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Life at Ladywood, 97 Years Later



INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - I played football at Cathedral High School, the locker room, the football locker room, where I both played and coached is in the basement of Loretto Hall. However, Loretto Hall was here long before the Cathedral boys got here. The building was built in 1928, to address the needs of a growing enrollment at what was then known as Ladywood School for Girls.



Loretto Hall is where I took English, I also took World History here freshmen year, which is cool to think back on. The rooms where my English classes used to be were actually built to be bedrooms. I used to LOVE English with Mr. Volmer!! The paragraphs above from the Indianapolis News give a great description of the original use of the building.


Prior to Ladywood, the land was owned by the Fletcher family, yes, THAT Fletcher family, I talk about Calvin Fletcher quite often on my Walk & Talk of Fountain Square and Fletcher Place.


Laurel Hall, the Stoughton Fletcher Estate, Circa 1916

(Indiana Historical Society)

Wealthy Indiana banker and businessman Stoughton A. Fletcher, II became president of the Fletcher American National Bank in 1910. He built this 40,000 square-foot, 32-bedroom mansion, Laurel Hall, about 1916 on the northeast side of Indianapolis. In December 1916, he and his wife held a series of small dinner parties for friends and relatives to give them a view of the new home. It is thought that this image was taken in December of 1916. After World War I, Fletcher had a series of unfortunate setbacks, both personal and financial, and by 1924 he filed for bankruptcy, lost his fortune, and Laurel Hall. The mansion, located at 5395 Emerson Way survives, it has since served as Ladywood School, the Hudson Institute, and is now home to the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. - https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/dc013/id/520/


Read the caption above if you didn’t already, it’s both important and interesting! Now you know Stoughton had gone bankrupt by 1924… just 8 years after building his mansion on Fall Creek!


Laurel Hall became available for purchase and the Sisters of Providence swooped in and snatched up the property. These are the same Sisters of Providence who were running Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods near Terre Haute, Indiana.


Stoughton A. Fletcher House, 1917

(Indiana Historical Society)


Laurel Hall - 2023




SPSMW - In 1926, the Sisters of Providence purchased some of the property of the Fletcher Estate, which included Laurel Hall. The process of changing Laurel Hall into a select finishing school for girls, both as resident and day school, officially began.



Ladywood, 1942

(Indiana Historical Society)





The “Cunningham Fine Arts Building”, where I took ceramics in 2012, was the garage and gymnasium for the Ladywood girls. Ceramics was actually one of my favorite classes at Cathedral, it was taught by the wonderful Mrs. Sarah Green! I enjoyed the process of putting my unfinished project in the kiln, and waiting to see how it would look after it went “through the fire”.

Cunningham Fine Arts Building - 2023




Ladywood High School, garage and gymnasium, 1927

(Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society)


Wait, the gym was here!?!? In the fine arts building!! I wonder if you can still see remnants from the gym, I never knew to look while I was a student.


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Here are some more photos of the girls enjoying their time at the school.


Ladywood High School in the 1940's

(Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society)



From what I could find, Black girls weren't allowed to attend Ladywood during this time period. According to Cathedral’s website, “In the 1940's, St. Mary's Academy was the only private secondary school in Indianapolis that would accept African American students.” St. Mary's Academy is still standing downtown, and is actually listed for sale at 3.7 Million Dollars. (LISTING)


ST. MARY'S ACADEMY INDIANAPOLIS




SPSMW - Ladywood School was maintained as an exclusive finishing school for 37 years. In 1963, a new school building was erected and Laurel Hall and some other property were sold.


By mid-1960’s, after the"exclusive" time period (that led the school to bankruptcy), there were a few Black girls that in the Ladywood yearbook and mentioned in the Indianapolis Recorder.






Until 1963, Ladywood operated ONLY as an "exclusive" all-girls finishing school, placing more emphasis on “social grace” than education. As women began to have far more access to education and additional opportunities, finishing schools lost popularity across the United States and changes had to be made to keep Ladywood alive, like letting Black girls in, and accepting members from different faiths.


Advertisement in Jewish Post, 1968


Ladywood had to sell their original building, Laurel Hall, and surrounding property, the center of campus was now “on the other side of the bridge”. A new building was built closer to Loretto Hall, greatly shrinking the campus footprint of Ladywood.


“The Bridge” is no longer in use, although it’s still clearly visible from both sides. I took some pictures from the Laurel Hall side while I was exploring the other day.



Ladywood wasn’t the only private school in the area that needed to make some changes. St. Agnes, which had been downtown next to Cathedral High School, moved up north and merged with Ladywood in 1970. Both of the women I happened to come across, Natalie Bruce and Cynthia Cummings, were there after the “finishing school” days and before the 1970 merger with St. Agnes.


Advertisement in Jewish Post, 1970


Cathedral, which had operated as an all-boys high school since 1918, packed up and joined them just six years later. Now it was Ladywood, St.-Agnes, and Cathedral all calling the Ladywood campus home. It was agreed that the school would be fully co-educational and would go by only one name, Cathedral High School.


On a side note, Cathedral opened in 1918 and had their first Black student in 1934, WIlliam Violet.


As you probably noticed, I went flipping through the 1968-69 Ladywood Yearbook that was on Ancestry.com, I thought it was cool seeing that the Ladywood girls participated in Brebeuf homecoming and were the cheerleaders for the Braves.



The Cathedral campus now is filled with all kinds of different people, races, genders and opportunities than it once was. The campus of Ladywood, a school that was strictly for girls, is where I went to high school.


As a country, and more specifically as a city, we’ve been through the fire, we’re still in it, it’s honestly a lot to think about. The flaws and beauty of our history are constantly on my mind, and both are on full display as you look at the story of Ladywood.


I trust the kiln though, so I share all this history with immense joy.


It was lovely exploring Ladywood, on International Women’s Day.

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Getting off the bus, in front of Loretto Hall, after winning, or I guess you could say, finishing, the 2012 State Championship.



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