This topic came up on a writers email loop about finishing schools in the 19th century. I started searching in google books and discovered the term "finishing school" was used quite differently during that century. Basically, "finishing school" referred to a higher education and was often used in terms of finishing schools for boys and sometimes girls. So, I searched a little deeper and came across this excerpt from Graham's Magazine, Volume 41 by Frederick Bremer ©1852 Referencing School of Design for Women.
My thoughts involuntarily sped back across the sea to the country, to the people who preeminently among all the nations of the earth govern themselves, and to one of the Schools of Design for Women, which have lately begun to spring up there, with that fresh, vigorous growth, which all great, public, useful undertakings have in the soil of the New World. I saw the school which had been commenced fn the first instance in the shade of private life, by Mrs. Sarah Peter, an English lady, with a warm feeling of fellow-citizenship; which had been taken up by the government, and incorporated with the Franklin Institution, at Philadelphia, with an annual endowment of three thousand dollars. I saw once more the large, light halls there; saw the kind, cheerful mistress happy in her vocation, happy in the progress of her pupils, and in the flourishing condition of the school.
I saw the young girls' beaming countenances, saw how a happy consciousness had arisen within them, as if they would say, "We also have now obtained work in God's beautiful vineyard!"
I saw them drawing vine-shoots and palms, as decoration for walls and floors; saw genins here unfold its youthful wings in joyful amazement at its own powers; and patient industry gladly take her place in the service of her more ardent sister; saw in the practical direction which the spirit of the New World gives to all work, an infinite future and sphere of operation openad for women in the employment of that talent which Mother Nature has given to them for the beautifying of life—the sense of the beautiful, a feeling for the tasteful and the ornamental—a talent which has hitherto been employed merely in a circumscribed manner.
"See!" said a warm-hearted, right-minded man, Dr. E., who accompanied me through the scholars' room, " this work by Elizabeth B.! fifteen dollars have been paid for it. And this second design for a carpet, by Miss ___, this has been ordered and
twelve dollars are paid for it. This little pattern for calico-printing—see how pretty it is!—has been bought for two dollars—this for three. And these wood-cuts, are they not well done? The young girls who do these are full of orders for similar ones, and can command their own price. This lithograph is another work of Miss ____; and these lithographed groupes of flowers, ordered for a little book, are by
Miss ____, and twelve dollars are paid for each. But I must introduce you to this young girl, Miss ____. She used formerly to maintain herself by her needle; she did needlework even for my family; but it was discovered that she possessed so remarkable a talent for drawing, that after only seven months' instruction, she is secure of provision for the whole of her life, by means of art."
Dr. E. and the head mistress together, selected spcciraensofthe young girls' various works. "Take," said they, "this, and this, and this, and this, home with you to your fatherland."
This was in North America; in the country which preeminently opens a free field for the development of women. In Europe a few individual voices are raised for this object. In America it is the universal coice which says—
"He who points out a new field for the employment of female industry, ought to be regarded as one of the public benefactors. And every means by which such a field becomes accessible to woman recommends itself to society as an important agent in the civilization of the future."