The Orcutt family packed up and left Durant, Iowa, on August 13, 1887, bound for Omaha, Nebraska, where opportunities beckoned. Shortly after they moved into their elegant new home, Edith Orcutt, my maternal great-grandmother, celebrated her eighth birthday. She had two younger sisters, Anna Ri, age six, and Jane Clare “Jennie,” age three, and one older brother Louis, age sixteen. Now school age, the girls would benefit from the educational choices offered in a larger city. Their father, Clinton Orcutt, a self-made man, and entrepreneur understood the advantages of social contacts and private education. The girls’ mother, Anna Dutton Orcutt, descended from a long line of Yale-educated Congregationalist ministers, including her father, Reverand Thomas Dutton. The Orcutts had the financial means to provide the best of everything for their daughters, including an elite school.
Like many of their peers, Clinton and Anna Orcutt chose a private school for their daughters. A good school would train their daughters with a classical education and “distinguished manners.” Many wealthy families sent their daughters to school in the East. But there were two primary choices for those who preferred a local school. One option was Brownell Hall, founded by the Episcopal Church in 1867. Another choice was Duchesne Sacred Heart Academy (known as Park Place), a Catholic girls school founded in 1881. The Orcutts chose the latter and started a family tradition that lasted three generations.
As members of the Congregational Church, the Orcutts may have had a few qualms about sending their girls to a Catholic school, but Duchesne, known for its high academics and social graces, impressed them. Moreover, the rigid training would prepare the girls for every phase of life.
“The Sacred Heart Academy for day pupils…is an institution devoted to the moral and intellectual education of young girls…Difference of religion is no obstacle to the teaching of pupils, provided they conform to the general regulations of the school.”
Constructed on the highest hill in Omaha, the Academy of the Sacred Heart at Park Place, provided a beautiful view of the city. The substantial brick building was 144 feet long, 81 feet wide, and five stories high. The view below depicts the school and contented cows in a nearby pasture.
The Omaha Daily Herald for November 1882 described the opening ceremony for the Sacred Heart Academy, which included descriptions of the interior.
“The ground story is occupied by the dining room, kitchen, laundry, storerooms, feed and boiler rooms, and bathrooms and water closets. The stairways run from basement to attic, and an elevator for trunks and baggage connects all stories. The dining room is furnished tastefully and has a bay window facing east, making an inviting room which will accomodate a hundred people.
The first story is entered by a flight of broad stone steps, opening into a large vestibule, paved with tiles, and leading into a spcaious hallway. A parlor stands at the south side, and two other parlors and a private parlor are located at the north side of the hall. The parlors are furnished with Brussels carpet, marble mantels, steam radiator, and walnut furniture, all inviting apartments.
North of the parlors is the society, fitted with a rich vestment case. Beyond this and occupying the northeast corner is the Chapel. Three stained glass windows stand back of the altar, and the altar itself is beautifully carved and gilded. Statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph surmount the side altars. Black walnut pews and a fine large organ complete the furniture.
The second story is occupied by the classrooms, recitation rooms and music rooms, and studio, the larger classrooms standing over the Chapel.
The third story is divided into private rooms for the students, dormitories, and apartments for the community of the sisters.”
Some of the students boarded at the Sacred Heart Academy, while others, such as the Orcutt sisters, were day pupils. Edith, Anna Ri, and Jane had a short distance – two miles- to travel from their home at 550 S. 26th Street to Duchesne, located at 36th and Burt Street.
The Omaha City Directory for 1885 noted that “The scholastic year commences on the first Wednesday in September. Classes commenced at 10 a.m., and pupils were dismissed at 3:30 p.m. References are required from all persons unknown to the institution.”
Since the Orcutt girls were unknown to the Sacred Heart Academy, who provided the references for them? A business associate of Clinton Orcutt, a friend, or perhaps a neighbor?
Registration books for day students recorded that Edith commenced her education on September 10, 1889, at age ten. A year later, in 1890, nine-year-old Anna Ri joined her sister. Then, on September 6, 1892, the youngest child, Jane Clare, age seven, accompanied her sisters to Duchesne.  I contacted the archivist at Duchesne, who generously shared registration documents and several photographs featured in this blog.
Dressed neatly in black high-necked ankle-length dresses, with their hair combed straight back, Duchesne students appear in a photograph with the Mother Superior Margaret Dunne in the center.
Information from Sacred Heart archives described the regimen practiced in the Sacred Heart Schools when the Orcutt girls attended. “One such custom was the use of a wooden signal whose dry clack, to which decorous ranks obediently moved about the school in a strictly enforced silence.” In addition, the girls learned to curtsey to the Superior and the Mistress General and rise as the nuns entered the room. When I mentioned these routines to my mother, who attended Duchesne in the 1940s-1950s, she distinctly recalled the sound of the clacker, quietly processing the hallways, and the required curtsies to the nuns.
A daily schedule would include morning prayers, spiritual reading, Mass, and classes broken by fifteen minutes of recreation. During mealtimes, the girls remained silent while a student read a suitable book aloud, such as Dickens, Thackeray, or James Fenimore Cooper.
A special event remembered by every student who attended a Sacred Heart school was the “Grand Congé,” an event looked forward to weeks in advance and reminisced for weeks after it passed.  Congé is a French word for ‘leave taking’ or farewell. At Sacred Heart schools, the Congé is a holiday at school; students leave their studies and channel their energy to celebration and fun. My mother recalls this event fondly, as I’m sure my great-grandmother and her sisters did.
In 1890, when Edith was eleven years old, Duchesne included 100 students, a faculty of eighteen “very efficient teachers,” plus thirteen staff employed in the care of domestic matters. It is also the year that all students were required to take Latin, formerly an optional course. Duchesne’s comprehensive education, which lasted eight years, included the following subjects:
“Reading, penmanship, grammar, rhetoric, orthography, etymology, geography, United States history, ancient and modern history, universal literature, zoology, physics, botany, chemistry, geology, astronomy, mineralogy, logic, intellectual and moral philosophy, needlework, languages, drawing, painting, music, both vocal and instrumental, harp, piano, violin, guitar, and organ.”
Sacred Heart Academy did not neglect “physical culture” and calisthenics; they too were part of the curriculum.
I found an advertisement that included the fees to attend Duchesne in 1885. The Omaha City Directory for 1885 listed the tuition and associated costs. Day pupils would have paid less than students who boarded. The tuition costs remained the same in 1889 advertisements. Using an online inflation calculator, the $215/semester fee, per child, in 1890 would cost approximately $6,566.00 today.
“Terms payable in advance: Including board, washing, Tuition, and Instrumental Music, also French of five months, $150.00. Painting, $30, Drawing, $20, German $15, Vocal Music, $20.
Religious education was a part of the Sacred Heart Education, but converting to Catholocism was optional. Only Jane converted and made her First Communion and Confirmation of the three sisters. Photos of Jane’s First Communion depict Jane and five classmates. In the center photograph, Jane is in the back row on the right.
Jane received a star-shaped medal, neatly preserved in the original jewelry box, that was awarded on Prize Day, an end-of-the-year celebration honoring achievements. Engraved on the top is “Sacred Heart Academy, June 23, ’96.” Jane’s nickname, “Jennie C. Orcutt, ” is inscribed across the middle.”
Curious about the manufacturer, I discovered that the W.J. Feeley Company, Jewelers, and Silversmiths, located in Chicago, made ecclesiastical wares and medals in gold, silver, and brass.
All of the Orcutt sisters expressed an interest in music and art. Their mother, Anna, played the piano and occasionally gave lessons, including perhaps to her daughters. Edith probably chose to take painting classes, evidenced by her interest in art, which I wrote about in a previous blog. In addition, a newspaper article from 1893 indicates that she took vocal classes. During the commencement exercises for 1893, Edith sang and “distinguished herself as Miriam” in the original operetta “A Woodland Dream.”
Anna Ri expressed an interest in music and vocal classes. She performed at the Sacred Heart commencement exercises in 1894, where she sang a solo cantata, “In the Glenn.” The paper described her voice as “well developed, which promises much in mature years.” She also played the mandolin and performed during her final year of school at the 1898 commencement.
At the June 1896 commencement, eleven-year-old Jane presented the salutatory, “whose pleasing manner and expressive delivery charmed her audience.” Her older sister, Anna Ri, performed in a drama, “A Page from Roman History.” She displayed “much taste and a correct conception of the character.”
The girls also took private singing lessons from a Canadian-born music teacher, Miss Margaret Boulter, as noted in a newspaper article from 1899.
THE “FINISHING YEAR”
Many wealthy young women spent their final year of education, the “finishing” year, at a private school in the East, Midwest, or overseas. It prepared them to play their role in society. The three Orcutt sisters chose three different Academies for their final year. Edith decided to attend Maryville in St. Louis, Missouri. Anna Ri, who was more adventurous than her older sister, decided to venture farther away and went to Loretto Academy in Denver, Colorado. Perhaps family vacations in the Colorado mountains enticed her to continue her studies there. Finally, when Jane’s turn came, she traveled the farthest distance, over 1260 miles, to Kenwood Sacred Heart Academy in Albany, New York.
Surprisingly, only Jane completed her education and graduated from a Sacred Heart Academy. Edith and Anna Ri spent their final year away from home but chose not to undergo the more rigorous examinations necessary for graduation. In speaking with a Sacred Heart archivist, I learned this was not uncommon.
MARYVILLE, SACRED HEART ACADEMY, ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
In September 1895, fifteen-year-old Edith traveled 415 miles by train to Maryville, Sacred Heart Academy, accompanied by her father, Clinton Orcutt. As a boarding student, she brought with her: black uniform dresses, six regular changes of linen, six table linens, six toilet towels, two pairs of blankets, three pairs of sheets, a pillow, three pillowcases, one white counterpane, a rug, or piece of carpeting, a goblet, two silver spoons, knife, fork, work-box, and dressing-case. All of this could fit quite nicely in the travel trunk her father purchased from the Omaha Trunk company, which I wrote about previously.
Several newspaper articles provided details about Edith’s departure and her visits home over the holidays.
“Where Will They Study – Already trunks are being packed, and our boys and girls who have helped to enliven and brighten the hot summer days, are beginning to think of leaving for their schools and colleges, which are about to reopen. After their summer’s rest and recreation, they will be more fit to encounter the struggles of the coming year. Quite a number have gone already, and others are taking their departures daily.”
The Provincial Archivist for the Society of the Sacred Heart United States- Canada Province shared the registration book that listed Edith Orcutt as a student at Maryville from September 1895-June 1896. In addition, she included a copy of the Maryville school journal for that year with details of student life, plus a few photographs of the school.
The first journal entry for September 1895 noted the commencement of the school year and the student’s arrival. 
- Sept 3rd Sixty-four pupils enter the first evening.
- Sept 4th Fifteen pupils enter, including nine-day scholars.
- Sept 8th Feast of the Nativity – Eighty-five pupils in the house.
Edith Orcutt’s name appears as #35 in the registration book. Some registers provide much more information, but unfortunately, for 1895, only the name and place are listed.
Most journal entries provide detailed accounts of various Feast days in the liturgical year and the girls’ participation in processions and religious events. Other entries noted the vacation and examination days. After one month of school, the students had their first break at the beginning of October for Fair Week. Edith, who developed a habit of early departures and late arrivals, left school early to attend a social function in Omaha. The society columns for the Omaha World-Herald on Friday, September 20, described Edith’s attendance at the first Ak-Sar-Ben Ball to be held in Omaha. (Ak-Sar-Ben is Nebraska spelled backward.)
“Descriptions of the Gorgeous Costumes worn at the Ball. Miss Edith Orcutt, delicate pink moire silk, cream lace, and pearls.” After nearly two weeks at home, the paper reported, “Mr. C.D. Orcutt and Miss Edith left yesterday [October 5] for St. Louis, where Miss Edith attends the Convent of Sacred Heart at Maryville.”
Christmas vacation commenced at Maryville on December 21, 1895. Once again, Edith returned home early. The Omaha World-Herald listed her return to Omaha on December 20. She hastened home to attend a large and formal dancing party held in honor of her sister Anna Ri.
The Maryville Journal entry for January 2, 1896, stated: “Return from the Christmas vacation – a few are tardy.” Yes, Edith was one of those tardy students; she remained home until January 14. “Miss Edith Orcutt left for St. Louis last evening (January 14), where she will continue her studies at the school of the Sacred Heart.”
Was Edith prepared for the French examinations held on January 22nd, 24th, and 25th, followed by the arithmetic and English examinations on the 27th? Perhaps not. A notation in the school journal stated, “With the exception of one class, all showed a marked improvement giving evidence of solid, serious work.”
February brought the delight of a Sacred Heart tradition, the Congé, “a day for students to take leave of the rigors of their studies and their seriousness of purpose to bring forth and experience joy.” Edith and her classmates celebrated the day by sharing the occasion with twenty little orphans from St. Mary’s Asylum. The chief feature of the day was a pretty play, “Elisha’s Burglar,” enacted in the afternoon.
April 3, 1896, the Maryville students returned home briefly for their Easter vacation. Easter in 1896 fell on April 5; the students had to report back to school by April 7. Again, it seems that Edith may have stayed home longer than permitted. The Omaha Daily Bee noted in the “Friendly Gossip” column on Sunday, April 12, that “Miss Edith Orcutt has been spending the Easter holidays at home.”
June brought the final examinations for the year from the 15th-17th with satisfactory results. A final program for the graduates held on June 18 included music by Mozart, an operetta, an essay, a polonaise, and the bestowal of graduating honors on six young women. Unfortunately, Edith was not on the list of names.
Meanwhile back at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, the annual commencement exercises took place on June 20. Had Edith graduated then she might have experienced something similar.
“On entering the hall, a spectacle of bewildering beautymet the eye; a carpet of dainty shades of blue and gray, mingled with gold, covered the floor, while a profusion of palms and ferns and draperies of cream lace formed a pretty background to tthe groups of children in pure white dresses and ribbgons. The stage presented a garden scene opening out from a marble terrace, whose ascent was an embankment of trailing vines and potted plants. Marble urns of palms and and other tropical foliage ornamented the terrace here and there, while arched above, an entanglement of ferns, smilax, and white blossoms gave an exquisite finish. Admiring the artistic taste displayed in the decoration, especially in the scenery painting, where brooks, grasses, and trees seemed real, one felt a deep regret that many lovers of art were excluded from such a treat, as according to the established custom, the list of invitations is limited to the clergy.
The entertainment opened with the overture from Reinlike, which was given with a skill and brilliance that elecited well-deserved applause.
The second number of the program was a bright little operetta, which was exceptionally well-rendered; the voices were good, and the singing and acting showed a correctness that is only attained by long and thorough training. Miss Jennie Orcutt was charming as the little princess.”
After Edith returned home in June 1896, she occupied herself with social engagements, travel, painting, and plans for her engagement and marriage to Alfred James Beaton.
LORETTO HEIGHTS, DENVER, COLORADO
At age sixteen, Anna Ri embarked on her “finishing” year at Loretto Heights in Denver, Colorado. Her father likely accompanied her on the train trip to Denver in September 1897. Unfortunately, researching Anna Ri and her education at Loretto Heights Academy did not yield as much information as I found for her sister Edith. However, three small news clippings mentioned Anna Ri’s trips to Denver.
The first, September 1897, noted that during the summer, “…the Misses Orcutt [resided in] Colorado Springs, COl.” The second article, Sunday, January 9, 1898, stated that “Miss [Edith] Orcutt has returned from Denver, where she left her sister at school at Loretto Heights.” And the third announced Anna Ri’s return from Loretto in June 1898. “Miss Anna Ri Orcutt is expected home next Friday from Loretto Heights academy at Denver.”
I contacted the Director of the Loretto Heritage Center for information and photographs. She gave me permission to include images of the school, making it easier to envision what Anna Ri saw when she attended the school.
Located in southwest Denver, Loretto Heights Academy, a Catholic boarding school for girls operated by the Sisters of Loretto, opened in 1891. The Romanesque style main building is an imposing three-story red sandstone structure with a steeply pitched gabled roof. The central tower rises to a height of more than 160 feet. The round arch at the base of the tower is of “intricately carved sandstone with the Loretto moto ‘FIDES, MORES, CULTURA’ [Faith, Moral Integrity, and Cultivation of Culture] inscribed in very large letters. The building included a gymnasium, two dining rooms, a kitchen in the basement, classrooms and a laboratory on the 1st floor, classrooms and administration on the 2nd floor, student dormitories on the 3rd floor, and individual nun and older students’ sleeping rooms and art rooms on the 4th floor.”
In my search for articles about Loretto, I found one in the Denver Evening Post that listed Anna Ri as a student, but not a graduate. Six young ladies graduated from the Loretto Academy on June 22, 1898, and received their diplomas amid floral decorations, music, and patriotic exercises. In addition, the graduating class presented an original drama entitled the “Columbian Council,” which included interesting dialogues on current topics, all expressed in allegorical form. Musical performances by other students included classical piano pieces, vocals, guitars, and mandoline. Anna Ri, who played the mandolin, performed Il Trovatore by Verdi and received a “crown for literary merit” for her performance, as did many of the other performers.
After she completed her “finishing” year, Anna Ri returned home where she became involved in a swirl of social engagements along with her sisters for the next six months. When their mother, Anna Orcutt, died at age 56 from unknown causes on January 12, 1899, the girls entered a period of mourning. Edith age 19, Anna Ri age 17, and 14-year old Jane refrained from all social gatherings for at least six months. Edith took over running the household and mentoring her youngest sister. Jane continued her education at Duchesne, Sacred Heart Academy until she turned seventeen and then departed for her final year of study on the East coast.
KENWOOD, FEMALE ACADEMY OF THE SACRED HEART, ALBANY, NEW YORK
On Friday, September 12,1902, Clinton Orcutt accompanied his youngest daughter, Jane, to Kenwood Sacred Heart Academy in Albany, New York. Their route probably took them to Chicago and then directly to New York aboard the Chicago and New York Express, all in the luxury of a Pullman car.
“Mr. Clinton D. Orcutt, accompanied by his daughter Miss Jennie, left on Friday for Albany, N.Y., where she will enter Sacred Heart Convent School, Kenwood.”
Kenwood has a longer history than either Duchesne or Loretto. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart went to Albany in 1852. In 1859, the Female Academy of the Sacred Heart purchased 53 acres and the large Rathbone estate house and buildings. In 1867, they tore down the mansion and used the building materials to construct a Gothic-style chapel and school buildings.
I contacted the Communications Coordinator for the Society of the Sacred Heart, United-States-Canada, and obtained permission to include photographs of Kenwood Academy. Likewise, the Editor for the Friends of Albany History website, Julie O’Connor, permitted me to use images from their website that depict the chapel, classrooms, and dormitories. I imagine that the dormitories at Maryville and Loretto might have been similar to those at Kenwood.
As with Anna Ri, I found just a few newspaper articles that provided information about Jane’s final year of study. The first one from the “Society” column in the Omaha Daily Bee provided information that Jane returned to Albany on Monday, January 5, 1903, after spending the Christmas holidays with her family. A second notice on May 31, 1903, announced, “Miss [Anna Ri] Orcutt will leave this week for New York to attend the graduating exercises of Sacred Heart convent, Kenwood, Miss Jane Orcutt being a member of this class.”
By June 28, Jane had returned home. “Miss Jane Orcutt has returned from the east, where she recently graduated.” After her return, the new graduate filled her social calendar with activities: teas, picnics, theater dinners, dances, balls, picnics, sailing parties, horse shows, travel, and her formal debut into society in November 1903.
SACRED HEART ALUMNAE
October 1903 was a special month for Edith and her sisters, aside from their regular social activities. At the end of the month, the alumnae of the Sacred Heart Academy in Omaha held their first annual meeting and elected officers. All former pupils who graduated or finished the first class received invitations. Fifty alumane accepted, including Edith and Jane. Anna Ri does not appear in any of the photographs, perhaps she had a more pressing social engagement.
The exercises began at 10:00 a.m. with a devotional service, followed by luncheon at noon and a business meeting. The school pupils provided entertainment in the afternoon. 
I don’t know if the Orcutt sisters continued to attend the annual reunions. However, Jane did maintain her connection to the Sacred Heart Academy. In 1915 and 1916, she served as Vice-President of the Alumane Board.
Inspired by her faith and experiences at Duchesne and Kenwood, Jane bequeathed $5000 (worth $92,000 today) to her niece, Anna Jane Beaton, my grandmother, and the only daughter of Edith Orcutt Beaton. Receipt of the inheritance was conditional upon Anna Jane attending a Sacred Heart Academy for seven years. Failure to comply would result in transferring the funds to the academy.
Tragically, Jane, who wrote her will on June 11, 1915, died from an internal hemorrhage due to a tubal pregnancy on March 24, 1918. She left an estate valued at more than $150,000, valued today at $2,760,000.
Anna Jane, who began her studies at Duchesne in 1914 at age seven, completed her education at a Sacred Heart Academy, including four years of college. Like her Aunt Jane, Anna Jane attended a Sacred Heart Academy in New York for one year. She spent her sophomore year at Manhattanville and returned to Duchesne, graduating in 1925.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, my maternal family’s education at Duchesne lasted three generations; my great-grandmother Edith and her sisters, my grandmother Anna Jane, and my mother Jean. It has been rewarding to research and explore the Sacred Heart traditions.
© 2022 copyright – Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved
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