Address, Founder's Day Lovefeast, 5/30/03

In an address titled, "Moravian Educated Women: From Lion's Den to Laboratories," Mildred Diefenderfer Thompson '39 highlights some of the interesting women in Moravian's history. The following is an excerpt of her speech.


Researching on aspects of 19th century life in the uncharted American West, I have come across some interesting glimpses into the reputation of the Bethlehem Female Academy, as it was first named, a reputation that extended far beyond the nation's borders.

Culbertson sisters

Consider the Culbertson sisters. Their father ruled what is now Montana as agent for the American Fur Co. He married a Blackfoot princess, Natawiska Iksana (translated Medicine Snake Woman). Audubon, who painted her portrait, raved about her grace and horsemanship. Her diplomatic skills with other tribes helped to secure for the United States areas of the Northwest that Great Britain had hoped to add to Canada.

Three Culbertson daughters were sent to Moravian at early ages, making the 2,000 miles hazardous trip down the Missouri and Ohio Rivers and overland, sometimes in the company of an uncle who was studying at Princeton.

Mary Stapler

In 1842, a spirited Quaker lass whose mother died as she entered adolescence was sent to the Moravian sisters in Bethlehem to finish her education. Mary Stapler's father had business dealings with John Ross, a middle-aged widower and Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Ross, as chief of a powerful tribe with considerable political clout, was nationally known and often visited to Washington on tribal business.

It's not recorded how the correspondence between the 15-year-old Mary and her "esteemed uncle" began but it got Mary into big trouble when the headmistress discovered that she was writing to this prominent man. The secret correspondence continued through a third party. The couple didn't see each other for two of their three-year courtship, but it is reported that Ross sent her lovers' verses like a schoolboy in his first romance.

One can only imagine Mary's father's reaction to the news that she chose to marry a man 36 years her senior, of what was then considered another race, who would take her out of the United States to the wilderness frontier. But he consented and after a Philadelphia wedding and a New York honeymoon, the couple undertook the long journey to Ross's home, Rose Cottage, at Park Hill, near present-day Tahlequah, Ok. The Ross home was a refuge for prominent western travelers, including Sam Houston, and there are glowing reports on the "dignity and cordiality" of the hosts. But the artist John Mix Stanley also describes Rose Cottage as the "refuge of the poor, starved and wretched Indians."

Caroline Lockhart

In 1863, the seminary got its second name -- "Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies." It may have been this name that caused Caroline Lockhart, sent from a Kansas ranch in the 1880s, to rebel to prove she was no lady!

Caroline left the seminary for the New York stage, but this was the era of Nellie Bly, and Carolyn dreamed of sharing the journalistic spotlight. As a reporter she went to the bottom of Boston harbor in early diving gear and jumped out of a fourth-floor window to test the Boston fire department's first nets. She joined a traveling circus, lasting long enough to write about her experiences on entering the cage of a lion alone the day after the animal killed its owner. To get a story about the Osage Indians fabulous oil wealth, she became a cook for Chief Bacon Rind in Oklahoma.

After interviewing Buffalo Bill Cody in 1904, she moved to Cody, Wyoming, and soon was competing with him to be the town's most talked-about resident. She bought the weekly newspaper, The Cody Enterprise, in 1919 to campaign against prohibition and against reformers. She wrote six novels and was decades ahead of most American writers in tackling unmentionable subjects. She conducted a salon (more of a saloon) as a haven for her poker-playing men friends. She painted the walls of her home black and paraded a pet cougar on a leash.

Caroline founded the famous Cody Stampede and made many friends among the Crow Indians. She took up ranching, worked with the hands on branding and similar tasks, and died on her ranch on the Crow Reservation at the age of 92. So much for turning free spirits into "ladies."

Kitty Miller

Moravian became a degree-granting college in 1913, 90 years ago. I haven't even attempted to name the dozens -- hundreds -- of graduates from the college that Fem Sem evolved into who have taken their place as educators, lawyers, bankers, and scientists and successful homemakers and community leaders. I think in particular of one who is among us today -- Dr. A. Katharine Miller. Kitty was an instructor finishing her graduate work while I was struggling with cell cytology. Her career has been as a senior investigator in the microbiology labs of the Merck Institute, and she has given years of service to her Alma Mater as a trustee.


Most of us are deeply grateful for the opportunity to have our hearts and minds nurtured in this forward-looking institution. The credo of the Moravian Church may cast light on its genderless educational philosophy:

"In the essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love."


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