St. Mary’s Hall
From 1858 to 1864, all boys and girls, from primary school age to the divinity students, attended Dr. Breck’s Mission Schoolhouse in downtown Faribault. In 1864, Seabury Hall was built on the bluff across the river and the divinity students and grammar school boys, many of them boarding students, were transferred there from the Mission Schoolhouse. With two of his own daughters at Bishop Doane’s school, Saint Mary’s Hall in Burlington, New Jersey, Bishop Whipple recognized the need for a boarding school for girls where daughters of the clergy and other “young ladies” would be welcome.
Bishop Whipple and his wife, Cornelia, built a large addition to their home and opened their own St. Mary’s Hall, with Sarah Darlington as principal and Cornelia Whipple as housemother.
St. Mary’s Hall opened on All Saints Day, November 1, 1866, with 33 girls and three teachers. The Bishop called the girls his “daughters,” and said, “We have one table, one altar, one household.” Religion was, of course, of prime importance. In the study room, rows of desks faced a large platform on which was installed a little draped altar. It was the girls’ only chapel and they knelt for prayers, morning and night, at their desks.
In 1872, Bishop Whipple turned over the running of his school to a board of trustees and moved his family into a new home. As enrollment continued to grow, the old Whipple home was added onto many times until, finally, in 1883, a new St. Mary’s Hall was built on the bluff across the river.
The new building on the bluff, built of locally quarried blue limestone, was scholastic gothic and medieval in tone, containing large piazzas, balconies and even a turret. Local residents called it “The Castle on the Rhine.” Surprisingly, this building also lacked a separate chapel. When Caroline Wright Eells arrived as Headmistress in 1896, she insisted that a room used exclusively as a chapel be provided.
Despite its spaciousness and luxurious feel when compared to the downtown school, life changed little from what it had been before. The girls were still considered the Bishop’s “daughters,” and school was still considered a “home away from home.” Most of the rules and traditions transferred from the old school downtown to the new school on the bluff. The following years mourned the loss of Miss Darlington, Cornelia, and even the Bishop, but celebrated the friendship and largess of his second wife, Evangeline. The Saints flourished under the guidance of such loved Headmistresses as Miss Lowey and Miss Eells, and their close proximity to Shattuck School brought a new dimension to school life. They attended the Shattuck track and gymnastic meets and cheered the Shads’ boat races from the 8th Street bridge. They applauded the Crack Squad performances and covered their ears at the Sham Battle during Shattuck’s Commencement. They sometimes shared a chaplain or teacher or coach, and while downtown for services, they always admired the uniform-clad Shads seated across the aisle in the Cathedral. For the next 41 years, this building served St. Mary’s exceedingly well, but on August 24, 1924, lightning struck, and with it came disaster.
The fire that destroyed St. Mary’s Hall devastated not only the school community, but the entire Faribault community. People drove in from the countryside to help the city residents save what they could. After the fire, the trustees opened a lead box in the old cornerstone and found a paper from the dedication of 1882 that said “Let Us Rise Up and Build.” They immediately began to plan a new school. Seabury Divinity School offered their facilities for the Saints to use for the next school year, and that fall, school opened with 60 boarders. The new gymnasium, built only the year before, had been saved from the fire and the girls walked (or ran, depending on the weather) the mile from Seabury back to St. Mary’s for gym class, although all other classes were held at Seabury.
A building fund was established and donations began to arrive from alumnae across the United States. Fundraisers were held. Opera singer Florence MacBeth ’07 gave a benefit concert and raised over $2,000. Some bemoaned the fact that the new school could never be the same as the old one, but Miss Lowey reassured them, saying, “All things must change to something new, to something strange,” and Miss Eells reinforced Miss Lowey’s statement by adding, “The material is but the outward and visible symbol of the indwelling power and spirit of Saint Mary’s.”
The new building was of collegiate gothic style, built once again of local stone with window openings trimmed with golden brown brick. Four stories high, it sported a steeply pitched roof of weathered green slate. And, Miss Eells got her heart’s wish. The Bishop Whipple Memorial Chapel was prominently placed at the south end of the school. Not even World War II could deter the growth and prosperity of the new St. Mary’s Hall. New traditions began, the first orchestra entertained, and the Wooden Soldiers drilled. Dances, plays, and “Saturday Night Usuals” all ensured the continued atmosphere of a “home away from home.”
In the post-war years, Saints arrived by plane instead of by bus or train. Movies and television opened a whole new vista to the girls, and they wanted more privileges and freedom, more contact with Shattuck, and more trips to the Twin Cities for concerts and plays. Home and school were no longer the only worlds known to the girls.
Of course, there were many things that did not change. The old traditions of the New Yaps’ Dance, birthday dinners, the Thanksgiving pilgrims’ breakfast, field day and the Easter egg hunt remained the same. At Commencement, the girls still received a dozen roses, and bowed their heads when the Bishop placed a gold cross around their necks and intoned Bishop Whipple’s blessing. The competition between the Blue Bonnets and Gold Diggers was as strong as ever as the two teams vied to capture the Cup.
But some things did change. There were more exchanges with Shattuck. The Saints attended the Shattuck Winter Carnival. The Wooden Soldiers drilled at the Shattuck Commencement. They shared Baccalaureate, and six girls were elected as cheerleaders for sports events at both Shattuck and St. Mary’s.
In 1949, St. Mary’s Hall graduated its largest class ever with 32 Saints dressed in white, carrying their roses, proud “Daughters” of Saint Mary’s Hall.
The 1960s were a time of unrest throughout the country. The television nightly news blared of sit-ins and protest marches and horrors from the war in Vietnam. The culture of hippies, flower children and drugs flourished. In the midst of this social upheaval, boarding schools and same-sex schools began to lose their appeal. Many families opted for the freedom and permissiveness of the public schools over the discipline and traditions of private schools. As at Shattuck School, enrollment fell at St. Mary’s Hall.
Many private schools closed. It became more difficult to lure teachers from the public sector where salaries were higher. With more women seeking careers, girls needed to learn how to express themselves in a mixed classroom to compete with their male counterparts in the work world. By 1970, enrollment at St. Mary’s Hall totaled only 69 girls. Saints attended classes at Shattuck. Elective courses at each school were offered to both Saints and Shads. By 1972, Shattuck, Saint Mary’s and Saint James (previously a school for grade-school age boys) were incorporated into The Bishop Whipple Schools. All classes were held at Shattuck.
St. Mary’s Hall was still the girls’ residence and still maintained its traditions, but St. Mary’s would never be quite the same. The school now known as Shattuck-St. Mary’s School flourished, however, and the Whipples’ vision of a “school for young ladies” still burns brightly.