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    Ogontz School for Girls’ 1926 senior yearbook

    As I flipped through the pages, the book reminded me of a high school yearbook, but this one had original – not reprinted – photos. In fact, the only photos in the book were of seniors graduating from the Ogontz School for Girls in Rydal, a suburb of Philadelphia, in 1926.

    There were individual and group photos of the young women, including a graduation picture of them in cap and gown. The book noted that only 44 copies were made. The one I held in my hand was number 37 and was owned by one of the graduates.

    Someone had already left a bid on the book at the auction house. An auction-house staffer and I agreed that it resembled a yearbook, and perhaps was an early version of yearbooks we’ve come to know.

    The 1926 graduating class of the all-girl Ogontz School in Rydal, PA.

    The 1926 graduating class of the all-girl Ogontz School in Rydal, PA.

    It was a lovely book and it felt very personal. It appeared to be a product of the students at the all-girl school, with hand-drawn illustrations, and the original black and white photos. The opposite page of the individual pictures contained a listing of activities the young woman was involved in.

    Within its pages, the book showed an innocent world of young daughters of privilege and means, seemingly without a care in the world. That’s exactly what the private Ogontz School for Young Ladies offered them.

    It was founded in 1850 and was around for about 100 years. The finishing school started out in Philadelphia, but moved to “the country” outside the city as it started to grow. The school rented a mansion in Elkins Park, PA, called Ogontz, whose wealthy owner Jay Cooke had named it after Wyandotte Chief Ogontz whom Cooke first met as a child in Ohio and admired.

    The front cover and an inside page of the 1926 Ogontz School yearbook.

    The front cover and an inside page of the 1926 Ogontz School yearbook.

    Around 1916, the school was no longer just a finishing school but also an educational institution. Its new owner Abby A. Sutherland moved the school to new quarters in Rydal in the town of Abington, PA, and opened an elementary division. The main building was designed by Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, known for building grand estates for wealthy people.

    A bronze relief sculpture of Chief Ogontz was placed over the fireplace. Over the years, other buildings were constructed at the school, which accepted students from elementary to high school. In ads in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Sutherland touted the Ogontz School and its sister Rydal School for Little Girls.

    By the late 1930s, Ogontz started offering junior-college-level courses. When it closed in 1950, the property was donated to Pennsylvania State University, which made it into a satellite campus that was first called Penn State Ogontz and now called Penn State Abington.

    Aviator Amelia Earhart attended the school for a while, and famous poets, musicians and writers, including Carl Sandburg, were among the guests.

    The page of the senior class president at the Ogontz School, 1926.

    The page of senior class president Alice Shannon at the Ogontz School, 1926.

    In the Ogontz book at auction, the students wrote of their senior year and the activities they enjoyed, including:

    “May Day. May Day in Merrie Olde Englande could hardly have been more of an occasion for rejoicing than May Day in Ogontz. It was a perfect day and a village green could have been no lovelier than our own terrace with its background of green foliage. The ceremonies began with the entrance of the procession of Seniors … When the procession was grouped around the throne and its stately occupant, a pageant-like series of dances, dainty and graceful, followed. After the last dancer had disappeared behind a screen of bushes came the traditional May-Pole dance, when the kaleidoscopic streamers were wound about the pole in a beautiful regular design.”

    “Miss Shattuck’s Picnic. The weather, had it not been made to order expressly for the Senior Class of Ogontz, could not have been more perfect than on May 12, when Miss Shattuck took us on the very nicest picnic I have ever heard tell of. … A huge P.R.T. bus was the conveyor of a carefree crowd of young ladies to the most beautiful spot imaginable – a lovely lake, woods, a spring of clear cold water, and everything to be desired. Freshly-made sandwiches and cakes, fudge and fruits – all appeared from the recesses of Miss Shattuck’s car, and a hushed silence fell over the erstwhile noisy group. When more than one would think possible had been consumed, we scattered through the woods or stretched out on the grass to enjoy the lengthening of the shadows, and the luxury of complete laziness.”

    A story titled “Prophecy of the Class of 1926” told of a series of fictitious letters written by Colonel Langdon to Miss Shattuck, one involving class president Alice Shannon. It told of Langdon stopping off in Columbus to organize a temperance league. He considered suggesting Shannon as one of its leaders but decided not to because of her “perennial indiscretions. … Alice simply cannot resist being jolly on the Sabbath, and such loose conduct for a League officer is very demoralizing.”

    May Day at the Ogontz School, 1926.

    May Day at the Ogontz School, 1926.

    Although fake, this bit of hilarity seemed a bit out of the norm for a group of women during the 1920s. But this was the Roaring Twenties – when some women felt free to express themselves. It was also the period of Prohibition when liquor was banned and the Great Migration when many black folks felt free enough to flee the south for the north.

    The book also listed the senior students’ calendar for the year, which included a minstrel show, hockey game, tea dances, Miss Shattuck’s birthday party and picnic, ivy planting, sleigh ride, and Psychology and Red Cross exams. School opened on Oct. 7, and commencement was May 25.

    Checking eBay, I found book #44 selling for $150, and a book from 1928 that apparently belonged to poet Angela Morgan for $750.

    Here are other photos from the book:

    A graduate's page in the Ogontz School yearbook, 1926.

    A graduate’s page in the Ogontz School yearbook, 1926.


    The Varsity team at the Ogontz School.

    The varsity basketball team at the Ogontz School, 1926.


    A graduate's page from the Ogontz School yearbook.

    A graduate’s page in the Ogontz School yearbook, 1926.


    Ogontz School seniors dressed as sailors.

    Ogontz School seniors dressed as sailors and more, 1926.


    A graduate's page from the Ogontz School yearbook.

    A graduate’s page in the Ogontz School yearbook, 1926.


    A graduate's page from the Ogontz School yearbook.

    A graduate’s page in the Ogontz School yearbook, 1926.

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