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Celeste Parrish "I Want an Education"

Celeste Parrish was born on September 12, 1953 in Pittsylvania, County Virginia. She was orphaned at a young age and was put in the care of an Uncle, who did not see the value in educating girls. So she taught herself by reading and memorizing any book she could find. When her Uncle died, she began supporting herself and family by becoming a teacher.

Celeste felt inadequate as an early teacher and wanted to learn more about the profession. So she read books and finally attended classes at Roanoke Female College and summer seminars at the University of Virginia, but she hoped for an "actual" college diploma. In 1884, when Celeste was 31 she enrolled as a student at the State Female Normal School in Farmville (now Longwood University), the first state school founded to educate women teachers.

After only a few weeks at SFNS Celeste was invited to begin teaching mathematics, and in a year, she was Chair of the Mathematics Department. Celeste never lost her passion for learning, and throughout her career, she was often student and teacher. In 1886, she earned a degree from SFNS. In 1890, she attended the University of Michigan, after being denied admission to the University of Virginia, who did not admit women for degree programs. Not to be dissuaded she also took a class in Analytical Mechanics at Hampden Sydney on the weekends.

In 1887, several teachers at the State Female Normal School threatened to resign if Miss Parrish was not fired, this petition circulated asking residents to support the resigning teachers. The petitioners did not succeed and Celeste Parrish continued teaching until 1890.

In 1893, she became chair of the Mathematics Department at Randolph Macon Women's College, where she also taught psychology. While there, she helped establish the first psychology laboratory in the South. During the summers, Celeste took summer classes at Cornell University and received special permission to take correspondence classes. In 1896, she earned a Bachelors Degree from Cornell University in Philosophy.

Celeste felt strongly about making higher education accessible to women, she wrote articles and urged female seminaries to become colleges and became the first President of the Southern Association of College Women. She also fought to reform public education and in 1912, became the Rural School Supervisor for North Georgia, traveling by coach and buggy to over 2,400 rural schools to teach and train teachers. Celeste died in 1918 and is buried in Georgia; her gravestone includes the inscription "Georgia's Greatest Women"

In 1935, the Alumni Association donated a portrait of Celeste Parrish painted by Richmond Artist Alexander Von Jost. The portrait was the first one of a women to hang in Lancaster Library. The portrait is now part of the permanent collection of the Longwood Center for Visual Arts.