Alma Mater follows the lives of seven young women in mid-nineteenth century Canada West (present-day Ontario) where they first come together at St Mary's Hall, a church-oriented boarding school in New Jersey that provides better education opportunities for girls than are currently available in Canada.
Twelve-year-old Margaret Jane McFarland is an intelligent child who dreams of being a doctor like her older brother. Fifteen-year-old Harriet Taylor's widowed father only wants the best education for her to attract a good husband. Sixteen-year-old Emma Burns and her younger sister Julia have already started their education at St Mary's Hall and are now returning, to the consternation of their feisty twelve-year-old sister Isabella, who is eager to join them but is prevented from doing so by her parents until she is older. Twelve-year-old tomboy Lizzie Fuller and her ladylike thirteen-year-old sister Laura complete the group of Canadian girls venturing to the United States.
Based on several years of research into the families of actual girls who attended St Mary's Hall, Pamela Borden Heckert’s narrative follows their adventures in school and the various courses their lives take afterward, during which they experience the joys, challenges, and sorrows of women living in the 1800s—and above all, the endurance of schoolgirl friendships.
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