Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Mrs. Sutton's Home School for Girls


During the late 1800s, there were several private girls’ schools in Powelton. They were set up in houses and were often run by widows. The most successful of these was Mrs. Sutton's Home School for Girls which, at its peak, extended over three houses: 3509, 3511 and 3513 Hamilton St. The story behind the founding of the school is a story of a woman who was forced to reinvent herself after a rapid series of tragedies.
Annie M. Sutton was the daughter of Agnes Irwin and Lieut. William M. Rose.  Agnes was from Pittsburgh. Lieut. Rose was an 1822 graduate of the US Military Academy. He was posted as an ordinance officer at the Pittsburgh Arsenal from January to April 1823. Annie was born in Pittsburgh in September 1823. Rose was stationed in New Orleans in 1824 – 1825. He died in Washington DC in November 1825 at the age of 24 after a “lingering illness” - malaria is a reasonable guess given his time in New Orleans. Seven months after Rose’s death, Agnes gave birth to his son, William J. Rose.  In 1833, she married John D. Mahon, a widower with four children.  Agnes and John had six children together.
Annie married a young lawyer, Thomas Sutton.  He set up his practice in the newly established town of Clarion, county seat of Clarion County near Pittsburgh.  In the history of Clarion County, Sutton was described as
“one of the few among Clarion’s early legal lights, who achieved a pronounced success; a success due to his high personal character and real professional merit.  In argument he was fair, but as a business attorney he excelled." [1] 
Annie and John had three children born in 1846, 1848 and 1850. [2]  The youngest apparently died quite early.  In 1850, John had a two-story brick house built on the courthouse square.  However, their domestic life was suddenly shattered in 1853.  John died of typhoid fever at age 37.  Three days later their four-year-old son died of scarlet fever.  Three weeks later Annie lost her oldest, Agnes, who was only 7.
Annie and her mother moved to Philadelphia about 1865.  For a few years, they (and Annie’s sister-in-law, Mary Rose) rented rooms at 3500 Hamilton St. About 1867, they moved to Agnes’s house at 3841 Spring Garden St.  Also living with them was Mary Rose, and several of her young children. [3]
Annie opened her first school at 3510 Spring Garden St. in 1870.  She opened the school with her partner Mary (or Maria) E. Roney.  Roney was the daughter of George G. Roney.  Education must have been important in their home: his two sons became Philadelphia lawyers.  Annie and Mary worked together for the next 30 years.
In the spring of 1871, Annie bought 3511 Hamilton St. for $5,300 - money she got from the sale of the house in Clarion.  Later, the school rented 3507 Hamilton which was purchased by the Christ Methodist Episcopal Church in the City of Philadelphia.  The school had a small number of residential students as well as day students.  In 1880, the census listing for 3511 included Annie, Mary Roney, a 17-year-old language teacher, six female students aged 11 to 18, and two servants.
The best description of the school comes from the book Where to Educate 1898-1899:

“MRS. SUTTON'S HOME SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, 3509, 3511, and 3513 Hamilton Street, West Philadelphia, Mrs. Annie M. Sutton, Miss Mary E. Roney, Principals. The aim of this school is to provide a pleasant home, combined with a thorough course of instruction. It is in one of the most beautiful parts of Philadelphia, and the high ground and quiet neighborhood render its location healthful and well adapted to school purposes. The boarding pupils, whose number is limited to sixteen, receive the personal supervision of the principals, who endeavor to carry into effect that home training which is so necessary a part of a girl's education. The teachers of the various departments have made a careful study of the best methods of imparting instruction. Certificates admit to Wellesley and Mt. Holyoke, and pupils are prepared for other colleges. The charge for boarding pupils is $500 per year, and for day pupils from $20 to $60 per term, according to the grade." [4].
One graduate of the school was Louise Oliphant Fulton whose family lived a block away at 3420 Hamilton St.  Her father was Rev. Robert H. Fulton pastor of the Northminster Presbyterian Church  (3500 Baring St.). Louise was an 1893 graduate of Bryn Mawr College.  In 1898, she married Frank Thompson Gucker whose family lived next door (3422 Hamilton St.).  They lived in Louise’s childhood home until Louise sold it in 1942.
The school also attracted students from a wide geographic area.  For example, the 1880 census lists Mary A. Fullerton, age 17, who was born in Texas and Lillian Thatcher (1870-1948) who was from Colorado.
Annie Sutton died during the summer of 1900 and Mary Roney became principal.  Mary had established social ties that undoubtedly strengthened the school’s reputation.  She served on the Board of Managers of the Quaker City Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).  She was also a founder and one of the first presidents of the Philomusion Club.  The Philomusion was a women’s club at 3944 Walnut St. which was founded in 1904 “to promote the vital interests of the day." [5]
Mary moved the school to 3931 Walnut St. and recruited her sister, Arabella, to work with her.  The school was renamed the Misses Roney’s School (although the name Sutton might still have been used).  About 1916, they merged the school with another school to form the Gordon-Roney School at 4112 Spruce St.  In 1930, Mary and Arabella were retired and living in Haverford with relatives.


[1] Davis, A. J., ed. 1887. History of Clarion County Pennsylvania. Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co. 390.
[2] http://www.clarioncountyhistoricalsociety.org/museum
[3] The children were erroneously listed with the last name Sutton.  This is corrected in the second enumeration of the census.
[4] Thomas, Grace Powers. 1898. Where to Educate 1898-1899: A Guide to the Best Private Schools, Higher Institutions of Learning, etc. in the United States. Boston: Brown and Co. 325.
[5] Inquirer, April 27, 1913. 7.

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