Evolution of the St. Genevieve Academy
by Patricia Anderson
St. Genevieve’s began with only the younger grades, but within five years, college courses were offered. In 1924, the French lycée of St. Genevieve received recognition as the only such collegiate department in America. Native-speaking professors taught the classes. It later featured a secretarial school for girls, and it was both a boarding school and a day school.
St. Genevieve was one of thirteen schools founded to raise the expectations of female students in the South. St. Genevieve Academy - the high school of St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines - was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (SACS) in 1913. A SACS charter member, the school retained continuous membership in the association. In addition, the girls’ grammar school and Gibbons Hall were the first Catholic grammar schools to be accredited in the entire Southeast.
Its various courses of study presented a broad and deep culture with careful and exact training through a liberal education under Christian influences. Mother Margaret Potts writes, “We wanted to develop character and help each individual student through learning and moral guidance to find fulfillment and grow into a worthwhile person.” The campus atmosphere was essentially religious, although there was limited emphasis on Catholicism; the majority of students and lay faculty represented numerous denominations. In the high school, religion was taught to Catholics three times a week and moral guidance was taught to both Catholics and non-Catholics twice a week. The leaders of the Academy sought to secure harmonious development of the students through education of body, intellect and will. The scholastic purpose was to teach youth how to think, to study, and to judge according to correct standards.
The Science Fair presented each spring held an important place in the academic calendar. Students in the Academy, the girls’ Prep, and Gibbons Hall participated in the challenging competition, which was open to the public for a weekend. Winners competed in the regional fair at Western Carolina University.
St. Genevieve developed an international student body in its early years, as Latin American and South American families who vacationed in Asheville became acquainted with the school. Over time, word spread about the strengths of the school and many girls and boys alike from Guatemala, Cuba, Colombia, and other South American nations became students.
The presence of intellectually gifted students from diverse cultures expanded the educational experience of the American girls at St. Genevieve, as they learned other customs and became more familiar with another language. Edith Feliu, a native of Puerto Rico who later married Gibbons Hall teacher Joe Lalley, taught Spanish and “poured oil on troubled waters” among the Latin American students when they became quarrelsome, according to Mother Potts.
LITTLE FLOWER CAMP: 1931-41
Through the 1930s, the Sisters of RCE ran Little Flower Camp, a summer program for girls ages 6 – 16. The camp was located between Asheville and Hendersonville on property that bordered the French Broad River. Campers swam in a large lake and swimming pool; played basketball, tennis, tetherball, volleyball, and tennequoit; rode horses, and skated.The girls engaged in French conversation and devoted time daily to crafts activities. The camp was discontinued after the United States entered World War II, and gasoline was unavailable to deliver supplies and provide necessary transportation for campers and the staff.
During the school year, Academy students enjoyed special events at the camp, including cookouts and Halloween parties.
In addition to the Academy’s Halloween parties at Little Flower Camp from 1931 – 41, all SGP students enjoyed annual Halloween parties in the decorated gym; children in the primary grades competed for prizes for creative costumes, while older elementary students played games and danced folk dances and square dances, called by Mrs. Marguerite Carter, physical education director.
Seeking new sources for additional funding demanded time and brought forth creativity from both Sisters and students. As the Order often operated on a slim budget, the community developed imaginative strategies to augment its stringent resources and permit an occasional luxury beyond basic necessities. Prior to World War II, Academy girls sponsored a two-day Christmas Bazaar each year. Various booths offering chances on cakes, mysterious packages, and other treats filled the study hall, where the SGP grammar school children as well as the public enjoyed games and won prizes. In the evening, high school students served chicken dinners. The event raised $2 - 3,000 annually, adding important funds to the Order’s coffers.
The annual autumn Library Sale made library acquisitions possible, as students sponsored an outdoor lunch offering hot dogs, hamburgers, cookies, and cakes to the entire campus, including the Prep and Gibbons Hall. In addition to large-scale events, students added dollars to the budget through smaller endeavors, such as donut sales during mid-morning break to benefit the school paper. Rummage sales sponsored by the Mothers’ Guild raised sufficient funds to build a stadium for the girls’ athletic field.
During World War II, St. Genevieve students won a city-wide scrap-iron collection campaign. As the community sought iron to be converted into tanks, the girls and Sisters were seeking prize money to fund needed projects. When the students were proclaimed the winners, the decision was made to invest the money; later, the accrued funds helped convert the auditorium into a gymnasium, with basketball goals and a marked floor for basketball, shuffleboard, and volleyball. The building became multi-functional.
Founder’s Day, January 6, was marked each year by a special commemoration, remembering the courageous young women who had founded Hillside Convent in 1908.
In the 1960s, prior to integration of schools in Asheville, the Academy developed Project PEACE (Program for Educational and Cultural Excellence), a volunteer program for students to work with African-American children attending the nearby Livingston Street School. The children came to the SGP campus two afternoons each week for academic assistance and recreational activities, including softball, volleyball, and basketball. At Christmas and Easter, the SGP students planned a party, complete with decorations, refreshments, and gifts. The year-long program ended with Field Day. As Asheville schools integrated, the program was discontinued.
In the late 1940s, Mother Margaret Potts initiated Hazel Day, a campus clean-up day held each fall as an initiation activity for freshmen. At the time, Hazel was a popular single-panel cartoon created by Ted Key and ran in the weekly Saturday Evening Post; a robust, wise-cracking housekeeper, Hazel was an appealing icon in nearly every American home. When Mother Potts sought permission from the Post and Key to use Hazel as the symbol for the school’s program, the editors and artist not only gave permission but also provided near-life-size cardboard promotional posters to be placed around campus. Originating from Mother Potts’ desire to avoid the negativity of hazing new students, the constructive Hazel Day became a loved tradition of raking, cleaning, sweeping that survived until the Academy closed.
As with all high school girls, dances were an important part of the social calendar at SGP. Square dances were popular semi-annual events, with Mrs. Marguerite Carter calling the steps. Boys from Asheville School and Christ School, in addition to local boys, were invited.
The annual Class Day activities held prior to commencement included the humorous and sometimes poignant Senior Class Will and Prophecy, songs, and a balloon send-off honoring each member of the senior class.
BACCALAUREATE AND COMMENCEMENT
Baccalaureate and commencement were held at the end of May. Baccalaureate concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. For commencement, graduates, always wearing white and accompanied by the flower girls they had chosen, entered to “Pomp and Circumstance.” The program included the salutatorian’s welcome, music presented by the seniors, the valedictory, presentation of diplomas, and the commencement address. The Glee Club performance at commencement each year became a significant element of the closing program in the 1950s. Read more about the Academy Glee Club here.
St. Genevieve’s maintained cultural groups to enhance students’ experiences. Students performed annual spring plays and presented a nativity program each Christmas. In the early 1950s, seeking to encourage prompt arrival for school events, St. Genevieve adopted 8:08 pm as its traditional starting time for all programs – plays, choral events, commencement. This tradition continued through the final year of the Academy. The combined St. Genevieve/Gibbons Hall translated 8:08 pm to 7:38 pm to allow for an earlier start to accommodate families with young children.
The Hillside Literary Club read scholarly papers at its regular meetings and staged debates. To promote skills in foreign language, the French Club held programs using only French and presented one-act French plays, while the Tri-Lang Club presented programs and dramatizations in French, Spanish, and Latin.
Each Christmas students presented a nativity re-enactment and during one period in the school's history, produced two light operas. An annual three-act play became a traditional event.
Adapting its form from the College, the Academy Student Council evolved into an effective self-governing body, with members assuming responsibility for monitoring study hall; judging cases of lying, cheating, and stealing; and overseeing other aspects of school life. Inner Circle Council had jurisdiction over residential life to maintain harmonious conditions in the dorms.
Some of the SGP boarders belonged to Sodality and observed the Day of Annunciation on December 8. The Sodality of the Children of Mary is a religious organization whose members have a special devotion to Mary and promise to lead a good Christian life, say the Rosary and attend Mass daily, if possible. They meet regularly to pray and to support each other in becoming better Christians.
The students published a newspaper and yearbook. First called The Victorette and later The Victorian, the newspaper was published four times annually. When the yearbook was introduced, it too was called The Victorian to recognize the Victoria Inn and Victoria Road.
In its early days, the curriculum included limited sports activities, and the girls wore bloomers. The campus of Victoria Inn included two basketball courts, two tennis courts, and a playground in addition to a gym in the lower level of the Victoria building; these facilities offered the opportunity to add a more comprehensive athletic program to the curriculum. In the spring of 1916, the St. Genevieve high school girls participated in the first recorded Field Day at the school. Read more about the Academy athletic program here.