Thursday, July 22, 2010

Elizabeth Female Academy - A Reminder of Audubon in Mississippi

John James Audubon is remembered today as one of the finest naturalists ever to explore the North American continent. He is memorialized in the Audubon Society and his work, particularly on the bird species of the United States, is still critical today.

He spent many months roaming through the South, studying its wildlife up close, and produced the only known artistic representations of such rare species as the Ivory Billed Woodpecker from life. It is a little known fact, however, that the Haitian born Audubon survived during many of his explorations by painting portraits and teaching drawing. Among the places he worked was a landmark college for women along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi.

The Elizabeth Female Academy, founded in 1818, was the first college in the United States to award degrees to women (a distinction also claimed by Wesleyan in Georgia). The ladies who attended Elizabeth studied advanced topics including Latin, history, mathematic, natural science, philosophy and art. For six weeks in the summer of 1822, their drawing instructor was John James Audubon.

The famed naturalist walked 7 miles each way in the blazing Mississippi sun to teach at the academy, which was located up the trace from Natchez in Washington. The heat and exposure to mosquitoes and other insects soon left him bed-ridden with fever. When he recovered, he accepted a position in Natchez and did not return to the job at the academy.

The ruins of Elizabeth Female Academy can be seen today along the Natchez Trace Parkway. The unique institution held a landmark place in American education and it is well worth taking your time to visit the historic site during a trip up or down the Trace. To learn more, please visit

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