Columbus School for Girls still feeding hungry minds

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 Messenger photos by Sandi Latimer

Betsy Argo, left, associate director of development at Columbus School for Girls, chats with fellow CSG alumna Carol Andreae, after Argo’s presentation on one of the school’s founders for the First Saturday at Green Lawn program. Andreae is a member of the board of trustees of Green Lawn Cemetery.

 
 Dolls on display at the First Saturday at Green Lawn program depict the uniforms Columbus School for Girls students wore over the years.

Columbus School for Girls began in the fall of 1898 by a woman with a hunger for knowledge, and has continued its mission to feed the minds of young women.

The history of the city’s premier all-girls school was outlined by Betsy Argo, a 1963 CSG graduate and associate director of the school, when she spoke at the monthly First Saturday at Green Lawn program March 1.

The program focused on one of the school’s founders, Florence Kelly Whitridge, who is buried at Green Lawn.

Argo talked about the 22-year-old Kelly who had been taught to care for a home and a husband but never got enough of the academics.

She teamed with a Miss Scott, who had earned bachelor”s and masters degrees from Ohio State University, to establish a school that would focus on academics to girls who could afford to pay.

The first school was at Broad Street and West Franklin and had three students. Within a few years, the school moved to a house at 662 E. Town St., where the freeway is now, Argo said.

"They were expecting 14 students and got 25," she said, adding that five of the students were boys. The boys eventually enrolled in their own school known then as Columbus Academy.

Kelly and Scott gained other teachers as enrollment continued to grow.

They were able to purchase a house at Town Street and Parsons Avenue, where 100 students entered in 1904. A generation later, 250 students were enrolled.

The two founders had to give up their roles when they married, since married women were not allowed to work. They sold the school to Alice Gladden and Grace Latimer Jones, Argo said.

Gladden was the daughter of the Rev. Washington Gladden, who served 32 years as the pastor of First Congregation Church and wrote several hymns, including the CSG school song and school prayer.

Five members of the Gladden family are also buried at Green Lawn.

In 1929, when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began, CSG experienced financial problems like a lot of other places.

"The school had no money, but it did have a staff of 24 people and a lodge," Argo said.

The lodge housed girls who came from as far away as Lancaster and Granville, she said.

The audience chuckled at Lancaster and Granville being considered distant communities.

"They would go home for Christmas," Argo said. "Today we have girls from Lancaster and Granville, but they go home every night."

The school remained open while teachers lived in that lodge and were given three meals a day and no pay for two and a half years.

Girls always wore uniforms, and Argo displayed dolls wearing uniforms representative of what the girls wore. Early uniforms were white two-piece outfits with a middy and a dark tie, similar to what sailors wear.

Then came the light blue pinafore style uniforms. Up until 1960, the teachers also wore robes, she said. In 1932, the popular saddle shoe became the official shoe for the girls.

Plaid uniforms came into being when mothers started working outside the home and didn’t have the time to starch and iron the clothes.

"And the blue picked up so many spots," Argo said of the uniform she wore as a student.

Today girls in the lower grades wear the plaid uniform and those in upper grades wear a dark pleated skirt, white blouse and dark sweater emblazoned with the letters CSG.

When Parsons Place was sold in 1953 and the school moved to Bexley, the steps outside the old building were saved.

"The Class of 1931 paid to have the steps picked up and moved to the new location," Argo said.

A long-standing tradition is still observed at the school, the Senior Stairs, made of marble and a wrought iron banister and used only by faculty and senior students.

Today’s enrollment is 650 students, some starting as young as 3 in the preschool program. In addition CSG offers a special program to enroll children immediately after birth.

"It’s not unusual for a girl to born November second and enrolled here November fourth," she said.

Besides the main campus in Bexley, CSG has a complex on North Cassady and some land in Gahanna that is also used by classes at nearby Capital University. There have been 13 heads of the school, some of whom worked in dual partnership in the early days.

First Saturday at Green Lawn is a historical and educational program held the first Saturday of every month and focuses on someone buried there who had an impact on life in central Ohio. More than 150,000 people have been buried at Green Lawn since it was established in 1848 as a nonprofit association. The programs are free and open to the public and are held at 11 a.m. in the Huntington Chapel in the middle of Green Lawn.

The program for April 5 will be presented by Starr Commonwealth which operates the Hannah Neil programs. The program will recognize the 150 years of the Hannah Neil Mission to the community.

In April, James Brodbelt Harris, a member of the Bexley Historical Society Board of Trustees, will present a program on an ancestor, James Brodbelt, for whom a street in the Arena District of Columbus is named.

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