By: Laura Johnson, MDS Director of Institutional Advancement // MDS Musings Blog
With the buzz about the upcoming presidential election, I am reminded of how Mount de Sales’ long history intersects with our nation’s political story. The Academy was founded in 1876, during one of the most disputed presidential elections in history. According to Britannica, Democrat Samuel J. Tilden won more popular votes than Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, but was one electoral vote shy of the majority needed. Nineteen electoral votes in three states were in dispute, with each party claiming its candidate had won those states. Congress subsequently created an Electoral Commission, which ultimately awarded the electoral votes to Hayes giving him the presidency.
At the same time in Macon, the Sisters of Mercy, who had purchased the former home of Governor Towns for their mother house, received a charter for their school, and Mount de Sales Academy was officially recognized as a junior college for women and boarding school with the right to confer degrees. While the Towns house is now gone, Mount de Sales is still located on the original site.
A look through our archives uncovered another tie to American politics in a photograph of President Theodore Roosevelt bearing his inscription, “For the Mount de Sales Academy Macon, Ga, with the best wishes of Theodore Roosevelt” and dated July 15, 1907. The story ends there; we do not know how or why Mount de Sales has the signed photograph. Perhaps it was a class project to write to the President, and he responded in kind. Perhaps President Roosevelt had a connection to the Academy through a family of one of the young women boarders. We may never know.
In 1907, Americans were again facing some of the same issues we face today. There was an economic recession and a precipitous decline in the stock market. The conservation of natural resources was a hot topic, and President Roosevelt noted in his State of the Union address that “optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so.” And in the next decade, the country also would face a pandemic and in a prophetic statement, Roosevelt urged Congress in 1907 to “strengthen and aid” the bureau of public health.
At Mount de Sales, 93 young women – hailing from Florida, North Carolina, and various cities around Georgia – were listed on the school register for the 1907-08 academic year. Some of their family names, including Cassidy and Sheridan, are recognizable around campus today. Certainly their manner of dress is not as seen in the photograph of Rita Loh who graduated in 1912. Yet, the Academy’s curriculum then was challenging, just as it is today. Classes listed in a carefully typed grade book included ancient and modern history, algebra, Latin, and science.
A peak at the Academy archives is a much-needed reminder that the year 2020 is not all that unique. As a school, community, and nation, we have been here before, and we will persevere.
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Mount de Sales Academy is a private Catholic school located in Macon, GA, and serves students in Bibb, Houston, Jones, Monroe, Peach and other surrounding counties. MDS is sponsored and inspired by the Sisters of Mercy. Since 1876, MDS has served a diverse college-preparatory community of learners—students and teachers alike—who are poised to discover, challenged to innovate, and motivated to serve.