Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Quirk at Ogontz College

Quirk's Biography has him working at Ogontz College from 1935-1950. This entity was entirely new to me. The best information on it comes from the work of Lillian Hansberry of the Penn State Library System.

For 100 years, the elite and prestigious school known as The Ogontz School for Young Ladies was a prominent force in female private education. Three locations served the school, each for about a third of its existence.  The school had its beginnings in 1850 as The Chestnut Street Female Seminary, founded by two teachers, Miss Mary L. Bonney and Miss Harriette A. Dillaye, who had been classmates at the Troy Female Seminary, NY. The location of their "finishing school" was a stately four-story row house at 1615 Chestnut Street- surrounded by some of Philadelphia's wealthiest residences- but after several decades, the success of the school required a search for more suitable quarters "in the country."

In 1883 the school rented the Elkins Park estate of Civil War financier Jay Cooke, named “Ogontz” for Cooke’s boyhood mentor and role model—a Sandusky Indian chief. Cooke also made considerable sums developing railroads including the Northern Pacific Railroad. While he once lost Ogontz in bankruptcy, he purchased it back and donated it to the school. This was one of many charitable activities. He also send painter Thomas Moran out to paint the West. He is known for his paintings of Niagra Falls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (below.)

With the move, the school assumed the name of the estate and became The Ogontz School for Young Ladies. By then misses Bonney and Dillaye had selected two associate principals from the school’s faculty, Miss Frances Bennett and Miss Sylvia Eastman. At the new location the four principals shared responsibility for a brief time, with Bennett and Eastman gradually taking over entirely. Sylvia Eastman became sole principal after Bennett’s retirement in 1900. For thirty-four years the school thrived in the Jay Cooke mansion, with a student body of about a hundred privileged young girls.

In 1902 a young English teacher joined the faculty, Miss Abby A. Sutherland. She was to become Sylvia Eastman’s hand-picked choice as her successor. After four years of training, during which time Sutherland gradually purchased the school, she took over as principal in 1912—a role she was to maintain until the school closed.

By 1916, the Elkins Park school was outgrowing its quarters. With expansion and modernization in mind, Miss Sutherland purchased fifty-four acres of land on “the rolling hills of Rydal” in suburban Abington Township. Here she built The Ogontz School into an empire that would eventually encompass a primary school from kindergarten to eighth grade (The Rydal School), a high school, and a junior college. The new location opened in the fall of 1917 and distinguished alumnae include Amelia Earhart, Mary Curtis who founded Philadelphia's Curtis School of Music, noted painter Eleanor Massey (Bridges) who taught Art at Vassar and of course Nancy McFeeley who fathered the popular children's TV host Mr. Rogers.

It was at this location that Quirk worked for 15 years. For part of the time he served as Co-Head of the Art Department with Mrs. John Lewis Gross. She was in charge of painting and studies from life. He focused on black and white drawing, murals and History of Art. By the time of his departure in 1949 there was a graduation award in his honor- The Francis J. Quirk Portrait Award for marked progress in the Ogantz Junior College Art Department. The tradition may have started in 1938 when he executed a portrait of Nancy Lustig in Pastel. A Nancy Lustig is listed in the 1940 census as living in Manhattan with her parents; stepfather Saul J. Barow and mother Sophie. The family had a live in driver and cook, so they weren't doing too bad financially.

Changing times and changing fortunes marked the end of The Ogontz School in 1950 when Abby Sutherland gave the campus and facilities to The Pennsylvania State College, now The Pennsylvania State University. This change also may have been the catalyst for Quirk to move on to Lehigh University.
Lodging at Camp Ogontz

Ogontz spun off a camp in the White Mountains in Lisbon, NH. It continued to thrive into the 1960's, but has since shifted to a more musical focus with various groups using it for retreats during the Summer Season.

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