Filed Under Education

Pioneering educator E. Antoinette Ely held school in a architectural gem

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Cincinnati girls seeking a classical or college-preparatory education attended private academies where small classes and proper etiquette assured their best possible preparation. One Cincinnati educator dedicated nearly twenty-five years to educating Cincinnati women across significant change. Born before the Civil War, E. Antoinette Ely devoted herself to education for the women of Cincinnati until World War I at her Bartholomew Clifton School located in Ruben Resor’s former home on today’s Cornell Place.

Elizabeth Antoinette Ely was the daughter of Seneca and Agatha Bell Ely born in Cincinnati 1860. She received her education at the Bartholomew School on East Third Street where George K. and Ellen Hoyt Bartholomew provided a classical education for Cincinnati’s young women. After graduation in 1879, Ely attended the young University of Cincinnati (then located on its original campus on the McMicken homestead at the top of Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine) where she excelled in languages and English.

Ely received her BA in 1887. She was an adventurer and in the summer before her senior year, traveled to Europe with educator Louise Nourse, older sister of twins Adelaide and Elizabeth. She became only the second woman to earn a graduate degree at UC, receiving a Master’s in 1892 (the first was Emily Francis Dyer who earned a Master’s in 1883). Ely studied at the University of Leipzig then spent two years at the University of Chicago on a Latin fellowship studying under noted classicist, Dr. William Gardiner Hale. She briefly took a position as assistant principal of Hampton Young Ladies’ College in Louisville, but quickly returned home to open her own school.

In 1896 Ely opened The Clifton School at 520 Ludlow Avenue near the corner of Lyleburn Place for both day and boarding students. The school quickly outgrew its original home and moved to the former home of the iron stove magnate Rueben Resor at 3517 Cornell Place in 1898.

The Resor house is a gem of CIncinnati architecture. It was designed by architect Isiah Rogers around 1850. Rogers designed Boston’s Tremont House Hotel, the Astor House in New York City and the Burnet House in downtown Cincinnati, among others, to become America’s premier hotel architect. He designed homes including Hillforest in Aurora, Indiana, the Hatch House on Dayton Street, and the William Resor house on Greendale Avenue in Clifton, supervised the completion of the Ohio Statehouse, and served as supervising architect of the United States during the Civil War. The house was originally oriented to be seen from the south, but a land dispute among the heirs of later resident Seth Evans forced a reorientation, so it is now accessed from the altered east side.The Gothic Revival exterior features a three-story octagonal tower which gives the building a castle-like appearance. In 1900 few of the surrounding houses had been built so the house was surrounded by rolling hills and accessed by a large stair up from Hedgerow Lane. It was the perfect place for a school.

By 1900 The Clifton School had eleven teachers and sixty pupils. As educational historian Isaac Martin explained, “the object has been to introduce the modern courses of study and the methods of educating girls which are given in the best schools of the East.” The school offered two tracks, a college-prep path and “the other giving such training as may best fit young ladies for the womanly, useful position they should fill in this modern life.” Ely took pride in the college preparatory track which sent graduates to eastern colleges including Vassar and Wellesley. Following the death of her own teacher, Ellen Hoyt Bartholomew, The Clifton School merged her her alma mater, to create the Bartholomew Clifton School. The school operated in Resor house while boarding students lived at 3445 Cornell Place nearby.

Antoinette Ely was known as a progressive educator who exposed her students to engaging scholarship and stellar role models. Experts like Nathaniel Butler, Dean of Education at the University of Chicago (after John Dewey), UC’s Dean of Women, Emilie Watts McVae, and Vassar’s president James Monroe Taylor spoke at the school. Probably more important to the students, actress Ethel Barrymore visited the school in 1908. Ely was active in women’s social and political work including as a member of the College Equal Suffrage League, Cincinnati Women’s Club, and the Civil League where she chaired the Education Department. She donated the school grounds for work she believed in, including a College Club “Elizabethan Fair” to benefit the downtown Settlement House and a fundraiser for the Free Kindergarten Association.

World War I saw the end of the Clifton Bartholomew School which graduated its last two students in 1916. Antoinette Ely went on to become the head of the English Department at the Ohio Mechanics Institute at Canal and Walnut (now the Emery Center) where she taught until her death in 1921. She is buried with her parents in Grandview Cemetery in Chillicothe Ohio.


Location

3517 Cornell Place, Cincinnati Ohio

Metadata

Anne Delano Steinert, “Pioneering educator E. Antoinette Ely held school in a architectural gem,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed June 15, 2024, https://stories.cincinnatipreservation.org/items/show/226.