My maternal grandmother, Vivian Luce attended Miss Wolcott’s School for Girls, a finishing school in Denver. She studied things like piano, French, water colors, needlework, elocution, etiquette, and other things appropriate to Edwardian ladies. I estimate she was there about 1914 to 1916.
Wikipedia defines finishing schools: “A finishing school is a school for young women that focuses on teaching social graces and upper-class cultural rites as a preparation for entry into society. The name reflects that it follows on from ordinary school and is intended to complete the education, with classes primarily on deportment and etiquette, with academic subjects secondary.” (Wikipedia: Finishing school; citations, link, and emphasis removed)
Surprisingly, it turned out to be pretty easy to track down Grandma’s school. In fact, the building is still standing (at 14th and Marion). For several years my sister Laura and I lived just a block away (at 13th and Marion). It was very cool, living in the same area of the city as our grandmother, and routinely walking past the school she attended.
Ranchers in Wyoming, if they were successful, often sent their daughters away to finishing schools. The idea was to prepare them to be the social and cultural leaders of the next generation.
The earliest ranchers on the Upper Green River in Wyoming were largely Mormons and ex-Mormons from Utah. The upwardly mobile among them sometimes chose to affiliate with genteel, mainstream churches. Grandma’s parents were founding members of the local Episcopal church in Big Piney in 1914, so they sent her to an Episcopalian school in Denver. Her dad’s ex-wife became Roman Catholic, so members of that family sent their daughters to a convent in in Salt Lake City. Grandma’s older half-sister was crippled from an accident in infancy and spent her life in hospitals and institutions. If not for the accident , doubtless she would have been sent to the Catholic school preferred by her mother’s family.
I didn’t know until today that First Lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower also attended the Wolcott School. An article by Linda Wommack says:
"At her parent’s insistence, [Mamie] completed her education at Miss Wolcott’s, a prestigious, private finish[ing] school for the daughters of prominent Denver families. During all of her schooling years, Mamie attended dances classes and piano lessons. As a young teenager, Mamie and her friends often took the trolley to Colfax Avenue or Curtis Street, popular teenage hangouts. They would shop, attend various shows or movies, snack on sodas and ice cream at Baur’s shop."
Finishing school was followed by an introduction into “society”, usually in the form of a debutante ball or coming out party. Grandma was a debutante, but I never thought to ask and don’t think I ever heard any details. I have a vague idea there was a coming out party in Denver for members of her school class but I don’t really know.
Grandma’s mother, Essie (Wilson) Luce, also attended a finishing school, back in Illinois. I haven’t been successful finding that school. The little I know comes from notes I made years ago: “[Grandma Essie] attended a private school in Decatur, Illinois, where her teacher was Mary Helen Sommer Rinehart (1863-1920). The two became close friends. In later years they exchanged photos and letters. [Essie] also attended a private school in Kaskaskia.”
Purely a coincidence, when I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church at All Saints in Salt Lake City, one of my sponsors was Dr. Mark Wolcott. Same family.
- “Baur’s Building.” KEW Realty Corporation <kewrealty.com>. Retrieved May 17, 2020. Located at 1514 Curtis Street, this “historic building was once a candy confectionery, Baur’s Candy Shop, founded in 1872 by Otto Baur who claimed to scoop the very first ice cream soda. Baur’s Restaurant continued to serve Denver as a popular chain into the 1970’s. Remnants of history can still be seen in the tile flooring and barrel vaulted ceiling on the first floor and exposed brick walls and lofty timber ceilings on the second and third floors.”
- “Miss Wolcott’s School Denver.” Denver Public Library. <digital.denverlibrary.org>. Photograph. Retrieved May 17, 2020. “Young women parade in a circle, possibly for a May Day festival, at the Miss Wolcott School at 1400 Marion Street in Denver, Colorado. The girls carry baskets of flowers.” DPL’s photo collection includes many other pictures of the Wolcott School.
- Justin Swanström. “Wilson.” Swan Knight <yellacatranch.com>, Jan. 1, 2000. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
- Linda Wommack. “Mamie Doud Eisenhower: The First Lady’s Denver Years.” Buckfifty <buckfifty.org>, Feb. 9, 2009. Retrieved May 17, 2020.