Sill, Anna Peck (1816–1889)

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Sill, Anna Peck (1816–1889)

American educator who founded Rockford Female Seminary (later Rockford College). Born Anna Peck Sill on August 9, 1816, in Burlington, New York; died of pneumonia on June 18, 1889, in Rockford, Illinois; daughter of Abel Sill (a farmer) and Hepsibah (Peck) Sill; attended Miss Phipps' Union Seminary, Albion, New York; never married; no children.

Anna Peck Sill, the youngest of ten children, was born in 1816 in Burlington, New York, the daughter of Abel Sill and Hepsibah Peck Sill . Her father had come to that frontier area from Lyme, Connecticut, more than 25 years earlier and established a farm. Her mother was the daughter of a prominent New York judge, Jedediah Peck, who was responsible for the creation of free rural schools in New York by writing a bill and actively pursuing its enactment; he had also fought to eliminate that state's policy of imprisoning debtors. An educated woman, Hepsibah Sill strongly influenced her daughter's own development.

From age four, Anna Sill walked two miles daily to a local school, while at home she acquired such traditional domestic skills as spinning and weaving. Having undergone a religious conversion in her mid-teens, Sill possessed deep religious convictions throughout her life. Although inspired to become a foreign missionary, she decided that her calling lay more in providing education to the "wild Northwest."

Sill left Burlington at age 20 to become a teacher at the district school in Barre, New York, where she supplemented her weekly $2 income by spinning and weaving. In 1837, she left Barre to study at Miss Phipps' Union Seminary in Albion, New York, where she also became a teacher the following year. In 1843, she accepted a position directing a seminary in Warsaw, New York, which she held for three years before becoming head of the female department of the Cary Collegiate Institute in Oakfield, New York. Five years later, in 1849, the Rockford, Illinois, community invited her to open a private girls' school there.

Classes at the Rockford Female Seminary began in July 1849 with 60 students. The first building of the new seminary, supported by $6,000 in local donations, was erected in 1852—the same year Sill was confirmed as its principal. The seminary's overflowing enrollment led to the decision to build another structure, and during a visit to New York and New England, Sill solicited funds sufficient to begin construction of the second building, named Linden Hall.

Anchoring her educational philosophy in the belief that education should be a tool of religion, Sill sought to establish the Rockford Female Seminary as an exemplar of Christian values and of service to the community. Opposed to coeducation and the presence of women in public life, Sill also held rigid views regarding appropriate behavior for women. Patterning the school afterMary Lyon 's Mt. Holyoke Seminary, Sill emphasized Biblical and classical studies. She also exerted authoritarian control over the institution and employed a rote instructional style with a demanding student workload. Sensitive, however, to growing criticism of her methods, Sill adapted to shifting educational needs by instituting administrative changes in the mid-1850s. The emergence of female schools with more secular curricula, such as Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith, further influenced Sill to seek the elevation of Rockford Female Seminary to collegiate status, and in 1882 the seminary began to grant degrees. Although Sill's desire to see physical improvements to the institution was not fulfilled before her retirement in 1884, her successor, Martha Hillard MacLeish , continued efforts in building renovations as well as the raising of faculty standards. Anna Peck Sill lived in Linden Hall as principal emerita until her death from pneumonia in 1889. Three years later, Rockford Female Seminary was renamed Rockford College.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Howard Gofstein , freelance writer, Detroit, Michigan