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.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Daughter of Priory School for Girls Instructor Who Attended the School Details History of Historic Pelham Manor Institution

For nearly forty years during the mid-19th century, one of the finest and most famous women's finishing schools operated in Pelham Manor.  Known as the "Priory School for Girls," the institution operated out of the Priory built by Rev. Robert Bolton and his family beginning in 1838.  The Priory, a private residence, still stands at 7 Priory Lane.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

Although there is evidence that a few boys were permitted to attend the school as day pupils only, the Priory School for Girls was clearly a female academy.  Among the many noted American women who attended the Priory School for girls were American novelist Margaret Deland, American artist Rosina Emmett (later Rosina Emmett Sherwood), Eleanor Adams Stanton (later, Eleanor Adams Stanton Bush, daughter of Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War during the Administration of Abraham Lincoln), and many others.  

The headmistress of the school was Nanette Bolton.  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 in about 1845.  She served as its headmistress for about thirty-five years. 

During the mid-19th century, 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) and, occasionally, a local boy (as a day pupil only). 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.”

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.  After the accident, Nanette’s health declined.  She closed the school in 1881, left for England and then traveled to Switzerland where she died in 1884.

The Priory by William Rickarby Miller (1818-1893).
Watercolor on Paper, 1856.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes an article that appeared in the local newspaper on December 1, 1933.  It was written by Emily Earle Lindsley whose father taught at the Priory School for Girls during which time she also attended the school.  The article was based on an article also written by Lindsley that appeared in The Quarterly Bulletin of the Westchester County Historical Society published in October 1933.  

Lindsley's article provides fascinating descriptions of how the students were taught, how the school was arranged, what the students' days were like, and what the instructors taught.  It further provides an important glimpse into the history of the Priory School for Girls when that institution, led by Nanette and Adele Bolton, was at its peak -- one of the finest of the nation's many schools for girls at the time.

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"The School for Girls at Bolton Priory
By Emily Earle Lindsley

When Rev. Robert Bolton, father of the Westchester historian of that name, built his home in Pelham in 1838, he probably had not the faintest idea that the Priory, as it was named, was destined to become a school for young ladies.  A school so unique in many ways, so unusual in its atmosphere, surroundings, methods and ideals, that it left an indelible impression upon the thought and lives of all who were fortunate enough to come under its influence.

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.  With the exception of five or six children of friends living in the neighborhood, some fifty or sixty pupils made up the large school family, for it seemed more like that than an educational institution.  The oldest daughter, Miss Nanette Bolton, after her father's death in 1857, became the head of the house.  So young did she look, in spite of her varied responsibilities, that she was obliged to wear caps to give her a more dignified appearance, though she was never lacking in that quality.  Blue eyes and the clear, fresh complexion of an English girl, her attractive personality and splendid mind, made it a high privilege to be one of her girls.

My father, Rev. Charles E. Lindsley, D. D., of New Rochelle, had classes at the Priory, in Greek, Latin, and Biblical History, and that gave my sister, later Mrs. Frederick Haviland, and myself the opportunity of attending the school.  A daughter of my sister, Mrs. William H. Bonnette and Miss Julia Miller, who later married Charles Pryer of Pryer Manor, Larchmont were also pupils.  Others from outside, while I was there, were Rosina Emmett, the artist, her young brother Devereau, Miss Annie Hunter, now Mrs. Ellis of Pelham, and Louis and Grace DeLuze of the Schuyler family.

The Armory, a large room in the center of the house, was where my father and one or two others held their classes.  The 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.  A log fire burned in the large stone fire place, and there were deep niches at the side where one could sit and watch the blaze.  Stained glass windows, made by one of the sons of Mr. Bolton, filled the east end of the room.  Mounted suits of armor, the walls decorated with a variety of swords, daggers, spears and other warlike implements, carved high backed chairs from the time of Charles the First and many objects of artistic and historical interest, made a most unusual setting for recitations.

Here also, Miss Bolton had her class in history, after a method of her own, and it was one of the most interesting and inspiring sessions of the week.  A door from the Armory led into the Sanctum Sanctorum, Miss Bolton's study; and another, into the study room of the scholars, where lessons were prepared.  Miss Adele, the 'Aunt Delie' of the younger generation of the family, presided here.  Seated at a large table in the center of the room, before her lay a large square bulletin on which the various classes were scheduled, and these were called out as the time for them arrived.  Meanwhile, she kept an eye on her charges, though apparently engaged in sewing, writing or reading.  There were no desks but heavy oak tables were placed along the sides of the room at which groups of girls sat, studying from books which were tied to the backs of the tables by long strips of tape.  High glass cases filled with stuffed birds, shells and geological specimens lined the room.  The school was in session from nine until five, and no books were allowed to be taken from the room except by special permission.  

Living in New Rochelle, I walked to The Priory and back, two miles each way, every day including Saturday mornings, as also did my father and the other day pupils.  Each morning the boarders also took a constitutional.  The troupe walking two by two, attended by one of the resident teachers, came along the Pelham Road as far as Drake's Lane, now risen to the dignity of Drake Avenue.  I remember one morning as I was walking down, Dr. William C. Pryer, who attended occasional patients at the school, picked me up, and, glancing at the many footprints in the road, remarked that a drove of calves must have passed!

The Priory building at this time had three stories, though not at first.  The long hall on the second story was named 'Broadway,' and that on the third, 'Fifth Avenue.'  Quaint, meticulous Miss Allen, the housekeeper, occupied a room, the short entrance to which was known as 'Maiden Lane.'

The resident teachers were all women, but a group of professors came from New York for the various classes.  Mr. Brown taught the harp, and Miss Adele's beautiful harp, which was used for the lessons, is now in the possession of her niece, Miss Arabella Bolton of Pelham.  Prof. Mueller was the pianist, a doughty personage who brooked no mistakes.  M. Barst, the French teacher with a beard and black piercing eyes, sent a chill down the spine at the 'Composition De Memoirs,' as he held the tip of his pencil as a support to his long nose, and riveted his eyes upon the stammering pupil.  In the French Room, as in the other classes, we were grouped about one large table.

M. Frederick Rondel had charge of the Art Department.  A will lighted studio was furnished with everything necessary for work, and he was very popular.  Margaret Deland, the author, was one of students who worked there, and I well remember a bas-relief of two cranes she made in clay, which was afterwards cast in plaster.

The professors were driven down from the railroad station in New Rochelle in an ancient, swaying hack by an equally ancient colored driver named Wilson.  I often wondered how long this vehicle would bear up under the weight of so much learning, and one morning I caught up with a disconsolate driver, a hack poised on only two wheels, and an irate and gesticulating group of gentlemen who had to take the road on foot.

Leaving New Rochelle at eight in the morning, the two mile walk on cold, snowy winter days was quite a feat, and on arrival Miss Allen beckoned us into her retreat where a steaming hot glass of ginger tea was insisted upon.  I cannot say my gratitude was boundless but there was no denying the good intention!

The girls had various outdoor sports; archery, now again popular, was one, and in winter, fine coasting and skating.  St. Mary's Spring, covered by a small stone building, still standing, supplied the water for a charming little lake, down to which the joyous coasters made high speed.

Eleanor, the youngest daughter of Edwin Stanton, President Lincoln's Secretary of War, was a Priory scholar and a member of my father's classes.  Others came from many of the prominent families in Boston, Providence, the South and West.  From New York the names of Bliss, Agnew, Burrell, Rich, Kemble, Morris, swelled the long list.

The school was closed in 1881, owing to the failing health of its beloved head.  Miss Bolton left for England the following year.  After visiting members of her family living there, she went to Switzerland, where, in 1884, she passed on into the school of higher learning -- under the Master Teacher.  The influence of her life and accomplishments in character building, and that of her less known, but well loved sister, Adele, will ever remain with us, who were the 'Priory Girls.'

The sun goes down behind the hills,
The evening mists blot out the day,
But ever in our heart of hearts
Its happy memories stay."

Source:  Lindsley, Emily Earle, The School for Girls at Bolton Priory, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 1, 1933, Vol. 24, No. 37, p. 2, cols. 4-5.  This is a version of an article that Emily Earle Lindsley prepared for the October 1933 issue of The Quarterly Bulletin of the Westchester County Historical Society.  See 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).

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I also have written extensively about members of the Bolton Family and the home they built known as the Priory, Bolton Priory, and Pelham Priory.  Seee.g.:  

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

Tue., Jun. 23, 2015:  Nanette Bolton of the Priory School for Girls 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.

I also have written about the history of Christ Church, an institution the history of which is integrally intertwined with that of the Priory, on numerous occasions.  Below are a few of the many articles on the topic.

Thu., Dec. 31, 2015:  Laying of the Cornerstone of the Parish House at Christ Church on June 10, 1928.

Thu., Nov. 12, 2015:  Charles Higbee, Eighth Rector of Christ Church in Pelham Manor, 1871-1893.

Tue., Oct. 27, 2015:  The Ghostly Gardener of Bolton Priory: A Pelham Apparition.

Tue., Oct. 20, 2015:  Address Delivered by Reverend Robert Bolton on April 28, 1843 at the Laying of the Foundation Stone of Christ Church.

Thu., Oct. 15, 2015:  The Creation of Christ Church and its Consecration on September 15, 1843.  

Tue., Sep. 29, 2015:  Christ Church's 80th Anniversary Sermon by Rev. J. McVickar Haight on November 18, 1923.

Fri., Nov. 21, 2014:  Another Advertisement for Fair Held in 1842 to Fund Construction of Christ Church.

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

Fri., Feb. 28, 2014:  Brief History of the Role Churches Played in the Growth of the Pelhams Published in 1926.

Fri., Dec. 25, 2009:  1906 Christmas Day Celebration at Christ Church in Pelham.

Fri., Aug. 14, 2009:  The Consecration of the Nanette Bolton Memorial Chapel at Christ Church in Pelham Manor on April 28, 1887.  

Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."

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