Eliza Wheaton Is Born

Eliza Baylies Chapin Wheaton, to whom Wheaton College owes its existence, was born on September 27, 1809 in Northbridge, Massachusetts.  She was educated at the Young Ladies High School of Boston and Uxbridge Academy and moved to Norton following her marriage at age nineteen to Laban Morey Wheaton on June 27, 1829. 

Wheaton Female Seminary was established at Eliza’s behest. The Wheaton family, distraught at the passing of Eliza Wheaton Strong, one of two children of Judge Laban Wheaton and Fanny Morey Wheaton to survive past childhood, searched for a way to honor her legacy and her values. The Seminary was suggested as a “living monument,” where subsequent generations of young women could be inculcated with the ideals of Eliza Wheaton Strong and of the Wheaton family. 

A descendant of Massachusetts Puritan colonists, Eliza brought practicality, piety, and caution to bear on all her undertakings, from reforming her former rapscallion husband (she insisted that members of the town address him as Mr. Wheaton and not by his first name), to improving the community of Norton (the couple were charter members of the Trinitarian Congregational Church in 1832, and Eliza donated land funding for the town’s first public library, and donated land for the first public high school), to nurturing the nascent educational institution that would later bear her name. 

The Seminary was chief among her daily concerns from the day it was founded: it constitutes the chief subject of her daily diaries and her bank balance books.  For many years, her financial gifts to the school kept it open and solvent, and she contributed her concern and devotion to it for the duration of her life.  Upon her death, Wheaton Female Seminary was named the residuary legatee of her will, and was the recipient of her financial largesse. 

Eliza was responsible for bringing some of Wheaton’s most influential figures to Norton; among them, poet and publisher Lucy Larcom, Wheaton Female Seminary principal Caroline Cutler Metcalf, and trustee and principal (and later inaugural president of the college) Samuel Valentine Cole.  She was a member of the Temperance Movement, founding a society called the Cold Water Army.