1847 - 1849

Elizabeth A. Cate

In the spring of 1847, Mrs. Wheaton’s personal appeal brought a new principal to the Seminary, Elizabeth A. Cate, a long-time friend of Martha Vose from their days at Bradford Academy.

Elizabeth Cate maintained a close personal friendship with Mrs. Wheaton. Of their first encounter, Cate later wrote, “In her vocabulary there was no such word as ‘fail,’ and of course I yielded. What could I do but lower my colors to a superior force?”

Previous principals had lacked teaching experience, which hindered the amount of innovation and prestige the institution could obtain. Cate’s experience, on the other hand, as a teacher in the private Boston school of the Reverend Hubbard Winslow, prepared her to make significant improvements in Wheaton’s curriculum, bring in new teachers, and increase enrollments. She also initiated a new four-year course of study in place of the previous three-year path Wheaton offered. She reasoned that a three-year course tended to “make scholars superficial in their attainments,” because too many studies were crowded into too brief a period of time.

Cate’s sudden and early success influenced Laban Morey Wheaton’s 1848 decision to donate $10,000 for a new Seminary Hall, which featured space for a library, work in the sciences, and small classrooms designed to promote direct discussion about the topic of study.

After two years of service at Wheaton, Miss Cate resigned in 1849 for personal reasons. She died in 1907.