|Lake Forest Ferry Hall in 1869|
|courtesy of Lake Forest Academy Archives|
The History of Lake Forest Ferry Hall
|Lake Forest (population 20,000) is located in the northeastern-most portion of the Chicago Metropolitan area in southeast Lake County. Interstate 94, U.S. Route 41 and Illinois Route 60 all lead you directly to and from Lake Forest. The town was established in 1861, and a nice history of the town can be found at the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society’s website: http://www.lflbhistory.org/.
Opening in the fall of 1869, the Young Ladies Seminary at Ferry Hall (known as Ferry Hall) was started after a large bequest from the estate of the Rev. William Montague Ferry made it possible for female students to receive a quality education, just like its male counterparts at Lake Forest Academy (opened in 1857) and Lake Forest College (1860). The first catalogue stated the school would be “a Ladies’ Seminary in the highest order, in its facilities for a thorough and accomplished education.” A total of 66 students and 11 faculty members helped open the school, which was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.
Ferry Hall was proud of the campus and location in Lake Forest, as the building was “spacious and elegant…made of Milwaukee brick and commanding an extensive view of Lake Michigan.” Some of the amenities that students and faculty alike enjoyed were gas lighting and steam heat.
In no way was Ferry Hall to be considered as a “finishing school” for society girls, but it offered a challenging course of study. There were three courses of study: preparatory, collegiate, and music. Prep classes included reading, writing, arithmetic, history, morals, and Latin. Collegiate classes offered included advanced math, sciences, modern languages, philosophy, and government. Girls were also allowed to study science as they had the laboratory tools and minerals to do their experiments. Please consider that during the latter part of the 19th century, daily learning involved plenty of memorization as well as reciting essays and other works in public.
The school grew into the 20th Century as an institutional fortress that looked for ways to better educate its students for the future. In 1939, Ferry Hall Principal Eloise Tremain stated “some say that the private school has had its day in our educational system, and must go. Some insist that survival can be secured only by new courses of study, or a very different character from those of the past…the future of Ferry Hall has not yet revealed itself except it must continue to build upon the foundation made firm through its past seventy years, and that it must sure to hold itself possibilities of meeting the revelations of every period.”
Ferry Hall held onto its standards and continued to educate girls until the mid-1970’s. After more than 100 years of single-gender classes, Ferry Hall and Lake Forest Academy were small in size and competing with larger schools for students as private and single-sex schools alike were struggling to stay open. Both schools started to offering courses that had co-ed classes on each campus with buses running back & forth between campuses in 1970. This proved to be a hit with students and faculty, despite the bussing.
By the end of 1973, trustees at each school had voted to merge the schools beginning in 1974-75, even though it would take several years to complete the transition. After the merger was formally legalized in January 1974, all students attended class at Lake Forest Academy with female boarders still being bussed in from Ferry Hall until the end of the 1975-76 school year. All boarding students were living at Lake Forest Academy by 1977 as the Ferry Hall property was rented out to the Chicago Bears for practice space. The campus was later sold for $800,000 by the end of the decade to retire debts and for operating expenses. Today, the property is the home of privately-owned condominiums.
Lake Forest Ferry Hall Quick Facts
Year opened: 1869
Year closed: 1974
School nickname: unavailable
School colors: yellow and white
School Fight Song: unavailable
In the early years of Ferry Hall, exercise was required and involved walking, skating, horseback riding, tennis, croquet, gymnastics, and calisthenics. A swimming pool was built on campus around 1900 to incorporate aquatics into the exercise routine.
The first Field Day took place in 1903 as classes competed against each other in athletic events. Basketball was also becoming popular at the time and the students at Ferry Hall were fierce competitors with their female contemporaries at Lake Forest College. Volleyball was also introduced at Ferry Hall during the first couple of decades.
By the mid-1940’s, the Girls Athletic Association (GAA) was formed at Ferry Hall as students became organized with the arrival of field hockey and basketball tournaments. Ferry Hall dominated the field hockey scene as it went undefeated in 1946 against other area schools. Softball and cheerleading soon followed as the girls began to cheer at Lake Forest Academy contests as the two schools’ relationship became strengthened.
Away from the playing fields, students attended Sunday church services and bible study. Even in the early days of the school, Ferry Hall students were told to keep their clothing simple and in good taste as it was to be approved by their mothers. Social contact was limited outside of classes, as male students from Lake Forest Academy and other schools could only visit after receiving permission in writing from the student’s parents.
To give you an example of what student life was like in the 1870’s at Ferry Hall, here’s “A Voice from Our Distant Past: 136 Years Later” by Rita MacAyeal, LFA Archivist, originally published in the Lake Forest Academy Review, Fall 2007.
“…I arrived at Ferry Hall Wednesday, Jan. 4th. Was kindly so received, and the general warmth of cordiality soon dissipated the sense of utter loneliness I felt when first coming among total strangers.”
So reads the first page of an anonymous Ferry Hall diary generously donated to LFA by an alumnus who purchased it from an auction website. We received the diary with excitement, and immediately set out to identify its author.
The first part of the diary included daily entries dating from January through June, 1871. These were followed by a newspaper transcription entitled, “Sunnyside Weekly, Chillicothe, Ohio” dated 1887. At the end were several entries describing the gathering of the “The Bloomer Club” signed by “Leola Clark Somers, Secretary,” dated 1896. Tucked into the diary were two calling cards with the names “Miss Ross Casady” and “Miss Julia Chumasero.”
Deliving into our old Ferry Hall catalogues, I found that Rose Casady and Julia Chumasero were indeed students in 1871. However, there also was a junior that year from Chillicothe, Ohio, named Ella W. Clark. If the diary was hers, perhaps she was related to the Leola Clark Somers of later entries.
Turning to an online genealogy website, I learned that at the time of the 1880 Federal Census, Ella was living in Ohio, married to John Somers, and had among her four children a 5-year old daughter named Leola. Now the picture was complete: the diary had belonged to Ella Clark when she attended Ferry Hall in 1871, and then used years later by her daughter Leola.
Ferry Hall opened in the fall of 1869. So, when Ella arrived in January 1871, the school was less than two years old. Even though Ella lived at Ferry Hall for just one semester, her diary gives us a rate and fascinating into daily life at Ferry Hall in its earliest era.
“Owing to the entertainment at the Academy tonight, and consequent thoughts and attention given to it, the exercises are somewhat broken today.” Ella’s academic experience involved much recitation and memorization of lessons. There were daily exercises, and outdoor activities, such as walks, sleigh rides, boat rides, and beach visits. Occasional events at the Academy caused much excitement among the Ferry Hall girls.
“From the appearance of the morning, I thought we were to be deprived of the privilege of attending church; but well protected from the blast by ample waterproofs, we sallied forth and arrived at church without any serious inconvenience to anyone. Sermon was better then usual!” In keeping with the Presbyterian roots of the school, chapel services were a de facto part of life, and visiting clergymen were frequent speakers. In her diary, Ella often quotes scripture and reflects on church sermons.
“When a person is sick away from home, how they yearn for the comforts of there, and the kindness of friends which are never rightly appreciated until they are beyond our reach.” Even in language that may sound “stilted” to our modern ear, Ella’s homesickness rings familiar today. She writes several times about missing her family, and it is interesting to note that she did not return to Ferry Hall the next year.
Ella Clark’s diary documents many aspects of her life: academics, daily routines, special occasions and events, gatherings with friends, and even a few outings to visit relatives in Chicago. Her diary is peppered with names of Lake Foresters, visiting clergy, faculty, and schoolmates. Her written words paint for us a fuller picture of life in an era far removed from our own. This surprise artifact “unearthed” from obscurity provided us with a unique voice from the past.
Thank you to Rita MacAyeal for allowing us to use this article!
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