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The building located at 312 Cooper Street, Camden, New Jersey has served many purposes since it’s construction in the early nineteenth century. However, between the years of 1883 and 1886, the building was a school for Camden’s affluent young ladies. While little is known about this school, Much can be inferred by better understanding education in the city of Camden throughout the nineteenth century.

From Camden’s establishment to the early twentieth century, the development of education in Camden County followed two distinct phases. During the first phase, which began when Camden County was established, little concern was dedicated to the education of the area’s children. Only one school, The Camden Academy, existed through much of the late eighteenth century and into the early nineteenth century. The Camden Academy was established exclusively for boys and charged $2.50 a term. The tuition was substantial enough to keep working class or other lower class Camden residents from attending the school. Young ladies and girls would be completely excluded from the education system in the area throughout the eighteenth century and into the early nineteenth century.

The second phase of education in Camden County started when railroads were being laid throughout Camden County and the area’s roadways were being improved. These developments gave children the ability to travel greater distances to obtain an education. Furthermore, the second phase of education in Camden County saw the development of a public school system. Following in the shadow of Philadelphia and New York City, which both had public school systems by the early nineteenth century, Camden officials passed the Public School Law which, “authorized, empowered, and required the inhabitants of several townships, at their annual town meetings, to raise by tax or otherwise, in addition to the amount apportioned by the state to their use, such further sum or sums of money as they may deem proper for the support of public schools.” The newly established public school system provided education to most of Camden’s younger residents, including girls. Immigrant girls would have to find education in parochial schools.

Despite the public system being established, upper education continued to be difficult to obtain, especially for girls. Private schools would fill this gap for children of affluent families. One such private school existed on Cooper Street between the years of 1883 and 1887. Located at 312 Cooper Street a private seminary school for affluent girls of Camden City was established. The school, which was run by Sarah A. Wescott (some sources write Westcott) offered young ladies classes in English, algebra, and bookkeeping. The school likely also provided their pupils direction in art and music, which was common amongst private schools in Camden during the late nineteenth century because those programs were excluded from public schools. Finally, religious classes or theology classes were likely taught to the students since the school was a seminary school.

Unfortunately, little is known about the Young Ladies’ Seminary School. City directories only mention the school. Sarah Westcott is mentioned in some city directories as owning a private school or being the principal of the school located at 312 Cooper Street. After the school closed in 1887, Sarah Wescott moved to Bridgeton, New Jersey and became the principal of another private school for young ladies known as the Seven Gables School. This school, which was located on Lake Street near the Bridgeton City Park, was a boarding school, unlike the school located at 312 Cooper Street which was a day school. It is possible that some of the students from 312 Cooper Street stayed at the Seven Gables School, although no record is available to prove this. The Seven Gables School offered students classes in French, German, and Greek. There are no records of other class offerings to the students but it is likely that since it was a private boarding school, the students did not only learn languages. Tuition to the Seven Gables School was $400 a year, which suggests that only prominent girls attended the school.

Jacob Downs
Rutgers University- Camden