(Jan. 24, 1824-May 30, 1900). Born at Corydon, Indiana, the original state capital, Catharine Merrill was the daughter of Samuel Merrill, who as state treasurer, helped move the state offices to the wilderness capital of Indianapolis.

Catharine Merrill (right) with her sister, ca. 1899 Credit: General photograph collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library View Source

Primarily noted as a teacher, and revered by three generations of Indianapolis students, Merrill first operated a private school from the family home. She followed in the footsteps of her father, who—in addition to his civic duties—volunteered as a pioneer schoolmaster at the first Indianapolis Merrill home near the site of the Grand Hotel.

The family later moved to an 80-acre farm that extended from Street to North Indianapolis, along the Michigan Road. The Catharine Merrill School was built on the site of the family home. She is also credited with arousing interest in the housing of women prisoners, and her efforts led to the Home for Friendless Women.

After teaching for a time at Cleveland, Ohio—where a number of her Indianapolis pupils followed her—Merrill spent two years of study in Europe. Many of her letters from this period were saved by the Catharine Merrill Club and later published in a volume arranged by Katharine Merrill Graydon in 1934.

During the Civil War, she was actively involved in war work, including service as a nurse in the field. After the war, Governor Oliver P. Morton personally recruited her to write a history of Indiana’s soldiers in the conflict. The Soldier Of Indiana In The War For The Union (2 vols., 1866, 1869) contains biographical material not available elsewhere and has been ranked as the most comprehensive history of the state’s part in the Civil War.

In 1869, Ovid Butler endowed the Demia Butler chair of English literature at North Western Christian University (now Butler University) The endowment was to provide funds for a woman teacher and was named in honor of his daughter, the first female graduate. Butler invited Merrill to accept the position; she did so and taught at the college until 1885. At that time, she resumed teaching her private classes so in demand by old and new students, continuing to do so until April 1890. In his book The Hoosiers (1915), Indianapolis author Meredith Nicholson described Merrill as a “Bringer of the Light,” revealing how many in the city thought of her.

Revised February 2021

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