Benicia was well on its way to becoming the educational center of the Pacific Coast by the time missionaries Cyrus and Susan Mills came to town in 1866 to operate the Young Ladies Seminary.
The Millses, who later established Mills College in Oakland, found themselves surrounded by numerous other schools devoted to religious and higher education in Benicia. In fact, so many religious and educational institutions had established themselves in the town that people called it the "Athens of the Pacific."
Between 1852 and 1890 Benicia was the home of six highly acclaimed educational institutions, three devoted to the education of women.
The Young Ladies Seminary was the first women's school in Benicia and the Pacific Coast. The two other women's schools were St. Catherine's Academy and St. Mary's of the Pacific.
The Dominican sisters arrived in Benicia by schooner in August 1854 and soon lauded the healthful climate in the St. Catherine's advertisements. The entrance fee to the convent was low even for those days, a mere $10 to defray the costs of the beds.
On Sundays and other holy days, the girls wore the school uniform, which could be either a white muslin or pale blue wool dress in summer, or black wool in the winter. Each girl had a loose cape, the same color and material as the dress. A straw bonnet trimmed with ribbons of white or green completed the student's outfit.
Besides the usual reading, writing and arithmetic, course offerings included orthography (penmanship and spelling), composition, grammar, geography, natural philosophy, astronomy, mythology, botany, bookkeeping, chemistry, sewing, embroidery on lace or muslin, beads, chenille and tapestry.
Advertisements for the school noted that "particular care is directed toward the promotion of refinement of manners and the constant maintenance of a polite and amiable deportment."
St. Mary's of the Pacific, founded in 1870 by the Rev. James Lloyd Breck, was the last of the three women's colleges to come to Benicia.
The first St. Mary's students attended classes in Breck's home. This trial period lasted a year, until Breck moved to new buildings near the men's college, St. Augustine's. The school's curriculum was as varied as that of St. Catherine's with the addition of classes in Latin and French.
About the time Breck was starting St. Mary's of the Pacific, the Millses were getting ready to move to Oakland.
Cyrus and Susan Mills were not impressed with the Athens of the Pacific and believed their future would be better served in Oakland. They bought 168 acres at the foot of the hills in Brooklyn Township and began constructing a building. In July 1871 the Millses announced the opening of the new college and took with them half of the Benicia student body and four of its 11 teachers.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at firstname.lastname@example.org.