Irving College, located between Simpson and Main Streets in Mechanicsburg from 1856 through 1929, once offered the same type of curriculum, administrative trends, and student organizations that existed at many women's colleges throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Irving was founded in 1856, during the initial rush of female colleges, when no less than seven women's colleges were within a 50 mile radius of the county seat.
In 1856, Solomon Gorgas, a successful businessman, state legislator, and influential resident of Mechanicsburg donated land for an institution for the education of women.
As a genealogist, Lenore Embick Flower was very much aware of her ancestry. It may be proper, therefore, to begin with a mention of her immediate ancestors: John Dunbar and Agnes Waugh Greason Dunbar. A tombstone marks their grave at Carlisle's First Presbyterian Church-Meeting House Springs Cemetery. On the reverse side of the headstone are the names of six of their children who died of diphtheria during the 1850s.
Perhaps if a symbol were to be chosen for historians, it would be an owl. The wise old owl, who listens more than he speaks, just as the historian is supposed to observe and study before he publishes his essay into the past. Yet, upon reading historical essays, one begins to sense that historians might more appropriately march beneath the sign of the parrot. History, which began as the most inquisitive of arts, often degrades into repeating accepted wisdom, and the received tradition replaces individual inquiry.
The advancement of civilization demands a full development of the minds of our girls. The day when the boy is to be educated and the girl neglected has, like other relics of barbarism, passed into history.
- Irving College catalogue for 1896-1897
Coming at the dawn of the Progressive Era, the sentiments above seem to herald exciting opportunities at a small, private women’s college in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. At the same time, however, the school motto emblazoned at the front of the catalogue suggests a contradictory aim. The words are taken from Psalm 114:12:
That our daughters may be as corner stones polished after the similitude of a palace.