The invisible woman and the Silent University
Anna Eliot Ticknor (1823-1896) founded the first correspondence school in the United States, the Society to Encourage Studies at Home. In the fall of 1873 an educational movement was quietly initiated from her home in Boston, Massachusetts. A politically and socially sophisticated leader, she recognized the need that women felt for continuing education and understood how to offer the opportunity within the parameters afforded women of nineteenth century America. With a carefully chosen group of women and one man, Ticknor built a learning society that extended advanced educational opportunities to all women regardless of financial ability, educational background, race, geographical location, or physical ability. Through concerted effort she kept the Society and its works as quiet as she could, an invisible woman leading a "Silent University." The silence in which Ticknor sought to cloak her Society still overshadows its work today. Ticknor's influence spread far and wide in the educational developments of the nineteenth century and today, quite unknowingly, the field of adult education reaps the benefits of her innovations. It is rather unfortunate that educational history, particularly adult education history, has left virtually unacknowledged the rich legacy that resulted from the work of Ticknor and her beloved Society. Careful analysis of the Society's documents and an examination of the social, historical, and political context in which it was situated reveal a vibrant, volunteer-led organization which initiated the development of correspondence education in the United States, furthered the advanced education of women, and inspired one of the greatest movements in adult education history, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC). Left out of the literature of adult education history is the link between John Heyl Vincent, Chautauqua cofounder, and Anna Eliot Ticknor. Historical documents of the Society and writings of those closest to Vincent provide evidence to support that it was Ticknor's vision of correspondence education which gave birth to the CLSC. Anna Eliot Ticknor and the Society to Encourage Studies at Home have never been credited neither by Vincent nor by the field of adult education for their innovations and inspiration that changed American education.