“In June, just before the closing of the schools, we had a surprise. The Girls School was ushered into the Library and the door closed . . . five girls in particular were placed in the front row. Facing them in the curve of the large bay window in solemn array sat the Chancellor [Bishop William H. Benade], Vice-Chancellor [Rev. W.F. Pendleton], with members of the Council and their wives. . . . You can imagine how we girls felt before these grave heads of the Academy.
Soon the Chancellor in his crimson robe and wearing the golden seal of the Academy rose and addressed [us]. . . . Then came our first view of those beautiful pins . . . the medallion hung from a red and white ribbon fastened to a gold brooch. Father Benade explained that the eagle brooding over her young was taken from the third quarter of the Academy Seal . . .
We went forth into a new world quite sorry for the poor boys, who were so different from girls and didn’t have such a soul-stirring graduation” (Reflections on the First 100 Years: Girls School Centennial Album 1884-1984, 8, 9).
The above description was penned by Emeline Carswell of Toronto, one of five graduates who took part in the very first graduation ceremony for the Academy of the New Church Girls School on June 15, 1892. The school at that time was located in Philadelphia on Wallace Street. She was joined by Jessie Moir, Augusta Pendleton, Zella Pendleton, and Eva Schill. Zella Pendleton’s graduation medal is now in the collection of Glencairn Museum (05.JW.05). Four of the graduates, including Zella (right front), are pictured in the photograph above. The obverse of the medal depicts an eagle sitting on her nest; around the edge is written, “The Academy of the New Church.” The reverse of the medal is engraved as follows: “Zella Pendleton / June 15, 1892=122.” The “=122” refers to the unique New Church system of dating sometimes used at that time. The practice of giving these medals in lieu of diplomas at the Girls School graduation ceremony continued until 1922.
The association of the Girls School with the symbol of the eagle brooding over her young, taken from the top right quadrant of the Academy seal, continues to this day. In his address, William H. Benade explained that the eagle on the seal was derived from Emanuel Swedenborg’s Apocalypse Explained (281), specifically the explanation of a portion of Deuteronomy: “Jehovah found him in the land of the wilderness. He led him about, He instructed him, He preserved him as the pupil of His eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young; it spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh him, beareth him on her pinions, so Jehovah led him (Deut. 32:10-12; emphasis added).
This passage “treats of the establishment of the Ancient Church, and the first reformation of those who were of that church . . . their instruction in truths, guarding them from falsities, and the opening of the interiors of their mind, that they may come into the light of heaven, and thus into the understanding of truth and good, which is intelligence . . .” (Apocalypse Explained 281b).
The five young women were graduates of the “Normal Class,” which was designed to prepare them for teaching positions as well as the instruction of their own children if they were to marry. Benade specifically spoke of their “preparation for the use of instructing infants and children in the sciences and knowledges needed to form the intelligence that is the light of heaven . . .” (New Church Life 1892, 147). All five went on to teach in New Church schools.
NewChurchHistory.org has published a register of graduates and ex-students in the schools of the Academy of the New Church for the years 1877-1926 here. A short history of the Academy during this time period is here.
Photos: Normal Class: Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. A list of names is written from top to bottom on the back, under the title “Normal Class”: “Marie Martin, Paris, France; Jessie Moir; Arretta Newharrt (Doering); A.E. Grant; Eva Schill; Emeline Carswell [Acton]; Eliza Mitchell; Zella Pendleton.” Girls School medal, 1892: New Church Collection, Glencairn Museum, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania (05.JW.05). Photos by Stewart Farmer.
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