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, June 23, 2015

Nanette Bolton of the Priory School for Girls in Pelham Manor

Anne "Nanette" Bolton was the oldest child of Rev. Robert Bolton and his wife, Anne Jay Bolton, of the Priory in Pelham Manor.  She was a pious and intelligent woman who participated in the establishment of the Priory School for Girls and served for many years as its headmistress.  According to an account published in 1933:

"Tradition has it that a friend of Mr. Bolton's, living in Savannah, Georgia, desired him to take his young daughter into his family in order that she might share in the home schooling given by Mr. Bolton to his eight daughters and five sons.  No decision was reached until one day, about 1845 or 1846, a carriage and pair drove up to the Priory and the gentleman, his daughter and her luggage were deposited before the door.  The die was cast and the first pupil of what was to become the unostentatious but famous Priory School had arrived."

Source:  Lindsley, Emily Earle, The School for Girls at Pelham Priory, 9(4) THE QUARTERLY BULLETIN OF THE WESTCHESTER COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY, 86, 86 (Oct. 1933).

For the next several decades, the school welcomed some fifty or sixty students each year consisting of local girls as well as girls from throughout the country (many from southern states).  Classes were held in the mansion’s “Armory” – a large room in the center of the home decorated with suits of armor, swords, daggers and other such objects.  According to one account, students “sat at the head of a long, black oak table, made by the brothers Bolton, from wood which grew on the property. The scholars occupied chairs arranged along the sides and across the lower end.”  Id., p. 87.  

By the mid-1850s, the Priory School for Girls was quite a success.  But, the Bolton Family suffered a tragedy with the death of one of their daughters, Abby.  Abby’s death reportedly affected Robert and Anne Bolton profoundly and, shortly thereafter, they left for England where Robert Bolton died in 1857 followed by his wife two years later.  

Nanette Bolton took over the Priory School, assisted by one of her sisters, Adele, and managed it successfully for many years until yet another tragic event.  While on a stairway in the Priory, Nanette slipped and fell against a carved newel post, injuring herself. This was the “contributing cause that brought an end to the useful and self-sacrificing career of Nanette Bolton” and, in turn, the end of the Priory School for Girls in 1881.  Nanette’s health declined and she traveled to Switzerland where she spent the last years of her life until her death in 1884.

Figurine Depicting Miss Nanette Bolton of the Priory, Pelham Manor.
Crafted by Miss Dorothy Bacheller, Director of Home Economics
Mamaroneck Public Schools -- 1880 Palmer Avenue, Larchmont, NY.
Source:  Figurine in Collections of The Office of The Historian of
The Town of Pelham.  Photograph by the Author, 2006.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

I have written about Nanette Bolton, the Priory School for Girls, the Bolton family and the Priory in Pelham Manor on numerous occasions.  For a listing of such writings, see the end of today's posting.  Today's posting transcribes an article about Nanette Bolton that first appeared in the Quarterly Bulletin of the Westchester County Historical Society that was reprinted in the November 3, 1933 issue of The Pelham Sun.  It sheds additional light on the life of this remarkable woman and appears immediately below, followed by a citation and link to its source.

Principal of the Priory School for Girls

By Reginald Pelham Bolton

Editor's Note:  The following sketches are reprinted from the 'Quarterly Bulletin of the Westchester County Historical Society.'  

Among the mountains of Switzerland are laid the mortal remains of a woman who, during a long career, exercised an unusual and pronounced influence upon the lives of many of the young women of her time, and who, in the sphere of education, was a prominent character and pioneer in the old County of Westchester.  Nanette Bolton, who passed away in 1882, had spent a long life at the Priory at Pelham, devoted to the work of training young women.  The school which she successfully conducted earned a nation-wide reputation for its high purposes, and for its effective religious character.

Anne Bolton was born in the old city of Bath, in England, at the home of her grandfather the Reverend William Jay, on June 20, 1815.  The name 'Nanette' conferred upon her by her family during her lifetime was designed to distinguish her from her mother whose name was Anne.

The little girl grew up as the elder member of a numerous family of boys and girls, and developed a character of self-reliance and decision which made her the dominating influence of the family circle.  Even as aq baby she was observed to possess imagination and originality, and she delighted her father's friend, Washington Irving, by her amusing conversations with her nurse and her dolls, while he accompanied the family on their journey by carriage to a summer resort in Wales.

Her influence upon the members of her own family increased as she grew up.  Her parents came to rely upon her judgment and advice.  Her education was begun by attendance at a school in Reading, England, not far from the home of her father at Henley-on-Thames.  But her studies were interrupted by the needs of the swarm of younger children in the family, and she left school to aid her Mother in their education and training.

It is hardly necessary to describe the atmosphere of intense religious belief in which Nanette grew up, absorbed from a peculiarly devout Mother, and from a religiously-minded Father, supported by the commanding influence of so prominent and pronouced a doctrinal exponent as her Grandfather, William Jay.

As Nanette grew to womanhood her younger brothers and sisters came to depend upon her as the leader of the family circle.  With Robert Bolton, her elder brother, the historian of Westchester County, she was always closely allied in a common interest, but each member of the circle became accustomed to depend upon her judgment and decision, so that she had become the recognized leader of the family at the time when her parents, deeply affected by the death of Abby, their third daughter, removed from Pelham Manor to England in 1857.

The decision to remain in Europe was largely the result of the enterprise and self-reliance of Nanette who decided to expand into a school for girls the family group and to utlize in that project the family home.  At that time, and for some years previously, children of Southern families had been domiciled with the family, and had shared in the generous tuition of the Bolton children.  The Priory School for Girls thus came into being, which received the daughters of many of the family's friends, and became as time proceeded a highly successful organization, the reputation of which as an institution of high moral character and as a nursery of refined manners was widespread.

In this school the personality of Nanette Bolton was paramount, and it was her influence which established its refined character.  In an age when the education of young females was in a very indefinite and somewhat experimental condition, she made of the Priory a real home for the young women who were placed under her care.  There they received more than the commonly accepted course of instruction, and carried from Pelham to many of the best family circles of America, a refinement and grace derived from association with a gentlewoman of distinguished character, as well as intense and deep-rooted moral training based on the earnest religious conviction and the personal influence of Nanette Bolton.

For many years she carried on this absorbing duty, recognizing in it an opportunity of far-reaching advantage to her sex, and rejoicing in the wide-spread effects of her influence in the families to which her girls belonged, or to which they became attached by marriage.

The Priory School thus became a center of refined and gracious influences of which the County of Westchester may well be proud.

The interest of Nanette Bolton in the expansion of evangelical teaching also left a distinct effect on the religious life of the County of Westchester.  When the plan for the establishment of Christ's Church at Pelham had been discussed, it was largely her personal enthusiasm that brought about the foundation of that parish.  Upon her establishment as the mistress of the Priory, her missionary spirit led her to undertake in 1859 the organization of religious teaching at Pelhamville and at City Island in 1861.  These efforts took form in the establishment of Sunday Schools in the teaching of which Nanette took an active peart, with her devoted sister, Adele Bolton, ably aided by Fanny Schuyler of Pelham.

The erection of Grace Church on City Island was in large part due to her initiative and efforts.  She enlisted the interest of the Priory students in the subject, who subscribed a substantial proportion of the total sum expended upon the erection of the building.  

Thanksgiving Day was, under her direction, observed by her pupils as an occasion for the exercise of personal charity, when the girls carried to the needy families of the locality gifts provided out of their own resources.

The religious character of the Priory students was the personal concern of Nanette Bolton.  To each of her pupils she devoted time and care in instruction in religious subjects and to each of them she communicated her own decided doctrinal beliefs.  Her influence upon them thus took on more of the character of a mother than of an instructor, and left an abiding remembrance in many good women of the present day,, who have carried into their own families the principles and practices of piety which they learned at the Priory.

Her brother wrote of her career that she was more of a mother than an instructress, and that those whom she educated were not mere scholars, but Christian women well-balanced and richly developed in character.

Her devoted assistant in all her work was her younger sister, Adele, who was by fifteen years her junior.  Adele Bolton survived the rest of her family, and for many years resided at 220 Pelham Road, New Rochelle.  

The Priory School was adversely affected by the events of the Civil War.  The student body was mainly composed of girls of Southern families, and as a result of conflict the number of pupils became greatly reduced.  The war caused deep concern to members of the Bolton family, whose relatives and intimate friends were divided by the great controversey.  Upon the subject of slavery Robert Bolton and his family circle inherited a repugnance for the system.  His father, Robert Bolton of Savannah, upon his death-bed had left a written direction to his son as follows:  

'Be you kind to your servants, know that they are not your slaves by right, but by custom.  God made all free, but man in his depraved state, enslaves man.  Therefore it is you duty to make their servitude, more a pleasure than a burden.'

A wide circle of friends in northern states represented another feature of complexity during that unhappy period.  But the School was maintained for many years after the struggle was over.

A false step upon the stairway in the Priory, and a severe blow received in falling against the carved newel-post was the contributing cause that brought to an end the useful and self-sacrificing career of Nanette Bolton.  The accident resulted in a tumor on her side, the progress of which gradually brought such a condition of ill-health that she was compelled to relinquish her duties and to terminate the existence of the Priory School.  She was persuaded, in 1882, to take a long vacation in Europe, and after visiting her relatives in England, she sent to Switzerland, where the splendid scenery afforded many interesting subjects for her water-color drawings in which form of art she was skilled.

Amid these delightful and picturesque surroundings she passed the last months of her life, and at Vevey, among the mountains she loved, she passed away, on August 6, 1884.  Her rmains are burier near Lausanne.  

Many who had benefited by her work and those who knew of her labors for others joined in a movement to erect a permanent addition to Christ's Church, Pelham, as a memorial of Nanette Bolton.  The building which is attached to Christ's Church was erected as a memorial, which was furnished by the gifts of her friends, of her servants, of school-children, and of her grateful pupils.

The little building was consecrated to its religious use April 28, 1887, and appropriately recalls the high ideals, the notable influence and the consecrated character of Nanette Bolton."

Source:  Bolton, Reginald Pelham, NANETTE BOLTON Principal of the Priory School for Girls AN HISTORICAL SKETCH, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 3, 1933, p. 15, cols. 1-4.  

Pelham Priory by William Rickerby Miller (1818-1893).
Watercolor on Paper, 1856.

*          *          *          *

I have published to the Historic Pelham Blog numerous postings that deal with the history of the Bolton Priory and the family who built it. For some examples, see:

Fri., Mar. 20, 2015:  Fire in 1932 Devastated the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor.

Thu., Oct. 02, 2014:  Brief History of Grace Church on City Island in the Town of Pelham Published in 1886.

Wed., Sep. 24, 2014:  Where Was the Bolton Family Cottage Where Stained Glass Windows Were Created?

Thu., Sep. 04, 2014:  The Closing of the Pelham Priory School for Girls in 1882 and the Departure of Head Mistress Nanette Bolton for Europe.

Fri., Aug. 29, 2014:  Announcement of Two-Day Fair in Pelham in 1842 to Raise Money to Build Christ Church.

Wed., May 14, 2014:  Noted American Novelist Margaret Deland Attended Bolton Priory School in Pelham Manor

Thu., Sep. 03, 2009:  Advertisement for the Pelham Priory School Published in 1881

Thu., Aug. 13, 2009:  History of Bolton Priory Published in 1910.

Tue., Jan. 20, 2009:  An Account of the Rev. J. L. Ver Mehr Regarding His Brief Stint as an Instructor of French and Italian at Pelham Priory in 1843

Fri., Mar. 2, 2007:  A Brief Account by American Author Margaret Deland of Her Education at Pelham Priory in the 19th Century.

Thu., Dec. 14, 2006:  Items from Bolton Priory in the Collections of The Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture, The New-York Historical Society.

Thu., Nov. 16, 2006:  Robert Bolton, Jr.'s Inscription to His Father Inside Book He Authored That Was Published in 1855.

Fri., Jul. 28, 2006: Image of Bolton Priory in the Town of Pelham Published in an 1859 Treatise on Landscape Gardening.

Wed., Jul. 26, 2006:  A Brief Account of Visits to Bolton Priory in the Early 1880s.

Wed., July 5, 2006: Bricks Laid by Washington Irving and Ivy from Kenilworth Castle at the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor

Wed., March 15, 2006: A Biography of Cornelius W. Bolton Published in 1899

Wed., March 1, 2006: 1909 Real Estate Advertisement Showing Bolton Priory

Wed., Feb. 22, 2006: Doll Depicting Nanette Bolton in the Collection of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham

Wed., Dec. 7, 2005: The Sale and Subdivision of the Bolton Priory Estate in the 1950s

Tue., Nov. 29, 2005: An Early, Interesting Photograph of Bolton Priory in the Village of Pelham Manor

Wed., Sep. 21, 2005: The Nanette Bolton Memorial Chapel Building at Christ Church in Pelham Manor

Tue., Aug. 23, 2005: Society Scandal: The "Strange" Story of Mrs. Adele Livingston Stevens Who Acquired the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor

Wed., Jul. 13, 2005: 11 Priory Lane: The Rose Cottage

Fri., Jun. 10, 2005: Pelham's Most Magnificent Wedding Gift: The Bolton Priory

Tue., May 3, 2005: Colonel Frederick Hobbes Allen, An Owner of Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor

Thu., Apr. 7, 2005: Another Volume of William Jay Bolton's Sketches and Ruminations Located?

Mon., Apr. 4, 2005: Art and Poetry of William Jay Bolton of Bolton Priory in Pelham

See also Bell, Blake A., A Brief History of Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No., 16, Apr. 16, 2004, p. 8, col. 2,

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