Notre Dame Academy for Young Women, permanently established in Dayton 130 years ago, set the stage for what would become the foundation for Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School.
The school was founded by five Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who arrived in Dayton from Cincinnati on a canal boat in 1849, a year before St. Mary’s School for Boys, now known as the University of Dayton, opened.
Twenty-one young women walked through the door of the new school at Franklin and Ludlow Streets on May 4, 1886, and became the academy’s first students.
“At the time, there were no other private or faith-based options for girls who wanted to continue their education after elementary school,” said Daniel Meixner, president of Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School.
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“The Sisters, who were teachers in many of the city’s Catholic elementary schools, believed there were many girls who wanted to continue to be formed as young women of faith and intellect.”
Students began each day with a morning prayer and recitation before classroom instruction in geometry, Latin, philosophy and bookkeeping.
Time was also spent during the school day practicing needlework, singing, reading and elocution.
The school was known for its commitment to academic excellence and spiritual enrichment as well as providing a quality, Catholic education, according to Meixner.
Historic photographs of the school depict classrooms of young women dressed in uniform reading at wooden desks, working together in a chemistry class and commemorating graduation dressed all in white while posing with diplomas for a class picture.
Proper behavior was also part of the educational foundation. Students practiced the “Notre Dame Courtesy Code,” 15 customs outlined for the girls to follow.
Among them, “Speak softly, but clearly and distinctly, do not attend to your toilet in classrooms or public places and do not attract attention to yourself on the street or in public conveyances.”
The school’s reputation filled the classrooms, and by the early 1920s it had outgrown its space.
The Kuntz Estate on Homewood Avenue was purchased in 1923 and used as a convent for three years before the ground was broken for Julienne High School in 1926 as a new larger school for girls.
Notre Dame Academy was eventually converted into Chaminade High School, the first tuition-free school for boys.
In 1973 the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the Marianists merged their two schools back at the corner of Franklin and Ludlow Streets into Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School.
On the eve of a new school year, the roots of Notre Dame Academy continue to spread.
“Our students are inspired and challenged by our long and interconnected history,” Meixner said, “…and to know that their predecessors as students walked on the same ground they see every day, they are challenged to extend the legacy they inherited.
“It is pretty special - and a little bit scary - to be entrusted with a family heirloom. While CJ is not nearly as fragile as an antique lamp, our students and our teachers know a great gift has been shared with us.”
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