Tag Archives: St. Joseph’s Academy

Newly Conserved Material Available:  The St. Joseph’s Academy Scrapbooks

Thanks to Mary Wootton, conservator in Gettysburg, PA, two of the St. Joseph’s Academy scrapbooks are available to researchers once again!  These two books had fallen completely apart at the binding, and pages had a hodgepodge of sealed and unsealed items, some so large as to be damaging the binding and some uncovered and acidic enough to slowly burn pages away.

Before restoration photo

Today, we would like to highlight one of these books, the “Tablet of Friendship” owned by Mary Teresa Devine, which was donated by Judith Cristella, a direct descendent of Mary Teresa.  She first enrolled in St. Joseph’s Academy in 1826, a few years after Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the founder of the school, passed away.  She spent the next few years on the growing and expanding campus.

The book itself is a dark green (Or brown? Or black?  We think green), covered and bound in sheepskin, which was the cheapest form of leather used at the time.  The book would have been a mass-produced product of the early industrial age and not been overly expensive, similar to a blank journal or diary available at a bookstore today.  It is what is inside that makes this a great relic of the Archives.

Based upon the dates included in the pieces, the book came into existence quite a while after Mary Teresa attended the Academy.  Nonetheless, this shows the networks that formed between students of the Academy and their enduring closeness.  But perhaps most importantly, many of the pieces were signed by their authors, providing us with actual written work attached to known individuals, a relative rarity of this time period for women not affiliated with high-status positions or families.  Even when only a first name exists, as in the piece below, the fact that the book contains an entire class list makes it easy to track down individual’s last name.

In addition to the students themselves, the book also provides valuable resources for researchers of Catholic and material culture in this time period, including inserted, mass-market imagery.

And on the artistic front, the book contains inserted pieces in the unique medium of leaves.  This very delicate work made of organic matter managed to survive for over 150 years until it was secured in a special case to provide support and a stable climate.

The scrapbooks are available on-site.  Although they are not yet digitized, we are hoping this can be accomplished in the near-future.

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Voices of Students

 “Soon scenes may change, soon friends prove untrue

When for I rove, from dear Saint Josephs view

Yet naught can chase, thy image from my mind”

-From “Farewell to St. Joseph’s,” 1830, by “Remember Maria”

This is part of a yearlong series about the early days of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, foundress of the community.  In 1850, the Emmitsburg-based Sisters united with the international community of the French Daughters of Charity.

In many archives that gather administrative or corporate records, the voices of the people who used those services can be frustratingly absent. Luckily, the collection of St. Joseph’s Academy, the school founded by Mother Seton and the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, features many of the voices of students, including their creations and their writings. 

Some of the earliest examples of students’ surviving works include their needlework samplers, several of which come from the era when Mother Seton directly ran the Academy before her death in January 1821. 

Needlework by Mary Jamison, July 1812, St. Joseph’s Academy Student, 1810-1813

While the number of surviving student mementos from Mother Seton’s era are limited, they become more voluminous as time goes on until St. Joseph’s Academy received a charter as St. Joseph College in 1902.  Other markers of the students’ work include “premiums,” which are what would be called in the modern day certificates of achievement or small awards for top performers in the class in different subjects.

Premium earned by A.C.A. Grace, June 30th, 1825
Later programs listed out all premiums. This one is from 1854

Other materials in the archives contain some more direct creations from students of the Academy.  Although we refer to it as “Sr. Joannah Hickey’s Journal,” this small volume dated 1830 contains writings from a variety of individuals.  It includes the complete version of the poem at the start of this post.

“Farewell to St. Joseph’s,” by “Remember Maria,” 1830

The Sister Mary Raphael Smith Scrapbook contains similar pieces, written by Smith herself, other sisters, and students of the Academy.  Sister Mary Raphael had been a student at the Academy before becoming a Sister; she later became Directress of the school.  In addition to poetry, the scrapbook contains accounts of events that occurred in the Academy between the 1830s and the 1890s.

Accounts of the death of Father Burlando, by Sister Madeleine O’Brien, Mary Huneker, and others

A handful of these additional “Scrapbooks” from the Academy exist across the middle of the 19th century.  Other materials address the education provided by the Academy more directly.  Katherine McDonough’s lecture notes from 1899 show an average day of education in science, geology, and grammar.

The students of the Academy also contributed to a display of their schoolwork for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Art and Schoolwork displayed at Chicago World’s Fair

In addition to a lucky genealogist looking for an Academy student-ancestor who may stumble upon their ancestor’s writing or work, the collection provides a valuable tool of the community and its earliest mission in the United States, along with a picture of education during this time period.

St. Joseph’s Academy on the true lawn tennis court

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