Founder's Day Lovefeast, 5/30/03
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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."
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
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
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.
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
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.
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:
the essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty;
in all things, love."