Carroll County IL Biography

FRANCES A. (WOOD) SHIMER


Mr. and Mrs. Henry Shimer


Mt. Carroll Seminary 1878

Frances A. (Wood) Shimer, founder of the Mount Carroll ladies’ Seminary, has been at the head of the institution, or of that which led to it, for a period of thirty-six years, it having been established by her and Miss C. M. Gregory, on the 11th of May, 1853. They opened up in an old store-building on the ground where the Glenview House now stands, with eleven pupils, who at the end of the first term numbered thirty. The latter were mostly little girls, and the institution was in effect a select school. They occupied that building five quarters, and then a stock company was formed by the people of the town, who had obtained a charter from the Legislature in 1853.

Among those largely instrumental in encouraging this enterprise and placing it upon a solid basis was the Hon. W. M. T. Miller, a member of the Board of Incorporators. The subscription amounted to about $3,000, only $1,000 of which was paid; only four persons paid their subscription, and two of these were Mrs. Shrimer and Miss Gregory. A few others paid $5 or $10, and that was the last heard from them. Notwithstanding these drawbacks, the main projectors of the enterprise, by almost super-human efforts, succeeded, in 1854, in beginning the erection of a brick building forty-four feet square, and which forms the northwest wing of the present structure. For this the price of the contractor, J. J. Jeffrey, was $4,500. Of this a portion was raised and the balance borrowed. The school was established in it on the 24th of October, 1854.

Up to this time Mrs. Shrimer and Miss Gregory had conducted the school independently, not being able to obtain funds with which to even furnish any of the rooms, and a part of the time it was a mixed school for boys and girls. It was, indeed, expected that a boy’s academy would be eventually established. With that object in view, Mr. Shrimer and her assistant employed a gentleman from the East to take charge of the boys in a separate room, but before the end of six months the citizens became dissatisfied and the result was that the boys were taken into the main room.

Upon removing into the present building, Mrs. Shrimer and Miss Gregory began work as salaried teachers, under a reorganized Board, and thus labored for about six months, the building in the meantime being still incomplete, especially in its outside surroundings. There was neither a fence, a shrub planted, nor even steps by which to enter the building. In spite of these drawbacks, however, they had a good attendance – twenty-five boarding pupils and a goodly number of others who lived at home. Everything required involved an outlay of money, they having to buy bread, milk, and even water, and money was very slow coming in. Many who had taken stock in the property only intended it for an investment, and when they found it was not likely to be profitable, failed to pay up.

At this time there were only 400 inhabitants in Mt. Carroll, with comparatively little culture, and the outlook was anything but cheerful. Finally the stockholders above mentioned solicited Mrs. Shrimer and her faithful co-worker to take the stock off their hands, which they did for the consideration of $4,500, and for which they gave their notes in small amounts, such as they were able to meet when they came due. The five acres of ground had been donated to the school, and was in the middle of a wheat field, which extended as far as the present site of Cole’s Opera House. This had cost the owners $1.25 per acre, and they were now willing to sell it at $7 per acre. As soon as a location was talked of there was considerable competition for the point on which it was to be situated, and there seemed nothing desirable to be had for less than $100 per acre, and notes were given for this amount by the Board to secure the present Seminary grounds.

In the meantime the land between this point and the town was disposed of in lots to the amount of $17,000 the first season, all on account of the location of the school. Mrs. Shrimer paid for the furnishing of the building, with the understanding that if the school continued ten years the furniture should be donated to it. Within a few months the old Board became embarrassed and could not pay it. At the suggestion of Mrs. Schimer, scholarships were issued to the amount of the furniture debt, and after a very hard struggle it was finally liquidated. Too much credit cannot be given those two ladies for their perseverance and resolution during those trying times. The scholarships were issued to Mr. John Rinewold, who settled the furniture bill, and from that time they were comparatively free from any painful embarrassment. They were enabled to pay their notes as they came due, with 10 per cent interest, to the last cent. The obligations were held by a Pennsylvania capitalist, who had no interest in the enterprise except as a profitable investment for his money. In the meantime Mrs. Shrimer met her full share of the expense of fencing, setting out shade trees and shrubbery, and a thousand other little expenses constantly to be met. She also battled with ill-health, but the prairie air finally seemed to be beneficial. She came to Illinois a confirmed consumptive, as she supposed, but is now strong and well.

In the course of a few years twenty acres of land were added to the Seminary grounds. The original five acres were at first used for pleasure grounds and the planting of fruit trees; but these trees have since been removed and the five acres were planted to ornamental trees and shrubbery, the fruit trees having been removed to the later purchase. The whole twenty-five acres is under a thorough state of cultivation, planted largely with trees, while a goodly portion is utilized for vegetables.

In 1857, an addition, 60 x 25 feet, and two stories in height, with basement, was put up to accommodate the increasing patronage of the institution, and ten years later, in 1867, the structure was still further enlarged; also in 1876. It now has a frontage, north and west, of 250 feet. Boy pupils were accommodated until 1867, and then, on account of crowded quarters, it was decided that they would have to be removed, although Mrs. Shrimer believes in co-education and would gladly have given them room if possible. The average attendance of young ladies is 125, representing from fifteen to twenty States. They are prepared for college under a certificate, for Vassar and other leading institutions. The school is wholly unsectarian, although Mrs. Shrimer belongs to the Baptist Church and has received considerable patronage therefrom. Her partner, Miss Gregory, withdrew from the institution in 1869, and since then the whole responsibility has fallen upon Mrs. Shrimer. She now employs ten teachers, and has proven an admirable illustration of the results of energy, resolution and perseverance.

The subject of this sketch was born in the town of Milton, Saratoga Co., N. Y., Aug. 21, 1826, and is the daughter of Jesse and Rebecca (Bryant) Wood. After completing her primary studies, she attended school at Stillwater, in Saratoga County, and later was a pupil of the Albany Normal School, from which she was graduated in 1849. Afterward she taught at what was then Factory Village, but what is now Ballston Spa, and also at Rye, near New York City. Finally, on account of ill-health, she was obliged to abandon her labors in that region, and then came with Miss Gregory to Illinois, making the trip over a new country after the fashion of those days, riding in a wagon across the country from Janesville to Mt. Carroll, the trip occupying three days.

In 1857 Miss Frances A. Wood was united in marriage with Dr. Henry Shrimer, who for a short time assisted his wife in the Seminary, but later his professional duties fully occupied his time. Jesse Wood, the father of Mrs. Shrimer, was a native of Connecticut, whence he emigrated to New York State early in life. He was married in 1805, and settled in Onondaga County, where he lived ten years. He then went back to his native State, to take care of his father and mother, and there his death took place in 1851. The mother had passed away in 1836, when her daughter Frances was a child ten years of age, leaving two sons and two daughters. All were members of the Baptist Church.

One crowning feature of the Mt. Carroll Ladies’ Seminary has been the efficient aid rendered girls who were unable to meet the expenses of their tuition. A fine illustration of this is the case of Miss Winona, daughter of the Rev. Mr. Branch, of Springfield, Ill., a superannuated Baptist minister without means. This girl industriously worked her way through, by the aid of teaching, left the institution, entirely free from debt. Later she taught school at Mendota, was finally married to a Mr. Sawyer, and is now a resident of Lincoln, Neb. Other young ladies have been assisted in a similar manner through the benevolent impulses of Mrs. Shrimer. This lady deserves great credit for the manner in which she has overcome obstacles and in which she has conferred upon Mt. Carroll one of its best educational institutions. She is now reaping the reward of her labors and sacrifices, has a comfortable income and a competence for the future. She is the owner of some valuable property, including an elegant orange grove of seventy acres at De Land, Florida, where she has spent her winters for the last six years.

Contributed by Carol Parrish - Portraits & Biographical Pg 823

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