering what he'd do for the rest of his life, and in 1839, he opened the Oakland Female Seminary in Hillsboro, the first school in Ohio that offered a thorough education to women. The seminary was first located at the "Y intersection" where East Main Street turns into Marshall and Chillicothe pikes. It was advertised at the time that the students boarded out in private homes of "respectable families" at a cost of $2 weekly, with "washing extra."
The Oakland Female Seminary was a success, as 75 pupils were enrolled by 1840. By that time, the seminary offered courses of spelling, reading and writing for $4, U.S. history, geography, arithmetic and grammar for $5, all higher branches for $6, music, with the use of piano extra, for $10, French for $6, drawing for $4, and classical experiments for $1. Later, the curriculum was expanded to include moral philosophy, chemistry, logic, rhetoric, botany, geometry and history of England for $12, with added Greek, Latin and French for an additional $2.
Mathews also set up a telescope in the school's backyard and taught calculated eclipses, planetary and solar distances. After teaching classes out of his home initially, the success of the seminary allowed the Rev. Mathews to purchase the vacated Presbyterian Church adjacent to his residence for $1,500 so he could move his classes out of his home and into the church building. He furnished the seminary with "maps, globes and extensive apparatus, chemical and philosophical."
Let's pause for now, and we'll continue next time.
Steve Roush is chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, 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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