Male and Female Seminaries, Cherokee County, Oklahoma

In 1846 the Cherokee Council, in session at Tahlequah, took steps toward establishing a male seminary and a female seminary, but these seminaries were not ready for occupancy until 1850.

Soon after Tahlequah was made the capital of the Cherokee Nation, the National Council passed an act providing that the chief should make his official headquarters at that place. From the beginning of the Cherokee government, in 1839, to the recent dissolution of their tribal government, the following named men served successively as chief : John Ross (who served continuously from 1839 to 1866, except when deposed for .a short time during the Civil war trouble), Louis Downing, William P. Ross, Charles Thompson, Dennis W. Bushyhead, Joel B. Mayes, C. J. Harris, Thomas M. Buffington, Samuel H. Mayes and William C. Rogers. All of these men are dead except ex-Chief Buffington, who still resides at his home in Vinita, and ex-Chief Mayes, whose home is at Pryor. Ex-Chief Harris died in Muskogee only a few months ago.

By the terms of the various treaties which the Cherokees had made with the United States, a generous school fund had been accumulated, and in 1846 they laid plans for building a male seminary a mile west of Tahlequah and a large female seminary to be located between Tahlequah and Park Hill, but these schools were not completed until 1850. They were both remodeled and enlarged in 1875, and were undoubtedly the best buildings, with the most advanced courses of study, ever established by an Indian tribe.

Hundreds of cultured women and men now residing in Eastern Oklahoma received their education in these institutions. The Park Hill Female Seminary was destroyed by fire in April, 1887, but within six months the cornerstone of a new and larger building was laid on the new site in the northern suburbs of Tahlequah. The Cherokee Baptist Academy, built many years ago by the Baptist Home Mission Society, was maintained at Tahlequah for many years and was patronized by Cherokees and by many whites or non-citizens who did not have access to the seminaries.

The Tahlequah Institute, a Presbyterian Mission School, was for many years, one of the best educational institutions in the territory. It admitted both Cherokees and white pupils.

The cornerstone of the new female seminary was laid by the Masonic Lodge on April 25, 1888, and speeches were made by Chief Joel B. Mayes, Assistant Chief Samuel Smith and Col. William P. Ross. The occasion was a great event in the history of the Cherokees, hundreds of Indians and whites being in attendance. A large part of the Tahlequah Institute was burned in 1898 while the school was in charge of Dr. C. A. Peterson, a very competent educator. It was promptly rebuilt, however, and for several years continued to do excellent work.

On May 27, 1909, the final closing exercises of the seminary were held and were attended by hundreds of Cherokees from all parts of the nation. Upon this occasion two old Cherokee ladies, who had graduated from the seminary fifty-one years before, occupied seats on the stage with the last graduating class, dressed in the garb which they had worn on their graduation day. Many tears were shed by the ladies present as they recalled the many pleasant memories associated with their beloved alma mater and realized that its doors were being closed forever. As the seminary was approaching the end of its career, Mrs. R. L. Fite, a graduate in the class of 1880, and since a very prominent lady of Tahlequah, wrote of it as follows:

“Whatever mistakes our ancestors might have made, they took great pride in their daughters and saw that they were properly trained for the duties, the realities and responsibilities of life.

“The present life of the seminary is exceedingly prosperous. It is equipped with all the appliances for the modern art of teaching and in every way stands out as a shining monument to the achievements of a proud people.

“The past and present we know, but what of the future? We ask no higher reward than it be worthy of the name it bears and that its identity be not lost in the coming years, but may the thread which is broken now be woven into a brighter and fresher web. May its volume of usefulness be increased and enriched as it flows down into the remote future, and may every Cherokee woman hand down to her posterity the fact that this institution was the creation of their forefathers and the pride of their hearts. The sun has set forever on the Cherokee Female Seminary.”

Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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