Women’s History Month: Julia Tevis

Women’s History Month: Julia Tevis

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Shelby County Public Library will highlight notable Kentucky women throughout the month of March, beginning with Shelbyville’s own Julia A. Tevis (December 5, 1799 – April 21, 1880). Julia Ann Hieronymus was born in Clark County, Kentucky on December 5, 1799. In search of better educational opportunities, her family moved to Washington, D.C. After the death of her father, Julia took a teaching job in Abingdon, VA. where she met her husband, Reverend John Tevis.

They were married on March 9, 1824. The following year Tevis founded a preparatory school for girls called the Science Hill Female Academy right here in Shelbyville. The school opened on March 25, 1825 with eighteen to twenty students in attendance.

Science Hill School, taken from Washington Street. Date unknown. From the Library’s collection.

It was recommended to Tevis by an undisclosed Doctor of Divinity that chemistry should not be covered in a woman’s school. She did not agree. She argued that “chemistry ought to be a stated branch of liberal education in every female school ” (Tevis, 1878, Sixty Years in School-Room, p. 414) to help them become acquainted with what is already known by others’ experiments. She had a chemistry lab built in the early 1850s. Grammar, science, mathematics and more were taught at the school and the teachers were required to be well-educated, able and competent. She claimed, “it is a well-known fact that true piety and virtue shine with double luster when the intellectual faculties are well cultivated” (Tevis, p. 464).

Tevis was not a supporter of the Confederacy and supported the emancipation of slaves. Tevis was inclusive during a time of exclusion. Due to her and the school’s immaculate reputation, she had students from all over the nation, but mainly from the Southern states.

Science Hill was eventually sold to Dr. Wiley Poynter in 1878 who turned it into a college preparatory school. It was run by his wife, Clara M. Poynter until her death in 1937. It closed in 1939. 

If you would like to learn more about Julia A. Tevis, the Shelby County Public Library has several publications about her life and the Science Hill Female Academy, including her autobiography “Sixty Years in a School-Room” located in the Kentucky Room. One such copy of this publication was presented to the library in 1915 by Belle Tevis Speed, her daughter, to whom the book was dedicated.

Make an appointment to visit the Kentucky Room online.

Written by Shana Schack, Reference Librarian

Shana Schack has been with the Shelby County Public Library for eleven and a half years and is currently the Adult Services Librarian. She has a BA in Psychology from the University of Louisville and received her MLIS in 2017 from San Jose State University. She is a happily married mother of two and enjoys gardening, reading, and hiking in her free time.

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