The Historic Hillsborough Commission preserves of one of the state’s earliest female academies, The Burwell Academy for Young Ladies . Today, the Burwell School Historic Site is a two-acre property, which contains the Burwell residence (ca. 1821, 1848), the original brick classroom building of Robert and Margaret Anna Burwell’s Academy for Young Ladies (ca.1837), and a rare brick Necessary House (ca. 1837).  

During the antebellum era, the property was the home of Robert and Margaret Anna Burwell, their twelve children and the enslaved members of their household. On July 17, 1837, the Burwell’s opened their landmark school, The Burwell Academy for Young Ladies . For two decades (1837–1857), the Burwell School educated over 200 young women in a curriculum designed to make them “thorough scholars and useful members of society.”

The school accommodated day students from Hillsborough and boarding students from Florida, Alabama, and New York.  An 1851 edition of the school’s catalogue outlines a broad course of study that included religion, philosophy, penmanship, grammar, geography, geometry, chemistry, and astronomy.  The catalogue, likely written by Margaret Anna Burwell, also set board and tuition at $67.50 and defined the school’s mission as “to seek to cultivate in every pupil a sense of her responsibility for time and eternity,” and accomplishments were measured by “not how much but how well.”  The Burwell School gained a regional reputation for a demanding academic curriculum, and seven of its graduates went on to start schools of their own in North Carolina. 

The Burwell property was also the girlhood home of Elizabeth Hobbes Keckly , who was enslaved in the Burwell household as a teenager. Mrs. Keckly went on to become a successful businesswoman, author, activist, educator, and the confidante of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Click here to learn more about the life and work of Elizabeth Hobbes Keckly

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