Miss Fanny Matheny wore this dress when she graduated from the Bettie Stuart Institute in Springfield at age 19. The Bettie was a girls’ school that educated the daughters of some of Springfield’s most prominent families in courses ranging from English and math to art and music. After graduation, Fanny married Dr. John Dixon and played an active role in the city’s cultural and charitable organizations. She was involved in the Humane Society, the Red Cross, and the Home for the Friendless.
Educational opportunities for girls and women expanded in Illinois after the Civil War. The public school system, established in 1854, continued to grow, while at the same time, the number of private academies and seminaries devoted to female instruction increased. Growing access to education gave women opportunities to exert freedom and find their voices within the dynamic social and cultural landscape of the late 19th century.