Michelle Isenhoff

Blood Moon: Women's Education

This is the first post in a four-part series about writing and researching my upcoming young adult historical fiction novel, Blood Moon, the second book in my Ella Wood trilogy.

maryland institute 1Every novel I write takes me on a new journey of discovery–especially when I write in the historical fiction genre. Little did I know that when I chose the Maryland Institute as the school Emily Preston hoped to attend, I would be stumbling into the rich history of women’s vocational education.

A little background: Emily Preston is the teenage protagonist in the Ella Wood trilogy. She was born to wealth and privilege on a Southern plantation, but her strong desire to attend a school of higher learning flies in the face of Southern Antebellum tradition, which was far behind the North in terms of liberties granted to women. More specifically, Emily seeks higher education in art.

By the 1860’s, when my series takes place, the Industrial Revolution had been ongoing for some time, but colleges and universities were, almost exclusively, still teaching classical subjects to upper class sons. But greater attention was starting to be paid to vocational training for the middle class, who needed new technical skills for an increasingly industrialized workplace. The Maryland Institute was established in 1825, the second mechanical (vocational) school of higher learning to open in America. Women were admitted in 1854.
maryland institute
Emily joins the women’s School of Design in 1862, a program that focused on fine arts education, textile design, illustration, and photography. I had no idea so many fields were open to women at the time. Training at the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanical Arts, as the school was officially called, would have prepared women for jobs designing print patterns for textiles (wallpaper, table clothes, curtains, clothing, lace, etc.), in the various areas of printing (wood engraving, lithography, etc.), in the up-and-coming field of photography (including the “finishing”, or coloring, of photographs in watercolor, ink, and oil), and as classical artists (portraitists, landscapists, etc.).

Fortunately for me, this has been a fabulous choice to add texture to my protagonist, to create conflict within her family, and to bring authenticity to my setting by illustrating such a little-known historical dimention. Of course, Emily is also navigating the complexities of family, education, and romance during the overarching conflict of Civil War.

See my sidebar and click on any of the Ella Wood images for more information about the series. Ella Wood is currently available. Blood Moon is due out in May or June. Join my New Release list for email notification as soon as it releases.

Next week, part two: African American Soldiers.

Blood Moon: Women's Education

2 thoughts on “Blood Moon: Women's Education

  1. What a find! The school is perfect for Emily. I didn’t know there were such schools for women at that time. I applaud all the research you do as it makes your novels so rich in detail. Now I’m getting excited about the upcoming release!

    1. The librarian at the Maryland Institute (today the Maryland Institute College of Art) was wonderfully helpful. She sent me all sorts of source materials as well as a dissertation by a former student about the history of women at the school. Fascinating research! And the school’s location in a border state just over the Confederate line and not far from Washington and the front lines proved an ideal for my story. It was a perfect pick!

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