Back to School: The Schools of St. Paul’s Chapel

Long before school shopping revolved around tablets and backpacks (and more likely involved book straps and slide rules), St. Paul’s Chapel displayed long and enduring commitment to the education of the citizens of New York by hosting a number of schools and education ministries under its auspices. Now that September has arrived and school is back in session, here’s a look back at some of St. Paul’s Chapel’s more notable endeavors in education.

While the Parish of Trinity Church planted its roots in education much earlier, St. Paul’s Chapel’s first school was started in 185, and remained open until 1918. The St. Paul’s Chapel Day School for Girls was the Parish’s first parochial school for girls and educated students in “all the ordinary English grades” as well as providing them instruction in “sewing, drawing, vocal music, and modeling in clay.” The Trinity Parish Year Book of 1911 describes special field trips including instances when several older girls “accompanied by their drawing teacher, visited the Art Museum and one class was taken to Vantine’s and Wanamaker’s stores, to study Japanese art objects and manufactures.”

Of course, pupils of the St. Paul’s Chapel Day School for Girls were also instructed in the principles and doctrines of the church, as the chapel’s Vicar would instruct students on these topics on Friday afternoons.

St. Paul’s Kindergarten was developed in 1900 as a department of the Day School for Girls.  Around this time, New York City’s population was booming and, in the coming years, would eventually more than triple from 1,515,301 in 1890 to 4,766,883 in 1910. Conditions were poor and it was becoming more necessary for both parents to work, often leaving children at home with only slightly older children to supervise them. In addition to the kindergarten enrolling roughly thirty to fifty children per month in the classroom, staff would also make visits to homes to provide assistance and care for families that did not send their children to the school, and perhaps to encourage enrollment. “We may call our visiting, voyages of discovery, which often mean happiness and health to the little ones found in those dark places and brought to the light of the Kindergarten,” an account from The Trinity Parish Year Book of 1914 states.

In addition to St. Paul’s Sunday School and the Home Study Department, which employed a Visiting Teacher to educate those who “on account of sickness, occupation, or other good cause” were unable to attend the Sunday School, St. Paul’s Chapel’s history of education ministries also included The Chinese Sunday School. With the number of communicants declining in the early 20th century, the parish set out to engage the communities surrounding its churches with new ministries. The Chinese Sunday School was a product of this.

Opening in 1907, the school taught its students English and scripture on Sunday afternoons in the Parish House. A standard lesson began with opening hymns and prayers, before the men were divided into classrooms according to their knowledge of English. Though most lessons were taught using books with parallel columns of English and Chinese, sometimes new students were taught by the teacher pointing to various objects “and has the scholar repeat after him until he catches the ideas.” In 1913 the school employed 12 teachers and interpreters and had an enrollment of 33 students. Most of the teachers at The Chinese Sunday School were students at Columbia University.