In 1911 when eighteen-year-old Helen Gloyd traveled from her Oklahoma City home to be matriculated at the Ogontz School for Young Women, she stepped into a closely guarded world. Helen found a ratio of one teacher for five students. More importantly, she could not leave the 85-acre campus without a chaperone. On outings to downtown Philadelphia, just twenty minutes away by train, Helen (and all of Ogontz’ students) were forbidden to mail letters or send telegrams.
The Chestnut Street Female Seminary, founded in 1850, was an elite boarding and day school for women from wealthy and prominent families. It became one of the most successful finishing schools in the country. By 1883 it needed more space, so the school rented financier Jay Cooke’s estate called Ogontz in Elkins Park for $15,000 a year. The name of the school was changed to the Ogontz School for Young Women.
Figure 1. Cover with The Ogontz Mosaic corner card mailed from the Ogontz School in 1915 to Mildred Scott. Published six times a year, The Ogontz Mosaic was filled with information about student and alumnae activities.
The Ogontz Post Office was established on July 18, 1883, with George Farris as the postmaster. Mr. Farris, Jay Cooke’s gardener, had continued to work at the estate when it became the young women’s school. The name of the post office changed to Ogontz School Post Office on June 15, 1888, with Farris continuing as the postmaster. In the October 1888 issue of the Ogontz Mosaic, the school’s official magazine for students and alumnae (Figure 1), it was reported that during October, 87 boarders answered roll call and “212 articles including, letters, papers and packages, were received Monday, October 8th at the Ogontz School post office.”
Beginning in 1907, women headed the Ogontz School Post Office. On May 28, 1907, Mrs. Esther Farris Rivers took over from her father as the postmaster, earning $610 that year. Mrs. Rivers, who was born in 1861 on the Cooke Estate, was still living on the estate in 1883 when it became the women’s school. She headed the Ogontz School Post Office until her death from a heart attack on May 1, 1935, having presided over the post office for 28 years.
Her obituary published on May 15, 1935, in the Ogontz Mosaic stated that she “seemed [to be] the embodiment of Post Office Rules and Regulations, which she carried out to the letter,” and “As a government official her standard of service was high. The inspector always found the conduct of her affairs perfectly ‘straight,’ and she took quiet pride in that fact—a course so in keeping with that of all the builders of Ogontz School.” Mrs. Rivers was also referred to as “an institution” at the school.
Ogontz students were expected to use the Ogontz School Post Office exclusively. During her two years at the school, Helen Gloyd’s mail, like that of all the other young women, was carefully screened. Her parents supplied the school with a correspondence list of people from whom Helen could receive mail and to whom she could send mail.
As reported by the Penn State University Libraries, rumor had it that the school’s director “knew the handwriting of every boy at Harvard, Yale, or Princeton who was on the lists, and especially those who were not!”
Figure 2. Letter sent to Helen Gloyd’s parents with Ogontz School postmark.
This letter (Figure 2) was posted on April 19, 1913, to Helen’s parents Mr. and Mrs. S[amuel]. M. Gloyd at the Ogontz School Post Office. If Helen sent the letter, it would have received scrutiny. With no return address, one can only speculate on who sent it to her parents. What we do know is that the 2¢ red commemorative (U.S. Scott 398) from the set of four stamps advertising the 1915 Pan American Exposition in San Francisco was used to frank the cover. It was issued in the perf. 12 format in January 1913. Later, the set was released in December 1914 with 10 mm perforations.
Helen graduated from the Ogontz School for Young Women in spring of 1913. During her two-year tenure, she became known for her musical abilities. A member of the musical club, she acted and sang in several plays, and played Mrs. Ogontz in a minstrel show. The Class of 1913 voted her most conscientious and most artistic. As did many young women who completed finishing school, Helen spent the summer after graduation touring Europe before returning to Oklahoma City to her parents’ home.
After Mrs. Rivers’ passing, Mrs. Thalia D. Hammer was appointed postmaster on May 7, 1935. Later, Miss Helen M. Rowley, named postmaster on August 31, 1940, would have overseen the sale of war bonds and stamps. The April 1944 issue of Ogontz Mosaic reported that since September 1943 the post office sold $7,000 worth of bonds and $500 of stamps.
Figure 3. 1948 class president Betsy Wood, courtesy of Katherine Patterson.
By 1948 senior class president and valedictorian Betsy Brawner Wood (Figure 3) recalled that her parents were not required to provide the school with a list of people with whom she could correspond. She could also go off campus without a chaperone, but had to give information about where, with whom, and her return information.
The Ogontz School Post Office operated until June 1, 1951. The school had closed in 1950 and the campus was given to the Pennsylvania State College (known as Penn State University since 1955).
Header illustration is of two fashionable students on the campus of today's University of Missouri, drawn by Marguerite Martyn, 1910. Originally from St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1910.
Abington College Library, Penn State Abington. “The Ogontz School for Young Ladies Yearbooks 1898-1950.” Penn State University Libraries. Records for 1913 and 1948 referenced. https://libraries.psu.edu/about/collections/ogontz-school-young-ladies-yearbooks-1898-1950
Hansberry, Lillian. “The Ogontz School 1850 – 1950,” Penn State University Libraries. https://libraries.psu.edu/about/collections/ogontz-school-1850-1950
Kay, John L., and Chester M. Smith Jr. Pennsylvania Postal History (Quarterman Publications, Inc., 1976).
Ogontz Mosiac. Digitized in Penn State University Libraries. Issues referenced: October 1888, May 15, 1935, and April 1944. https://libraries.psu.edu/about/collections/ogontz-mosaic