“When I drive up the smooth gravel road to Ravenhill and its imposing new building, hear of plans for a new chapel, admire the hockey field and congratulate winning teams, I exclaim at how much Ravenhill has developed in thirteen years. But when I am greeted with the same affectionate interest and sympathy as I have always received, I realize that although the appearance of the place has changed and people come and gone, the spirit of Ravenhill, which is the spirit of the Assumption, indefinable but charming, gracious and uplifting, is unchanged and unchangeable.”
Words of Betty Devereux, one of the first 8 students of 1919.
The buildings are still there, now part of the Jefferson University East Falls Campus. The sisters are elsewhere, in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Mexico, but the “Spirit of the Assumption” lives on in all those who have passed by Ravenhill and the Assumption.
Montessori at Ravenhill
The Montessori system, a method of primary education, was derived in 1898 by Dr. Maria Montessori. Introduced into America in 1911, the method immediately aroused interest because of its effectiveness in educating small children. The spirit of the Montessori system is freedom – freedom of the child to develop an interest in learning. Children from the age of 2 1/2 years develop their personalities and advance at their own rate along all areas of study and learn to read, write and calculate under skillful guidance in a specially designed atmosphere.
The Montessori program was established in the 1920’s at Ravenhill. We find traces and photos through the 1930s but it had virtually ceased by the end of the decade owing to a lack of trained teachers and of teacher training in America. It was not until the late 1950’s that interest in the work of Dr. Maria Montessori revived in the country and Montessori classes began to re-appear.
In England the Montessori Method had never known decline. At the Assumption convent of Kensington Square in London, Sr. Isabel Eugenie, a student of Dr. Maria Montessori, and Director of the Assumption Montessori School in the 1920’s and 1930’s, as well as founder of the Maria Assumpta Teachers Training College of the University of London in 1945, had become one of the leading authorities on the Montessori System.
In 1960, Sister Isabel at age 68, was invited by the American Montessori Society to come to the United States to help with the foundation of the Whitby School in Greenwich, Connecticut, a pilot school in the revival of Montessori education in America. She spoke on the Montessori Method on NBC Television, New York in 1961.
In 1961 under Sr. Isabel’s direction, Ravenhill re-opened its Montessori Division for children three to seven years old. Ravenhill soon had 4 classes using the Montessori Method from pre-school through 3rd grade, with an enrollment of 150 children and a long waiting list. Asked by the “Association Montessori International”, to inaugurate a Montessori Teacher Training Course at Ravenhill, she began this endeavor in 1963 by training Assumption nuns.
By 1966 the Assumption Montessori Teachers’ Training Center, an intensive 9 month course in the Montessori Method of early childhood education open to those holding a B.A. or B.S. degree, was opened at Ravenhill. The center functioned not only as a training center for Montessori teachers, but also acted as a resource center for the greater Philadelphia area. It provided workshops and educational expertise in supervision and curriculum development. Sr. Isabel and the center was also involved in preparing teachers to work with “Get Set”, an educational endeavor to reach poor, deprived children early in life.
Trapp Family Singers
We all remember the musical and film classic “The Sound of Music” ? Few of us know, however, that Ravenhill played a role in the real-life von Trapp family’s story. Ravenhill educated many generations of girls, most famously, Grace Kelly, film star and Princess of Monaco, but also Eleanor and Rosmarie von Trapp, daughters of Baron Georg von Trapp, and his wife Maria of the famous Trapp Family Singers.
The Maria von Trapp life story, immortalized by the 1959 Rogers & Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music, had an interesting but little known Philadelphia chapter.
Baron Georg von Trapp, Baroness Maria, their two sons and seven daughters (ages 7 to 27) arrived in 1938 in Philadelphia virtually penniless. As singers seeking refuge in America after fleeing the Nazi takeover of Austria, they were welcomed by the Archbishop of Philadelphia who had vouched for them when they were at Ellis Island, as well as many church people who helped them when they were first arrived. Merion lawyer Henry Drinker Jr. offered the use of his Merion Road home where they settled from 1939 to 1943. Its seven bedrooms provided plenty of room to house family matriarch Maria von Trapp and her nine singing children. A tenth, Johannes, was born there in 1939.
Their youngest girls, Eleanor and Rosmarie attended nearby Ravenhill Academy in the early 1940s until 1943 when the family settled in Stowe, Vermont and became famous. Former classmates still remember the distinctive Tyrolean garb of dirndls and lederhosen they all wore daily for reasons of thrift, and which were to become a Trapp Family Singers signature.
Those looking for a first-hand account of the family's story should consult Maria von Trapp's “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers” (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1949) and her autobiography “Maria” (Carol Stream, IL: Creation House, 1972). In thinking about the fictionalized movie version of Maria von Trapp as compared to the real Maria von Trapp, one comes to realize that the story of the von Trapp family was probably something closer to human, and therefore much more interesting, than the movie leads us to believe; the real lives of real people are always more interesting than stories.