The Lower Merion Academy, established in 1812 in Bala-Cynwyd, was one of the first public schools in the United States, and the first in the township to provide free education. It continued to be used as a school until the Cynwyd School opened in 1915. It is still governed by a board of trustees to whom the Lower Merion School District pays fifty dollars each year as rent on a ninety-nine-year lease.
Following the state's mandate to "establish a General System of Education by Common Schools," a group of men met in the Public House of David Young (now the General Wayne Inn) on April 1, 1834. Lower Merion was the first district in the county to follow the mandate, opening its public schools in November 1835. The schoolhouse in Wynnewood (near where Stouffer's restaurant was in 1981) was not completed until 1836. In Penn Valley the Fairview Union Sunday School was given to the township in 1834 as a part of the new free school system. In 1890 when a larger school building was needed, the township built a two-room structure adjoining this school, and the enlarged building was used until 1919. The Ashland School was built in 1883 in the present Belmont Hills, in the block between Price and Jefferson streets, and rebuilt ten years later.
The Merion Square School on Youngs Ford Road was contracted 1880-81 on the site of an earlier school built about 1840. Over the years additions were made to the Merion Square School to meet the needs of increasing enrollment. By 1956 first and second graders were moved to the Belmont Hills School. They were the first students to go to a new building constructed in 1958 on 12 1/2 acres between Righters Mill and Merion Square Roads. The property was formerly used by the U.S. Army as an antiaircraft site, part of the perimeter defense of Philadelphia, and it had temporary barracks for about a hundred men. The Gladwyne School was formally dedicated on December 1, 1958. The old school is now a Montessori school, "Children's House."
In 1892 the Lower Merion School District administered eleven schools of mixed grades: Bryn Mawr (Lancaster and Prospect Avenues), Ardmore (Ardmore Avenue), Merion Square (Youngs Ford Road, Gladwyne), Fairview (called Penn Valley in 1980), Bala (Union and Bala Avenues), Pencoyd (Righter's Ferry and Monument Roads, Bala-Cynwyd), Ashland (Jefferson Street, Belmont Hills), Narberth (North Essex and Sabine Avenues), Mt. Pleasant (Spring Mill and Mt. Pleasant Roads, Villanova), Wynnewood (Lancaster Avenue near Wynnewood Road), and the Academy (Bryn Mawr Avenue near Levering Mill Road, Bala-Cynwyd). Slightly more than one thousand boys and girls studied at a monthly cost to the township of $1.90 each. Most boys left school at age thirteen.
Eventually all students were moved to newer, larger schools. Bala School, built in 1888 and moved in 1974 to a new building that combined the school with the community library on Old Lancaster Road and Highland Avenue, was the last to be replaced.
The first high school of the district was organized at the Ardmore School in 1895. As the population increased, plans for a high school large enough to house three hundred students began to materialize in 1908, when land in Ardmore was purchased from George and Sarah Chichester, heirs of the original Welsh owners. A junior high school was created in 1914, to "appeal to the most restless period of children's lives," according to minutes of the School Board.
In 1895 Narberth Borough withdrew from Lower Merion and created an independent school district. In October 1900, the Ardmore School, which had been built in 1875, burned; neighboring churches served as classrooms until the new Ardmore School opened in 1901. One-room schools at Pencoyd, Mt. Pleasant, and Wynnewood closed about 1915, the same year that the new Cynwyd School opened near the old Academy building, and the new Bryn Mawr Elementary School, Old Lancaster Road and Bryn Mawr Avenue, was completed. In 1919 Fairview pupils began to ride buses to Ardmore, and the old two-room schoolhouse was deeded to the Fairview Union Sunday School, which had shared the premises with the secular school since 1834. The Penn Valley Woman's Club occupies the former Sunday school.
Minutes of the School Board during World War I show that "regular school work was insisted upon as the chief function of the school" even though the high school boys drilled with real guns in a Cadet Corps and girls sewed for the Red Cross and Emergency Aid. Postwar emphases on public school sports, health care, music instruction, and student clubs increased the administrators' responsibilities. The superintendent of schools received his highest salary to date, $4,200 annually.
In 1920 a new Belmont Hills School opened several blocks away from the abandoned old school, and Ardmore Junior High on Montgomery Avenue was ready for occupancy about 1924. The Merion Elementary School on Bowman Avenue opened in 1925 and was enlarged in 1971. Wynnewood Road School opened in 1927, and the Penn Wynne School on Haverford Road began to hold classes in 1931. During this period the Narberth School District asked and received permission to send boys and girls to the Lower Merion junior and senior high schools in Ardmore on a tuition basis. By 1933 kindergartens flourished in all the elementary schools. Bala Cynwyd Junior High School (now Middle School) was ready for use in February 1940 next door to the old Academy building.
The baby boom after World War II resulted in the building of Harriton High School, occupying thirty-two acres on Ithan Avenue in Bryn Mawr, Welsh Valley Junior High School between Hagys Ford and Tower Lane in Penn Valley, the new Gladwyne School off Youngs Ford Road, and Penn Valley School on Righters Mill Road. The 1948 school census showed almost six thousand schoolchildren in the township. In 1963 the aging Ardmore Avenue School was closed, partly to eliminate its racial segregation, and in 1974 the new Bala School-Bala-Cynwyd Public Library was dedicated. Lower Merion School District, once again encompassing Narberth, contained fifteen public schools in the sixties and seventies, serving a student population of more than ten thousand.
Since 1947 Interschool Council, a federation of home and school associations from each of the public schools, has been providing support to the schools combined with analytical studies of educational needs. Its study of teachers' salaries in the late fifties received national attention. The Interschool Council has brought professional children's theater to the community, produced lists of quality books to be read by children and youth, prepared guidelines for social behavior, and provided information on financing post-high school education. The council also helped to form the Lower Merion Township Scholarship Fund and the Volunteer Resource Office, which lists residents available to enrich the education program.
Toward the end of the seventies the postwar surge in student population ended, expenses climbed, and economy measures became imperative. Schools reorganized for efficiency: kindergarten through fifth grade now constituted elementary school, sixth grade through eighth grade became the middle school, and ninth through twelfth grades were high school. Four elementary schools--Bala, Bryn Mawr, Narberth, and Wynnewood Road--as well as Ardmore Junior High School closed. In 1981 the district closed the Belmont Hills Elementary School.
Merion-Mercy Academy for Girls, operated by the Sisters of Mercy adjacent to their motherhouse, provides kindergarten through twelfth grade for approximately six hundred girls. The Mater Misericordia Convent came from Philadelphia to its location on Montgomery Avenue in Merion in 1884. Under the leadership of Mother Mary Patricia Waldron it acquired an extensive campus.
Waldron Academy for Boys, which shares its campus, had its roots in the Village School taught by the Sisters of Mercy between 1885 and 1923. More than three hundred boys attend preschool classes through eighth grade.
The Sisters of Mercy also operate St. Margaret's School in Narberth, and additional parish schools, kindergarten through eighth grade, in Lower Merion Township: Our Mother of Good Counsel on Pennswood Road in Bryn Mawr, founded 1899; St. Thomas of Villanova in Rosemont, opened in 1908 and in 1981 combined with and moved to Our Mother of Good Counsel School; St. Matthias in Bala-Cynwyd, established in 1914; and Presentation Blessed Virgin Mary School in Penn Wynne on Haverford Road, organized in 1959. St. Katherine's Day School for Mentally Handicapped Children on Bowman Avenue in Overbrook is an un-graded school for ages three through eighteen.
The Baldwin School was founded at the suggestion of Dr. James L. Rhoads, first president of Bryn Mawr College. Miss Florence Baldwin started the private college preparatory boarding school in 1888. In 1896 she leased the Bryn Mawr Hotel, a popular summer resort, in which to teach some two hundred girls from seven years old to college age during the winter months. The Baldwin School, incorporated in 1905, purchased the hotel in 1922. Fifty years later the boarding department was terminated for economic reasons, and the students' rooms were converted to teachers' apartments. In 1980 enrollment numbered slightly more than five hundred girls.
The Shipley School, formerly for girls only but coeducational since 1972, is a college preparatory school for more than six hundred students, preschool through twelfth grade. It was founded on its present site in 1894, across the street from Bryn Mawr College, by three sisters who opened "The Misses Shipley's Bryn Mawr School" to educate young women to enter college. In 1982 the boarding department closed. Fund raising in the seventies made it possible to renew the physical plant, to provide new buildings and playing fields, and to add to the endowment.
The Phebe Anna Thorne School of Bryn Mawr College bears the name of a Quaker lady honored by a bequest to Bryn Mawr College about 1909. The school became an experimental laboratory for bright children. John Dewey of Columbia University cited it as one of the "schools of tomorrow." After a hiatus caused by the Depression, Dr. Katharine Elizabeth McBride, then president of Bryn Mawr, reopened it as a laboratory nursery school for the Graduate Department of Education. It promotes active participation of parents in play-tutoring and advanced methods of child development.
Montgomery Country Day School, founded in 1915 by the Reverend Gibson Bell of All Saints Episcopal Church in Wynnewood, was formerly located on Montgomery Avenue between Penn and Wynnewood Roads. In 1922 the school moved to Old Gulph Road, Penn Valley, where, in 1980, 120 boys and girls attended kindergarten through eighth grade. Stress is placed on reading and mathematics.
Episcopal Academy, one of the oldest institutions for education in Pennsylvania, dates from 1785. In 1921 the academy moved to the former Gilmore property on City Line Avenue in Merion. A building program from 1958 to 1962 resulted in a chapel designed by Vincent Kling, a gymnasium, and the acquisition of additional property on Latch's Lane. In 1974 the school began coeducation with the first three grades, adding girls to one grade each year thereafter. Simultaneously the academy added a second campus in Devon for a section of each of the first six grades. By 1980 enrollment reached nearly one thousand.
The third home of Friends' Central School was the manor house of Green Hill Farms purchased in 1925. The house was built by Wistar Morris in 1863 on City Line in Overbrook. Friends' Central was founded in 1845 in Philadelphia by three Hicksite monthly meetings of the Society of Friends. The school is coeducational and has six hundred day students divided into the lower, middle, and upper schools on a twenty-two acre campus. Friends' Central has long maintained affiliation with schools in other countries and fosters student exchanges.
The Haverford School began as the Haverford College Grammar School in September 1884 on the campus of Haverford College. Its early years were devoted to primary and secondary education for boys in the area. In 1912 the school was incorporated, and since that time it has been known as a non-sectarian, private independent school with a Christian heritage and tradition. The school occupies thirty acres and has four major buildings, with the construction of a new Center for the Arts to be completed in 1983. It is the last nonsectarian independent school for boys, grades K-12, in the Philadelphia area and it is the largest country day school for boys in the country. The school has over 3,200 alumni and in 1982 enrolled about 865 students. In 1982 it had 81 faculty members and administrators.
The School of the Holy Child opened in 1949 on the former Samuel Castner estate in Rosemont. In 1980 a faculty of thirty-three taught two hundred pupils, preschool through grade eight. A senior school closed in 1974. It is the only coeducational independent Roman Catholic elementary school in the area. In the wake of reforms by the Ecumenical Council of 1962 the Sisters of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus adopted a modified religious habit, resumed their baptismal names, and elected a lay chairman of trustees.
Adath Israel Temple of the Main Line built a modern synagogue in 1953 at North Highland Avenue and Old Lancaster Road, in Merion. It had a religious school for children three times a week, a nursery school, and, until 1980, an elementary school.
In 1946 the Akiba Hebrew Academy was organized to ensure a continuation of traditions and culture of Judaism. The school moved several times in Philadelphia and in 1956 settled in Merion at 223 North Highland Avenue, in M. J. McMenamin's mansion, Drake Linden Hall. In 1980 nearly three hundred students in grades six through twelve pursued a formal curriculum coordinated with Jewish studies.
The Children's House School, Inc., a Montessori school, started in September 1962 in a carriage house in Rosemont, moving to St. Sahag and St. Mesrob Armenian Church from 1966 to 1968 and to its present location in the former Merion Square School building (1880) on Youngs Ford Road in Gladwyne in 1968. In 1982 the school had 204 students from eighteen months of age through sixth grade.
St. John Baptist Vianney, on Conshohocken State Road in Gladwyne since 1963, maintains a school for the first through eighth grades, operated by the Bernardine Sisters.
The Vanguard School came to Lower Merion in 1964 to offer an un-graded four-year program corresponding to grades nine through twelve to students needing special care. About 150 students were enrolled. The school left its location in Haverford in 1980 and moved to Paoli.
The Main Line branch of Solomon Schechter day schools, formerly in the Main Line Reform Temple, Wynnewood, occupied buildings of the former convent and day school of the Sacred Heart at City Line and Haverford Avenue in 1980. The Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia purchased the building in 1971. Solomon Schechter School provides instruction from kindergarten through grade six for about 185 children. It is allied with the Conservative movement in American Judaism.
The Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia purchased the former Wynnewood Road School from the Lower Merion School District in 1979. The academy emphasizes scholastic achievement in general and Hebrew studies for children from nursery school through eighth grade. Founded in 1963 in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia, the school follows the Orthodox teachings in Judaism but welcomes pupils of all branches of the Jewish faith.
Haverford College, with its stone gates and playing fields along Lancaster Avenue, has an extensive campus, which lies principally in Delaware County. Founded in 1833 for male students only, it has enjoyed both the intellectual influence and the financial support of Quakers. In 1980 it began enrolling women, and about one thousand students studied the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences in classes with a student-faculty ratio of twelve to one. The James P. Magill Library contains 425,000 volumes and is especially known for its Quaker Collection.
The Theological Seminary of St. Charles Borromeo, founded in Philadelphia in 1832 and chartered in 1838, moved in 1871 to 137 acres at City Line and Lancaster Avenues purchased from W. P. Beekman and T. P. Remington. Owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the seminary educates young men for the special lives they will lead as priests in the local archdiocese as well as the Diocese of Allentown and others. The Religious Studies Division opened in 1969, when sisters of religious communities became the first female students at the Overbrook campus. This division and the School for Pastoral Studies, opened in 1967, grant the Master's Degree in Religious Studies. Pope John Paul II visited the seminary during his tour in America in October 1979.
Bryn Mawr College, founded in 1885 on a site chosen by benefactor Joseph Taylor, became the first women's college to offer both the Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Tenets of the Society of Friends (Quakers) strongly influenced the direction of the institution. President Martha Carey Thomas, its first dean and second president, hoped her graduates would "become as well known and universally admired a type as the Oxford and Cambridge man." Cooperation with Haverford College includes a sharing of facilities, activities, and courses, but Bryn Mawr remains a woman's college demanding rigorous scholarship. The Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research and the Graduate School of Arts and Science admit men as well as women. Enrollment in 1980 in all branches of the college numbered 1,784.
Founded October 1, 1915, Harcum Junior College was first organized as the Harcum Post-Graduate School with an enrollment of three. Mrs. Edith Hatcher Harcum, founder, held that young women she undertook to educate must have a general education in the fine arts and culture as well as an occupational skill. In 1952 Harcum's existence as a privately owned institution ended in bankruptcy. The Philadelphia Junto Adult School purchased the assets and granted the property to a board of trustees, which reorganized the institution as a nonprofit junior college. In 1955 the state Council of Instruction gave permission to confer the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees, the first time a junior college in Pennsylvania was accorded this privilege. In 1980 more than one thousand students, many as residents, attended class on the 13 1/2 acre campus in Bryn Mawr.
In 1920 Sisters of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus purchased the Sinnott estate in Rosemont with its great manor house, Rathalla. Students were already in residence in 1922 when incorporation was completed, creating Rosemont College of the Holy Child Jesus. Since its founding young women have been admitted without regard to race, religion, handicap, ethnic or national origin to earn degrees in the arts and sciences. Rosemont College shares courses, facilities, and special educational activities with Villanova University and Cabrini College.
The Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, founded in 1925 in Philadelphia, moved to Montgomery County in 1940 to occupy the former Green Hill Farms Hotel. The seminary owns 7 1/2 acres, which include, in addition to the original hotel building, a fine chapel in Georgian style dedicated in 1951. Approximately three hundred seminarians study there for the Master of Divinity degree, a three-year graduate program. The degree of Doctor of Ministry may be earned in pastoral theology and in marriage and family studies.
The Northeastern Institute for Christian Education, later renamed Northeastern Christian Junior College, opened its doors in September 1959 to forty students from fourteen states and one foreign country. It was founded by members of the Church of Christ in the northeastern United States as a private coeducational liberal arts institution. The site of the college is the former Morris Clothier estate on Montgomery Avenue, Villanova. Northeastern has sought to maintain educational excellence while encouraging students and faculty to channel free time into community and church-oriented service.
Lower Merion Township also has a business school, three driving schools, and a school to teach speed-reading. Seven music schools offer instruction in instrumental music and singing. The Main Line Center of the Arts, Old Buck Road in Haverford, provides lessons in several art forms. Numerous churches and synagogues sponsor nursery schools and kindergartens or rent space to independent schools, some of which follow the Montessori technique for early childhood education.