Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

An Early History of Mrs. Hazen's School For Girls in Pelham Manor, Published in 1913

As local developers and land owners worked to subdivide and develop properties in the sleepy little settlement known as Pelham Manor during the 1880's, one of the issues that arose was the adequacy of local public schools.  In an effort to attract potential residents and real estate purchasers, local citizens pressed for the development of private schools to supplement the public school system. 

The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, New York had a star teacher in the 1880's. Her name was Emily Hall Hazen.  A few Pelham Manor landowners coveted the teacher’s talents and experience.  They still were trying to develop the remnants of the subdivision planned by the Pelham Manor and Huguenot Heights Association founded in the early 1870's.  To attract “upper class buyers,” a Pelham Manor landowner named Silas H. Witherbee recruited Mrs. Hazen to open a girl’s preparatory school in Pelham Manor.  According to one account, “although Mrs. Hazen was urged to locate elsewhere, she yielded to the persuasion and promise of support given by the residents of Pelham Manor.”  In 1889 the little school opened, only to become one of the finest girls’ schools in the country before it closed twenty-five years later at the end of the 1914-1915 school year.  The school, officially named "Pelham Hall," was known far and wide as "Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls."  As the school reached its last years, it had served over a thousand students from forty-two States and over two hundred and fifty towns and cities throughout the country.  

Undated Post Card Showing Mrs. Hazen's School
(Between Esplanade and Edgewood Avenue, Ca. 1906).

At essentially the same time, Horace D. Taft (whose brothers included Pelham Manor resident Henry W. Taft and President William Howard Taft) founded one of the nation’s premier college preparatory schools in Pelham Manor in 1890.  The school was known as The Taft School for Boys.  It continues to operate as The Taft School (now located in Watertown, Connecticut).  

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes a brief article published in 1913 that provided information about the early history of Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls as well as a description of its courses of study in the 1913-1914 school year.  I have written extensively about Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls in the past.  For a few of the many, many such examples, see the list (including links) at the end of this posting.  What follows is a transcription of the article published in 1913, followed by a citation to its source.   

“Mrs. Hazen’s School

Mrs. Hazen’s School for Girls was established in Pelham Manor in 1889 and will this year celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary.

At the time of its foundation, a quarter century ago, conditions were so different from those now existing, that residents of to-day can scarcely appreciate the value to the village, at that time, of the establishment of a private school in the community.

Public schools had not then attained their present efficiency, and in the minds of many people of even small means, a private school was the only suitable place to educate their children. 

It was therefore recognized by the larger property owners in Pelham Manor that a good private school would be an important factor in the growth and development of the town, and although Mrs. Hazen was urged to locate elsewhere, she yielded to the persuasion and promise of support given by the residents of Pelham Manor. 

That their judgment was well founded has been demonstrated by the large number of families, amounting to over one hundred, who have since bought ore rented homes in the Pelhams solely through the influence of Mrs. Hazen and for the express purpose of sending their children to Pelham Hall.

Pelham Manor in 1889 did not present the attractions it does to-day.  There were no pavements and in the spring the streets were exceedingly muddy; there was no water system, and it was necessary to pump all water by hand to a tank in the top of each house; there were no trolleys, and all day pupils residing in New Rochelle and Mount Vernon were obliged to drive to the school, while pupils in the boarding department when arriving and departing on trains were handicapped by the inadequacy of the one small livery then in existence, to which it was necessary to send orders by messenger or post, as the telephone was not then established.

For years the school provided forty per cent of the mail which passed through the Pelham Manor post office, and later was a factor in its promotion from a fourth to a third rate office, which would not have been possible without the postal revenue derived from the school.

The school first located on Pelhamdale avenue, opposite the residence of Mrs. Robert C. Balck, in the house then owned by Mr. Silas H. Witherbee, now occupied by Mr. Charles A. Perkins, and the house owned by Miss H.M. Mitchell, now occupied by Mr. Frank A. Hays.  It had been the intention of Mr. Witherbee to erect a large and suitable building as soon as possible, but owing to his death, arrangements were made with Mr. Benjamin F. Corlies for the buidings upon the present site, the corner of the Esplanade and the Boston Post Road.

The building of the two houses facing the Esplanade was begun immediately, and they were ready for occupancy the second year of the school, when the number of pupils had increased from sixteen boarding and twenty-one day pupils with which it opened, to thirty-four boarding and thirty-nine day scholars. 

The number was steadily augmented, until an additional building was required, and in 1893 the large gray building facing Edgewood avenue was built, affording increased facilities for accomplishing thorough and systematic work with a still larger number of pupils.

A study hall, fifty feet square, with carefully arranged lighting and ventilation, large recitation rooms, a chemical laboratory, an isolated suite of rooms for cases of contagious diseases, a studio for art work, piano practice rooms with sound proof walls, a gymnasium fifty feet square equipped with every apparatus suitable for young women, measuring rooms and shower baths, all contribute to the high degree of efficiency obtained by Mrs. Hazen in her school.

The buildings now accommodate fifty boarding pupils and seventy-five day pupils, and the large staff of instructors are qualified to conduct a child’s education from learning the alphabet, through twelve years of study, to graduations.

There are four departments, primary, intermediate, academic and collegiate, and upon the completion of the entire course, students have received the equivalent of a full college course in abbreviated form. 

In addition to the scholastic work accomplished in the class room, drawing and painting, vocal and instrumental music are taught by visiting professional instructors. 

The pupils have many forms of outdoor sports, including tennis, hockey and basket ball [sic], in addition to their gymnasium training, which combines the Sargent, Swedish, Savage and Delsarte methods.

That this school is widely known is attested by the fact that its registration list numbers over a thousand names, pupils having been received from forty-two States, and over two hundred and fifty towns and cities. 

The school has every year offered gratuitously to the residents of the place as well as to its students, the opportunity of attending a lecture course covering a wide range of subjects:  art, science, history, music, drama and literature, many of the lecturers being men and women of distinction and prominence.

The philanthropies of the school are probably more extensive than is realized by those not connected with the school, for in addition to liberal contributions to the churches, it aids by annual contributions amounting to several hundred dollars, the Jacob A. Riis settlement work, Dr. Grenfell's Labrador mission, St. Faith's House Rescue work, the New York Convalescent Home for Women, the Stony World Tuberculosis Sanitorium, the poor whites in the Kentucky Mountains, several fresh air homes for children, and many domestic and foreign missionaries.

In addition to these charities, the school this year contributed one hundred dollars to the New Rochelle Hospital campaign in addition to Mrs. Hazen's personal subscription.

The day has passed when private schools are supposed to encourage only superficiality, extravagance, false standards and general worldliness; for parents now realize that the private school of to-day has earnestly at heart the desire to equip the young girl and boy with every possible preparation for life; to give them cultivated minds, gentle manners, high ethical standards and a broad outlook upon life, and aims at the education of the heart and the spirit as well as the mind.

Its chief advantage lies in its ability to exclude harmful influences and undesirable associations from its pupils, to keep them constantly in an atmosphere of refinement and lofty ideals, and to deal with the variations of ability and temperament by methods carefully adopted to the individual.

Not infrequently it also acts as parent, guardian, guide and friend to many young persons whose home environment under present conditions of life in America is detrimental to their welfare and development.  To these the boarding school becomes a home, where regularity of hours, wholesome recreation and the constant sympathy of teachers and schoolmates enable them to develop their best possibilities, and qualify them to fulfill their obligations in life in the ranks of noble American womanhood.

Mrs. Hazen was born in Auburn, N.Y., and is the daughter of the Hon. Benjamin Franklin Hall, who was appointed by President Lincoln as the first Chief Justice of Colorado, and was the partner at law of William H. Seward, Secretary of State under Lincoln's administration.


Source:  Mrs. Hazen's School, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 20, 1913, p. 6, cols. 4-5.  

*     *     *     *

952 Pelhamdale Avenue, Once Part of Mrs. Hazen's
School for Girls and, Later, Part of the Taft School for Boys.
Photo taken in 2005 by the Author.

Edgewood House, Once Part of Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls (Since Razed).
Source:  New York State Historic Preservation Office.

Only Known Photograph of Any 19th Century Women's Baseball Team:
The Pelham Hall Baseball Team (Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls).
Circa 1898, Courtesy of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham.

Student Tennis Players, Pelham Hall, on the School Grounds
(Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls), Undated Photograph
Courtesy of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham.

Student Tennis Players, Pelham Hall, on the School Grounds
(Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls), Undated Photograph
Courtesy of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham.

As noted above, I have written extensively about the private school known as "Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls."  For a few of the many examples, see:

Bell, Blake A., Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls: Pelham Hall, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 40, Oct. 8, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.

 Mon., Aug. 15, 2005:  952 Pelhamdale Served as a 19th Century School for Girls, Then a School for Boys. 

Fri., Oct. 14, 2005:  A Reunion of Alumnae of Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls

Tue., Aug. 22, 2006:  Early Advertisements for Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls in Pelham Manor.  

Wed., Sep. 6, 2006:  Pelham Hall Shelter, a "Refuge for Erring Girls", Founded by Alumnae of Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls in Pelham Manor.  

Thu., Jul. 12, 2007:  The Infamous Burglary of the Girls of Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls in Pelham Manor in 1905.  

Mon., Mar. 3, 2008:  1891 Advertisement May Reflect Summer Rental of One of the Dormitories of Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls.

Fri., Jul. 24, 2009:  Late 19th Century Photos of Students with Tennis Rackets at Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls in Pelham Manor.
Tue., Feb. 16, 2010:  Photograph of Only Known 19th Century Women's Baseball Team in Pelham, New York.

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