Four decades and counting Celebration: St. Paul's School for Girls has roots in the work of an 18th century activist who wanted to feed and house, as well as educate, homeless girls.

October 16, 1998|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

An article Friday on the 40th anniversary of the founding of St. Paul's School for Girls in Brooklandville incorrectly stated the amount sought in a capital campaign. The goal was $2.8 million.

The Sun regrets the errors.

St. Paul's School for Girls is 40 going on 200, or is that 200 going on 40?

Unlike humans inclined to shave years off their age, this new kid on the private-school block is happy to claim longevity -- with roots in a Baltimore City school for poor girls that sprang from the work of an 18th century activist, Eleanor Buchanan Rogers.

The Brooklandville school, which opened in its current form in 1959, is going back to those beginnings today with a daylong celebration, "Retracing Our Roots," one of several events marking the school's 40th year.


The school's 333 middle- and high-schoolers will give thanks for Rogers in services at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Charles Street this morning, and visit her grave in Druid Hill Park and her former home, the Mansion House at the Baltimore Zoo. While at the zoo, the school students will adopt three alligators, live versions of the school's mascot.

The school put down roots in 1799, when Rogers, a member of St. Paul's parish and a prominent Baltimore family, proposed the Benevolent Society of the City and County of Baltimore.

Her idea was to house and feed homeless girls, to teach them "reading and writing and, if there was time, some numbers," said Mary Bready, the school's archivist and author of the forthcoming school history, "Through All Our Days."

Rogers' interest in educating disadvantaged girls made her "a ,, woman of vision," said the school's fifth and present headmistress, Evelyn Flory. "She believed that girls needed to have the opportunity to control their own lives, that women needed to be independent. That's what we are aiming at today."

With money raised from St. Paul's members, Rogers founded the Benevolent Society, which opened the St. Paul's Girls School in June 1801 on Madison Street. Living up to its name, the Benevolent Society operated a home and school for needy girls until 1950, with a few lapses. Rogers died in 1812, but 12 "lady managers" continued to oversee the school.

Orphanage, boarding school

The school, which occupied several locations over the years, was at times an orphanage where girls were taught domestic skills along with limited academics; a home for orphan girls who attended public schools; a haven for children of the Depression referred by social service agencies; and a boarding school.

"In the home itself, they learned some housekeeping skills," Bready recalled from interviews with former residents. "They had prayers and Bible study. There was a strong overtone of the Episcopal religion," she said.

When the society sold its building on Warwick Avenue in 1950, the $97,000 from the sale provided seed money for the current girls school on Falls Road.

"The Benevolent Society was the founder and financial bedrock of St. Paul's School for Girls," Bready said.

School opens

The society bought the land, constructed buildings and opened the school, with 86 students in grades five through nine, in September 1959.

Although the experience of St. Paul's girls of old is "a long way from the experience of our girls," Flory said, some similarities remain. The homes Rogers founded were small with a family atmosphere, Bready said.

Today's students are quick to mention that same feeling when they talk about their school.

"It's very much like a second home to all the students," said senior Julie Popovec, who will portray Rogers in the anniversary ceremonies.

"We're a small community, so it seems like everyone knows everyone else," added senior Micah Cunningham, school president and daughter of a member of the Class of '74. "Everyone has the opportunity to pursue the kind of thing they want."

'Feeling of belonging'

The theme reaches even further back: "There was a real feeling of belonging to a special place, that you were not just passing through," said Carol Carman Mettam, a member of the school's fifth graduating class in 1967. Mettam's class had 24 members; this year's will have 34.

But there have been changes.

One is the school's relationship with its neighbor to the north, St. Paul's School, the older and larger school for boys in grades five through 12.

Where the boys are

"You did not go up the hill," recalls Bready, who was a teacher and administrator at the girls' school for 26 years. "There was a line. The only way you met the boys was on the buses or if you had brothers."

Since the early 1980s, upper-school students have gone back and forth to take courses available at the other school. The schools also share Ward Center for the Arts, opened in 1992, which straddles the boundary between the two campuses and is operated independently.

In 1989, St. Paul's School for Girls opened a preschool on campus. The brainchild of former headmistress Lila Lohr, St. Paul's Plus recognized the need of working women, such as her alumnae, for quality child care.

New challenges

The '90s brought new challenges.

The school undertook its largest capital campaign -- $800,000 -- to build an athletic center and renovate the math and science labs. And last spring, the headmistress' plea for tolerance and acceptance of all people, including homosexuals, and the display of pink triangles -- a symbol of support for gays and lesbians -- created controversy that spilled beyond the campus.

Unhappy parents organized meetings, drew up a petition, tried to enlist support from parents of students in the boys school and demanded that parents be allowed to influence the school's diversity policy.

But the capital campaign recently met its goal, and the pink-triangle uproar has not resurfaced.

"Life at 40 is good," Flory said.

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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