story illustration by Monica Vachula

The Deerfield Academy building as it would have appeared around 1815, with Edward Hitchcock and Orra White at their respective doors. Painting by Monica Vachula.

Refinement and Romance

Education, Art, Science, and Religion

Orra White was the talented, well-educated daughter of a prominent Amherst family. Edward Hitchcock was the brilliant son of a Deerfield hatter who, although poor, married into a locally important family. They met in 1813 when Orra came to teach female students at the fledgling Deerfield Academy. 

Academies sprang up in the American northeast in the years after the Revolution to provide a more polished education for middle-class families than the local one-room schoolhouses could muster. Academy goals went beyond literacy, arithmetic, and other basic knowledge, to promoting piety and teaching classical languages, higher mathematics, and ornamental and useful arts. The sciences were only beginning to seep into the curriculum.

In their involvement in education, energetic productivity, and deep sense of piety, Orra and Edward personified refinement ideals of the day.

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