, , , , ,

The building located at 312 Cooper Street, Camden, New Jersey has served many purposes since its construction in the early nineteenth century. However, between 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 have been 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 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.

Despite the public system being established, upper education continued to be difficult to obtain, especially for girls. Private schools filled this gap for children of affluent families. One such private school, a private seminary school for girls, existed at 312 Cooper Street between 1883 and 1887. The school, which was run by Sarah A. Wescott (spelled by some sources as Westcott) offered young ladies classes in English, algebra, and bookkeeping. The school also may have provided pupils with instruction in art and music, which was common among 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, she moved to Bridgeton, New Jersey, and became the principal of another private school for young ladies known as the Seven Gables School. This school, 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. The Seven Gables School offered students classes in French, German, and Greek. Tuition to the Seven Gables School was $400 a year, which suggests that only prominent girls attended.

Jacob Downs
Rutgers University- Camden