From the Archives: Lewis School Door
Sometimes, the most seemingly mundane, everyday object can have an extraordinary history and symbolism. This is the case with this door from the Lewis School. Founded in the mid-1850s by Mrs. C.E. Lewis in Oxford, Mississippi, it went through several name changes over the years. Similar schools for young women, called female seminaries, existed throughout the country, with an estimated 3,000 operating in 1850. They were very often the only option a woman had to receive a formal education. Such institutions were only accessible to a small portion of women. The Lewis School, like other schools for girls at the time, would have focused on teaching their students “lady-like” subjects such as the arts and classical literature with little math or science.
When the Founders went away to school in 1873, they were virtually completely cut off from their family and friends back home. The closest train station to their hometown Kosciusko was 16 miles away in Durant, and Oxford was another 100 miles away. Roads at the time could be rough and hazardous, and there was no quick, easy way to travel back home. Walking through the door, the school was a metaphorical portal into a new phase of their lives.
Less than ten years later, the nearby University of Mississippi began admitting women. The Lewis School was able to continue for several years, but like other female seminaries, they could not survive in the face of coeducation becoming more common. Before the building was torn down, alumnae of Psi-Lewis rescued several pieces of the structure, including this door. Its survival, and the survival of the other Lewis School artifacts, is remarkable. Kept in Frances Lewis Stevenson Archives at Executive Offices, it is one of our oldest artifacts.