For almost a century (1912-2001), a church with a distinctive green dome could be seen high on a hill overlooking Cincinnati’s Mill Creek Valley. This distinctive edifice was part of a complex originally known as Our Lady of the Woods, later Convent of the Good Shepherd, then Girls’ Town of America. The campus also included school buildings, industrial training facilities, and housing for nuns and resident girls. 

When originally established by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in the 1870s, the Girls’ Town property was isolated, surrounded by farmland and forests. Over time, farms gave way to single-family homes. By the mid-20th century, the community on the hill adjoined booming residential developments populated by families of General Electric and Procter & Gamble employees, as well as the rapidly expanding St. Xavier High School. Girls’ Town was a prominent feature of the landscape, yet to most residents living nearby, its purpose and activities were a mystery.

Girls’ Town remained open until the early 1970s. Over the next 30 years, various proposals were explored for re-purposing the land and buildings, but they came to nothing. St. Xavier High School purchased the property, and most of the structures were demolished in 2001.

The exhibit is organized in 10 sections. Browse through them by clicking on the images below.


Curator: Joan Plungis

History of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
History of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

History of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

Order of Our Lady of Charity

Jean Eudes founded the Order of Our Lady of Charity in Caen, France, in 1641, to aid fallen women.  At the time of the French Revolution, seven houses existed in different parts of France. Disbanded along with the other convents of France in 1790, the houses reorganized after the Revolution. 

Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd of Angers

In 1828 the superior from the house at Tours, Sr. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, founded a new house at Angers at the request of the Bishop. It was funded by a bequest from the Comtesse de Neuville. Sr. Mary Euphrasia obtained permission from Rome to found the congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd there, and in 1835 became the first Superior General. Both Jean Eudes and Mary Euphrasia Pelletier were later canonized, in 1925 and 1940, respectively.

Rules of the Houses

"The new house followed Eudes' regulations for the treatment of penitents. The ordering of the penitents'day was basically no different from what it had been in the seventeenth century. Work and religious exercises occupied the time from 5.30 a.m. until 9 or l0 at night, except for the intervals for two meals in the refectory and two periods of recreation, each of one hour. The breaking of silence outside times of recreation was a punishable offence, except for necessary speech or liturgical song.  Special acts of penitence were to be performed on Fridays and during Lent.Pelletier chose not to refer to the disgraced females in her charge as "penitents" or "girls," as John Eudes had done, but invariably referred to them as "children." Thus the subjects were pernanently infantilized, for even if they spent the rest of their life in the refuge, their junior status remained unchanged. Punishments, whose frequency and form, decided by the mother superior, were sometimes those suitable for children, such as being made to wear one's nightcap in daytime, or one's dress inside out, sometimes those suitable for a nun: for example, kissing the ground, begging for one's food, the omission of meat from the diet, the recitation of prayers while kneeling in public. Violence was strictly forbidden. Pelletier was adamant that the sisters should never strike the children, and neither should those in authority prefer the arguments of force or verbal abuse to those of reason and maternal kindness. The girls and women were kept in various "classes,"  groups which never intermingled, even in worship or recreation. She designed the chapel of the Mother House in the shape of a cross, whose centre was occupied by the nuns sitting below the altar¡ at the east end, the two arms being used by the various classes and the long aisle by the public, who entered by tfre west door. The design was used later for all the congregation's chapels."Source: Convent Refuges for Disgraced Girls and Women in Nineteenth Century France, pp. 156-157

Sisters Magdalen

While still at Tours, Sr. Mary Euphrasia founded the Sisters Magdelen, a contemplative group for penitent women who wished to live a cloistered life. The Magdalens supported themselves with intricate embroidery and baking altar bread. The Magdalens later lived in communities attached to and supervised by, though separate from, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. They are now known as the Contemplatives of the Good Shepherd.Next section: Early Years in Cincinnati, Ohio

Early Years in Cincinnati, Ohio
Early Years in Cincinnati, Ohio

Early years in Cincinnati, Ohio

In 1857, a small group of Sisters of the Good Shepherd arrived in Cincinnati from Louisville, KY, where they had first come in 1842 at the request of Bishop Flaget.   The Sisters shared Mrs. Sarah Peter's residence for a time, then moved into a frame structure at the corner of Bank and Baymiller Streets that had been the homestead of the Ganos, a prominent Cincinnati Catholic family.

Sarah Worthington King Peter

Sarah Worthington King Peter (1800-1877), a wealthy widow and Catholic convert, was instrumental in bringing the Order to Cincinnati.   Sarah Peter was the daughter of Thomas Worthington, the sixth governor of Ohio and its first senator; and the widow of Edward King, a prominent lawyer, and, later, of William Peter, the British consul to Philadelphia.  She traveled frequently to Europe, where she first met the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Rome and often stayed at their motherhouse in Angers, France.  She convinced three other orders to establish convents in Cincinnati, as well: the Sisters of Mercy, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Franciscan Sisters.

Reuben Runyan Springer

Reuben Runyan Springer (1800-1884), a prominent Cincinnati philanthropist, was a significant benefactor of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.  He is best known for his role in  establishing Cincinnati's Music Hall and the College Conservatory of Music. Springer made his fortune early, becoming a partner in Kilgour, Taylor and Company, Cincinnati's leading wholesale grocery firm, after marrying Jane Kilgour, his partner's daughter.  His wealth grew through investments in banking, railroads, and real estate, allowing him to retire due to declining health at age 40.  He and his wife then traveled extensively in Europe, immersing themselves in culture.  Springer was not raised with strong religious beliefs, but his wife came from a prominent Catholic family. He embraced her religion and was a generous supporter of Catholic institutions including St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, the Convent of the Good Shepherd, a home for wayward girls, and numerous hospitals and orphanages. 

Bank Street Convent

"Organized February 26, 1857. The buildings are detached and were erected between 1857 and 1859. They are built of brick and stone, and combined cover a space of 200 x 300 feet. The chapel was erected in 1869, and solemnly consecrated to the Sacred Heart, May 1, 1871. There are 40 Sisters in the institution. The Reformatory contains 100 inmates. The late Rev. Henry Koering was for over 33 years chaplain of this institution." (Source: Souvenir Album of American cities: Catholic Churches of Cincinnati and Hamilton County edition, 1896. Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.)According to a short history published by the Sisters for their 1957 centenary, the school on Bank Street "opened to colored girls of the area in 1886, which work was later transferred to the country site [in Carthage]." (source: Centenary of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Cincinnati 1857-1957 [printed booklet], [1957?], p.20)

Women's Prison and House of Reform

While the Cincinnati Workhouse was under construction in the late 1860's, the city put the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in charge of female offenders at a former schoolhouse on Front street, that had been converted to a House of Reform, or Correction.  After female prisoners were sent to the Workhouse in late 1869, the Sisters continued to operate a school of reform in the Front street location, where about 40 women "support[ed] themselves by their needle, with the aid of some kind friends, and serve their God untainted and unallured by the temptations of the world." (Catholic Telegraph, Sept. 8, 1870)  The city took back the facility from the Sisters in the early 1870's, at which time "the Mother Provincial bought a piece of ground near Carthage and built on it a sufficiently large house to accommodate the children of preservation and leave plenty of room at Bank street for women who desire to reform. At the same time one of the Sisters who had directed the House of Reform, found means to buy a house on Baum street, in which females of all ages are received." ("House of Reform," Catholic Telegraph, July 17, 1873,  p. 4)Next section: The Move to Carthage

The Move to Carthage
The Move to Carthage

The Move to Carthage

By 1870, the inner-city location around the Convent of the Good Shepherd had become highly industrialized and crowded.  The Sisters sought a country refuge where they and their charges could escape these urban conditions, and in 1871, bought a small farm east of Carthage, outside the Cincinnati city limits.  The convent and school established there eventually took the place of the Bank Street location, and was known as Our Lady of the Woods."Through the munificence of loyal benefactors such as R.R. Springer, S.S. Boyle, James Walsh, Chas. West and others, Mother Mary of St. Joseph was enabled not only to build a handsome Chapel on Bank St, but to purchase a beautiful farm at Carthage, Ohio, and erect substantial brick buildings on the same...As the city grew and the Convent at Bank Street became overcrowded, it was thought best to remove the Novitiate to Carthage, the Colored children following shortly afterward. In a few years more the Magdalens also moved to the country, with its delightful air and peaceful quiet, which proved a real God-send to all. The Carthage Convent was called "Our Lady of the Woods," a fitting title to a place with such splendid surroundings."  (source: Treman, L. A., "For Fifty Years the Sisters of the Good Shepherd Have Been Laboring in Cincinnati in the Noblest of Charities," Catholic Telegraph,  Feb. 21, 1907,  p. 1)

Carthage Property Purchase

In a letter to Archbishop Purcell from the Bank Street convent on Aug. 17, 1871, Mother M. of St. Joseph David details the acquisition of a new site for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd:"Having had your permission to do as I found best with regard to procuring a country place for our young children, I have availed myself of the first offer suited to our means of payment."We have purchased a little farm of 20 acres, 7 miles outside the city, & one mile east of Carthage, for the sum of $4150//00 . I have had it visited by a Gentleman friend of our house, who found it very cheap. The soil is good, & cultivated except one acre of woods. Several acres are planted in fruit trees & grapevines. There is only a small frame building on it containing six rooms with a large stable & other out [houses?] "Mr. [R.?]. King and the Father of one of our Sisters have attended to all for us so that we have not had any trouble, except to procure the money and sign the mortgage. We have paid $2000 00 the remaining $2150 00 is to be paid at the expiration of one year. I regret not being able to take our children out there now, We will be obliged to have a house built for them first. Still I hope that by having a man to cultivate the ground we will have some supply of vegetables & fruits for our house until we are able to build." (source: Purcell Papers, Correspondence, 1871, Box 19, Folder 80, Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives)

Development of Carthage Property

The new house of the Magdalen community was blessed in August, 1873.  (source: "Good Shepherd," Catholic Telegraph, Aug. 28, 1873, p. 4) "A school was opened in September, 1878...The old frame house [Gano homestead, from Bank St.] was carefully taken apart and rebuilt on the farm, where it became the home of destitute colored children, by whom it was occupied until they moved into the present fine brick building, constructed for them at "Our Lady of the Woods."  A contribution of $1,000 was given by Mother Mary Catharine Drexel towards the erection of this house, and $2,000 were received from the Colored Fund through His Eminence, Cardinal Gibbons. " (source:  Souvenir Album of American Cities - Catholic Churches of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, 1896,  p. 169. http://cdm16998.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16998coll15/id/205474)The Novitiate and Provincial House were transferred to  Our Lady of the Woods in 1892, and the institution was incorporated in the State of Ohio in 1899 (source: Centenary of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Cincinnati 1857-1957 [printed booklet], [1957?])In 1896, the Souvenir Album of American Cities - Catholic Churches of Cincinnati and Hamilton County noted:  "The buildings are detached and were erected at different periods. Combined they occupy a space 500 x 500 feet. They are built of brick and stone, with the exception of the old Gano Homestead which is frame. There are at present in the institution 73 Professed Sisters and Novices of the Good Shepherd Order, 62 Magdalen Sisters, 110 girls in the Industrial School for White Girls and 90 girls in the Industrial School of St. Peter Claver, for Colored Girls. St. Peter Claver Industrial School is the largest institution of its kind in the world for colored girls."Next section: The Chapel

The Chapel
The Chapel

An article in March 1911 in the Catholic Telegraph provided an update on the plans for the new chapel on the grounds of Our Lady of the Good Shepherd: "It was previously announced in these columns that the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Carthage, Ohio, were about to build a new chapel.  Anyone acquainted with conditions at the Provincial House can appreciate the need of such a structure.  For a number of years the 600 souls who make up the Institution have tried to satisfy their devotions in an apartment that is ill-suited to the purpose of a chapel.  The Sisters themselves, whose life of toil and prayer in behalf of those committed to them is a severe strain on mind and body, have sacrificed the ordinary comforts of a Monastery home.  They are now caring for upwards of 400 girls; these are divided into four classes.  The Reformatory for colored girls has about 110; the Preservation class for colored girls average 175; the Reformatory for white girls numbers about 50; the Preservation class for white girls about 100.  These classes never intermingle; they are kept apart in the living rooms, recreation, and in the chapel.  Then there is the Magdalen Community, a Penitential Class of women recruited from the Penitents, who live in seclusion and devote their time to work and prayer, and who must be cared for.  The Sisters and Novices complete the Community.  The distinction and separation necessary to be observed, determine the unusual form of church buildingto be found with Good Shepherd Communities.  That form is a cross but the structure to be created at Carthage will be an octagon shape to provide separate chapels for the different divisions of the community which at present are large in number and more than likely will increase.  These chapels will all converge to a central altar ...  The work of construction, which will be taken up in earnest this present week, was inaugurated on the Feast of St. Joseph by a procession, in which the Sisters and children participated, to the spot where the chapel is to stand:  this was blessed by the chaplain, Rev. Father Stein, while the Sisters chanted the Litany of All Saints.  The work is placed under the patronage of St. Joseph.  It is hoped that with this protection no untoward circumstance will occur to stay or interrupt the erection of the structure which is a necessity and which will be an ornament to the diocese." (source: "New Chapel for Sisters of the Good Shepherd," Catholic Telegraph, March 23, 1911, p. 5)In January 1911, the estimated cost for the new chapel was $150,000. (Building Commission, Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives, Record Group 3.4, Series 3.4-03 Meeting Minutes, Box 1)The cornerstone was laid on April 21, 1912. By 1921, plastering, stained glass windows and carpenter work, plus building a tunnel for heat, still remained incomplete. Archbishop Moeller wrote to Mother M. of St. Stanislaus, October 19, 1921, giving her permission "to finish the new Chapel of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Carthage, at a cost not to exceed $70,000."  (Moeller papers,  Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives, Series 01.04-02 Outgoing Correspondence 1921 (A-R), Box 13)Next section: Stained Glass and Other Art and Artifacts

Stained Glass Windows and Other Objects, Pelletier Hall
Stained Glass Windows and Other Objects, Pelletier Hall

Stained Glass Windows and Other Objects

According to a 2017 article in Items of Interest, the newsletter of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America,  the Girls' Town Chapel included at least 140 stained glass windows, which were likely made in Munich, Germany sometime between 1910 and 1923.  Most of the windows were removed to unrecorded destinations when Girls' Town closed.  The Sisters of the Good Shepherd retained two of the windows, one depicting Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the other Mary, the Shepherdess for Christ,  These windows were installed in the chapel of a new retirement home, Pelletier Hall, in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, which opened in March, 1982 and closed in 2016.  The windows were subsequently moved  to Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Montgomery, OH, in 2017.These photographs of the windows and other items related to Girls' Town and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd were taken in the Pelletier Hall chapel in December 2015. Next section: Life at Carthage

Life at Carthage: Rituals, Observances, Routines
Life at Carthage: Rituals, Observances, Routines

Life at Carthage: Rituals, Observances, Routines


First-person account of life at Carthage from Sister Magdalen Pancratius, recorded in 1951Read the sisters' Christmas letter, 1950
Living at the Carthage site were four groups:
  • The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, vowed religious  referred to  as  "Mothers," along with postulants and novices who aspired to become Sisters.  
  • The Magdalens,  a contemplative community supervised by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.  Magdalens were not able to become Good Shepherd Sisters. They made annual, temporary vows  over a 10 year period, after which they could make make perpetual vows.  They were known for fine embroidery, sewing altar linens and vestments, and making altar breads.
  • The "children"--the term used for the girls and women cared for and educated at Our Lady of the Woods.  These included
    • penitents or the reformatory class,  sometimes called "problem" or "delinquent " women and girls, or "fallen women and girls," as they were listed in the Benevolent Institutions Censuses of 1904 and 1910 . 
    • dependents, also known as the preservate or preservation class, sent to the facility due to destitution or unfavorable home conditions. 
According to Phillips, "the terms penitent class or preservate class were used routinely in the nineteenth century, but were phased out and finally eliminated during the late 1930s to prevent the girls’ developing a sense of stigma associated with being considered a 'bad girl.'" (p.  139)The delinquent and dependent classes lived separately.   The institution served both black and white girls of both classes;  in the early to mid-twentieth century, the races were housed separately and had separate entrances to the Chapel.  Photographs from the late 1940's and later show mixed race groups engaging in various activities.

Daily Life and Routine

Though the typical daily activity schedule varied between facilities, the following schedule excerpted from the 1948 Vista Maria Handbook for students in Detroit, Michigan, may have been close to that observed by girls at  Carthage.
  • 6:00 A.M. Rising
  • 6:30 A. M. Mass
  • 7:00 A.M. Breakfast
  • 7:30 A.M. Duties as assigned and recreation
  • 8:30 to 11:45 A.M. Academic subjects
  • 12:00 to 1:00 P.M. Lunch and recreation
  • 1:00 to 4:00 P.M. Vocational subjects (referred to as “employments”)
  • 4:00 to 5:30 P.M. Recreation (Band practice 4:30 to 5:30 P.M.)
  • 6:00 P.M. Dinner
  • 8:00 P.M. Study hour
  • 9:00 P.M. Bedtime
(cited in Phillips, Education for Girls in the House of the Good Shepherd, 1940-1980, p. 175, note 580, from Handbook in the Sisters of the Good Shepherd Archive)The girls had age-appropriate housekeeping chores such as laundry and ironing, meal preparation and cooking, gardening, housecleaning, and sewing. (Phillips, p. 134)  Like most Good Shepherd schools, the Carthage facility operated a commercial laundry and sewed embroidered clothing to supplement its income. As at other rural institutions, its gardens and small animal farms provided food for the residents. The girls contributed manual labor as part of their re-education process. (Phillips, p. 21) "Commercial laundries in the Good Shepherd schools were progressively closed because the mandatory requirements for school attendance decreased the time available for the girls to work" (Phillips, p. 183) and this appears to have been the case at Carthage, though the date the commercial laundry closed is not known.Next section: Music, Recreation, Vocational Training

Music, Recreation, Vocational Training
Music, Recreation, Vocational Training

Music, Recreation, Vocational Training

Our Lady of the Woods provided a basic education to its residents, plus vocational training to help them become self-sufficient once they graduated or left the institution. In the early decades of the twentieth century, elementary as well as middle and secondary grades were taught. Elementary classes included religion, reading, English, spelling, arithmetic, geography, history, civics, hygiene, penmanship, science, art, music, and manual training. By the 1940s, "financial circumstances led to focusing on wards of the court and delinquent girls aged thirteen to eighteen" in the schools run by the Good Shepherd Sisters in the United States. "The decrease in census of the younger dependent girls in the school began in 1931 and fell to the lowest level in 1953. This eliminated girls younger than thirteen years and older than eighteen from being admitted after 1938 and caused the closing of the Good Shepherd elementary schools throughout the United States." (Nancymarie Phillips, Education for girls in the House of the Good Shepherd in the United States, 1940 to 1980, 125.)An undated memo from the late 1940's or 1950's, titled "Our Lady of the Woods--Girls' Town," states the educational program serves grades 7 though 12:"The school is on the grounds. In Junior High, girls are divided into small groups; we attempt to adapt the subjects to the student's own level. Senior High has Commercial, Academic and Vocational programs; but is geared more toward commercial and vocational training. Summer school consists mainly of Arts and Crafts except in some cases when make-up academic work can be accomplished." (Sisters of the Good Shepherd Archives, Carthage Program, box 2, file 33)In addition to basic subjects, students in the upper grades took classes in home economics, typing, and physical education.

Music

Students participated in musical activities such as Glee Club, Choir, and Band.

Recreation

Recreational activities included volleyball, basketball, archery, and swimming.

Vocational training

Students learned skills such as bookkeeping, typing, and office machinery operation, to prepare them for occupations after graduation. They also had the opportunity to learn cosmetology. They learned sewing, crocheting, cooking, and other domestic skills they would need for running households.Next section: The Evolution of Girls' Town

Evolution of Girls' Town
Evolution of Girls' Town

Evolution of Girls' Town

An Idea: Boys Town as a Model

Father Edward J. Flanagan (1886-1948) became famous as the founder of an orphanage for boys in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1917, which developed into  Boys Town,  "one of the largest non-profit child care and healthcare organizations in the country" serving troubled youth and those without family resources. ("Boys Town Kicks off Centennial Celebration,"  October 26, 2016;  Stevens, C. J. (2010). Father Flanagan and the founding of Boys Town: Omaha, Nebraska (1917-1925). American Catholic Studies, 121(1), 91-97.)  Boys Town captured the popular imagination as the subject of a 1938 Oscar-winning film starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney.  Flanagan was a tireless promoter of Boys Town, with its philosophy of "no bad boys":  "Boys are better capable of governing themselves than of submitting to government by adults. Don't repress a boy, give him outlets for his energies. Don't preach at him, give him the example you want him to follow. Make him responsible. Remember, there are no bad boys." (Flanagan, Edward Joseph. (1948). Current Biography (Bio Ref Bank).)  He was a prominent speaker during the 1930s and 1940s at meetings of educators and other child welfare professionals and religious and charitable organizations.There were clearly parallels with the mission and clientele of Boys Town and that of Our Lady of the Woods.  Flanagan spoke in Cincinnati  in September 1939,  November 1940, and June 1945.  According to an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, he reportedly suggested  a name change to Girls' Town during a visit to Our Lady of the Woods in 1945 ("'Girls Town' is Inaugurated at First Fete in Carthage Institution’s 59-Year History,"  9/24/1945). Though there is no formal documentation of Flanagan's direct involvement in the name change, by September 1945, Our Lady of the Woods had adopted the name  Girls' Town of America.

Funding the Model

To fund this evolution, Joseph H. Albers, a member of the Board of Directors and a local car dealer, co-chaired the first Festival Planning Committee with Justin A. Rollman. The considerable efforts of Albers, Rollman, and other civic leaders  to publicize the first festival in the local press and in brochures touting the positive effects of the programs at Girls' Town were highly successful, with attendance estimated at 60,000.Inspired by Boys Town,  Albers and Rollman were boosters of expanding Girls' Town's services and physical facilities.  Local newspaper articles reported various ambitious plans.  For example, a  1946 article said, "A program is being launched to make 'Girls' Town' rival 'Boys' Town,' Nebr. A model village, with new buildings, street, and even a weekly newspaper is envisioned, Albers said." ("Sophie Tucker Planning to Join Sunday Throng at Girls' Town Festival," Cincinnati Enquirer, July 12, 1946, 10:8.) In a 1947 speech, Rollman described "the proposed expansion of Our Lady of the Woods School--'Girls' Town'--at the Provincial Convent of the Good Shepherd, Carthage, [which] would include rasing [sic] the present old buildings and erecting modern ones at a cost of $2,000,000.  The result would be a model village, with a postoffice, newspaper, city hall and streets named in honor of philanthropists who have aided the growth of 'Girls' Town.'" ("Rollman Urges the Rebuilding of Girls' Town Housing," Cincinnati Times-Star, December 9. 1947,  2)  In 1948: "Receipts from the fete are expected to add materially to the Girls Town building expansion fund, the goal of which is $100,000.  New buildings planned at the institution include a $50,000 school, a theater, newspaper plant, a swimming pool and a town hall in addition to street construction. ("Cincinnati Officialdom to Aid Girls Town," Cincinnati Enquirer, July 6, 1948, 8.)  And in 1950: "Plans for a national campaign to raise several million dollars for a building and rehabilitation program at Girls Town of American...was announced Friday...the nucleus for the program will be provided by annual festivals similar to the 1950 festival to be held July 9...The bulk of the money, however, is to be obtained through a drive for "honorary citizens" and endowments from philanthropists. ("National Campaign for Girls Town Set," Cincinnati Post, June 6, 1950, 13.)The first of the annual festivals, which continued for the next quarter century, took place in September 1945.  The initial rationale for the festivals was the need for funds to maintain the aging buildings and grounds.  Like other Houses of the Good Shepherd,  Our Lady of the Woods " received some per diem money from the state for each girl admitted from the local court [and] money from the Community Chest ... as charity providers. Families were asked to contribute financially on a sliding scale. The majority of the Good Shepherd schools supplemented their income by doing commercial laundry and sewing embroidered clothing. Rural facilities had gardens and small animal farms for provision of food. The girls in the facilities provided the manual labor as part of the re-education process. Each facility managed this workforce with slight variation according to the prosperity and socioeconomic climate of the community. Essentially, the labor supported the facility without formal wages for the workers. " (Phillips, N.  2008. "Education for girls in the House of the Good Shepherd in the United States, 1940 to 1980." Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH.)

Festivals Put Spotlight on Girls' Town ...

The festivals were a way to change the image of Girls' Town from a mysterious , closed-off place perceived by the public as a penal institution, to a nurturing and supportive force in the lives of girls who needed help.  A brochure called "Happy Days at Girls' Town" and the many newspaper articles about the annual festivals and the good the Sisters were doing  were ways in which the Festival Committee reached out to the public with great success.  The festivals featured booths (including those selling the nuns' needlework), rides, food, games, and car raffles, and became a summer fixture for residents of the surrounding neighborhoods and beyond.

... But Not without Problems

Even with the leadership of energetic businessmen and an army of volunteers, the annual festivals took their toll.  The Sisters appreciated the successful fundraising efforts but, behind the scenes, some questioned the vision and the effort required to put on the festivals.  Sister Mary Sylvester, Provincial, wrote to Archbishop Alter, December 1, 1950:"We are fortunate to have a committee of men interested in the progress of Girls' Town, through whose efforts much has been accomplished here in the past five years.  These men are most enthusiastic about an expansion program, and we must say that thus far they have supported their enthusiasm with results.  Recently at a meeting, the question of improvements in the way of new buildings, etc., came up for discussion.  We immediately informed the good gentlemen that nothing could be considered until they first submitted their ideas to your Excellency, as no major program would be undertaken without first obtaining your approval."When you have the opportunity to make visitation of our Institution dear Archbishop, your Excellency will see that the buildings are outdated.  While we also recognize the need of new buildings, we of course would not entertain any project of an elaborate nature or one too large."In reference to which Rt. Rev. Monsignor August J. Kramer, Director, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati wrote to Archbishop Alter, 'Up until five years ago the Institution was known as "Our Lady of the Woods" but when this group of men of whom Mother Sylvester writes in her letter came into the picture, the name was changed to 'Girls' Town of America.'  A Mr. Joseph Albers of St. James Parish, Wyoming, was the organizer of the Board of Directors and the prime planner in the group.  From my conversations with Mr. Albers I gathered that his dream was to expand Girls' Town to a position comparable to that of Boys' Town of America, with a large Intake, and eventually to build sufficient support for it nationally that it would no longer need the Community Chest."After consultation with His Grace, the late Most Reverence Archbishop McNicholas, I informed Mr. Albers that His Grace did not wish such a program established in the Archdiocese.  I have endeavored from time to time to point out to Mr. Albers as tactfully as I can that it would be better in the interest of Child Welfare Services for his group to assist the Sisters to strengthen the present program rather than to embark on a wide expansion.  I tried to convey to him that there were a number of Good Shepherd institutions in this area, serving the same purpose as Girls' Town.  I feel doubtful that Mr. Albers was ever completely convinced of my reasoning and he possibly still holds on to his idea of a large number of admissions to Girls' Town.  Actually, there are a large number of men associated with Mr. Albers on the Board who do understand the value of strengthening the present set-up rather than extend it so generally and, while they do not approve of Mr. Albers' plan, they continue to work for the Institution because of their devotion to it.  I have tried diplomatically to secure an invitation to their Board meetings in the hope of discussing with the entire group the field of Child Welfare Service but have failed in this attempt."Under the chairmanship of Mr. Albers fetes have been held for the past five years and considerable money has been raised.  Since I do not receive a statement of the financial results, the best information I could ever get was through other members of the Board.  The figures I quote are, therefore, approximate, ergo:  in five years they have netted $125,000 from a gross receipt of $230,000.  Some of this money has been used for improvements such as modernizing an old laundry on the premises for school purposes, pointing up some of the buildings on the property and some heating, plumbing and minor repairs."From discussions with the Sisters in the Institution I believe they are thinking of a type of institution similar to "Vista Maria" in Detroit.  Factually, I question whether the Sisters are wholeheartedly in favor of big expansion in their Intake but they go along with Mr. Albers because of his ability to raise funds for their needs.  He does devote a full month of his time to the fete and is probably very sincere in his efforts -- but he is rigid in his notions about Child Welfare.  Without doubt, there are needs at Girls' Town since the building is very old and of a rambling type that is costly to heat and to keep in repair.  The dormitories for the girls are large, the dining rooms inadequate and unattractive. The recreational programs could be improved, especially with regard to the out-door equipment for play.  The medical program is weak.  The housekeeping standards are good.  This institution is certified by the State Department of Welfare which, of course, indicates that at least the minimum standards are met, however, in going through the building, some question has arisen in my mind relative to the possibility of the fire hazard in the structural set-up and living arrangements..."If I may state my personal opinion, I believe that some type of building program might be in order.  However, any building program should be set up in the light of specific services which the Institution is to offer.  I feel certain that, in their present area of service, the program itself, could be strengthened and if this group of men could be made to see it that way and help the Sisters along that line, the best results would follow.  In any solicitation for funds, or fund-raising endeavors, perhaps there should be some distinction between what is to go for buildings which serve the girls and what for buildings occupied by the many Sisters stationed there in the Provincial Convent." (Rt. Rev. Monsignor August J. Kramer, Director, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to Archbishop Alter, December 15, 1950. Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives, Archbishop Alter papers, Belmont Avenue, Religious Communities, Box 10, Good Shepherd Sisters (Carthage) 1950-1973)Sr. M. Rose Virginie, RGS wrote to Archbishop Alter, June 16, 1967: "Our work here at Girls' Town is so very difficult. The laborers are few and the work more demanding than ever.  It is pressure more than anything that is driving our Sisters out.  They do not lack in prayer and zeal and generosity, but their human personality is limited physically and emotionally considered.  As pastor please help our Sisters to devote more of their time to taking care of children's needs than to running festivals that sap our strength and are a source of scandal to many of our separated brethren and often lead to so much discord within a community." (Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Alter Papers Box 6 - Religious Communities.  Sisters of the Good Shepherd [file 1])To which his aide replied, "As regards the festival and the attendant fuss and distraction (to say the least), I have long lamented this intrusion into the peace and tranquility of the convent.  I am sure that it does not improve the lot of the Sisters spiritually, but I'm not so sure that it does less than good for the girls.  Perhaps it is a boon to them -- to see that people, so many people, really do care about the work the good Sisters are doing.  And that means trying to help them.  I believe it could give them a big lift.  However, I do believe that such events are coming to less and less prominence, and will disappear in the note too distant future.  But I expect the big ones like yours, to be among the last to survive." (July 8, 1967)Next section: Changing Needs

Changing Needs
Changing Needs

Changing Needs

A rich source of information about institutions run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in the mid- to late twentieth century is Nancymarie Phillips's 2008 doctoral dissertation, Education for girls in the House of the Good Shepherd in the United States, 1940 to 1980.  Based on interviews and correspondence with ten former students and over fifty Sisters from Good Shepherd schools, Phillips captured memories of rapidly aging women with firsthand knowledge of these institutions, from a time when they were still widespread in the U.S., though beginning to dwindle. She also examined primary sources, including uncataloged documents from the Provincial Archives in St. Louis, and a wide range of published secondary sources. Phillips wrote, "The final demise of the Good Shepherd schools was attributed to financial difficulties and decreased referrals by the juvenile court system." (p. 268)  This was the case for Girls' Town.  In 1959, Mt. St. Mary's School for Girls in Price Hill closed and Girls' Town absorbed its residents. "Remodeled dormitories and facilities at Girls' Town can accommodate 112 girls, about the same number as are now being served by both agencies," noted a newspaper article from June 1959, two months before the scheduled merger. ("Mt. St. Mary's and Girls' Town to Merge, Use Same Quarters," Cincinnati Post Times-Star, June 24, 1959, 7:1.)  The Sisters also made efforts to reduce the footprint of their land holdings, which over time had become larger than they needed.  Correspondence with Archbishop McNicholas in the late 1920's, 1930's and 1940's mentions obtaining permission from the Motherhouse in Angers, France, and the Holy See, as well as the Archbishop, to sell various parcels ( Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives, Archbishop McNicholas Papers, Drawer 15 Folder 54, 55, 56;  Mother M. of St. Alberta, Provincial, to Msgr. Albers, Chancery Office, October 4, 1929; Sr. M. of St. Alberta to Very Rev. Msgr. Matthias Heyker, Chancery Office, June 7, 1939; Sr. M. of St. Sylvester to McNicholas, March 25, 1943).  In 1956, Girls' Town offered to sell 88 acres of undeveloped land to Hamilton County for a stadium for "professional football and baseball contests, boxing matches, theatrical presentations, and other large displays which cannot be held indoors."  The newspaper article noted the site "is easily accessible and in the center of the population shift to the north," but this arrangement never materialized ("Girl's Town Offers County Stadium Site," Cincinnati Post, August 10, 1956, 1:1).  The Procter and Gamble Company had built a research facility on Center Hill Road, abutting the Girls' Town property. The company bought 88 acres fronting on Center Hill Road from the Convent of the Good Shepherd in December 1956 ("Procter & Gamble Buys 144-Acre Tract in Northern Cincinnati for Future Use," Cincinnati Enquirer, December 7, 1956).A 1958 letter to Archbishop Alter says the remaining property constitutes 90 acres. The Sisters sold an additional 5 acres to Procter and Gamble at $10, 000 per acre in 1966. (Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Archbishop Alter Papers, Belmont Avenue, Religious Communities, Box 10, Good Shepherd Sisters (Carthage) 1950-  file, Sr. M. Alphonsus to Alter,  August 12, 1958 ; Box 6 - Religious Communities.  Sisters of the Good Shepherd, file 1, Sr. Mary Clare to Alter, Oct. 22, 1966; Alter to Mother Mary Clare, Provincial, October 24, 1966.)Next section: Curator's Commentary

Curator's Commentary
Curator's Commentary

Curator's Commentary


by Joan Plungis, Curator
In late 2015, in preparation for a semester-long sabbatical I planned to take in Fall 2016, I began conversations with a family friend, Maria Fedyk. Maria's late husband, Joseph Fedyk, had been the caretaker at Girls' Town. The Fedyk family lived a house on the property from the 1960s into the 2000s. I learned that Maria's parents had also been caretakers there, and she and her sister, Nina, were educated at the Our Lady of the Woods school.Maria was still in touch with one of her teachers, Sister Marguerite Senesac, who lived at Pelletier Hall, a retirement home in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, where several other Sisters from Girls' Town also lived.  We visited Sister Marguerite and Sister Louise in December 2015, and I interviewed them about their time at Girls' Town.  On a subsequent visit, my brother, Glenn Plungis, photographed  two stained glass windows and other surviving memorabilia from the Girls' Town chapel then housed in the Pelletier Hall chapel. Pelletier Hall closed in late 2016, and the Sisters moved to St. Margaret Hall in eastern Cincinnati, OH.  According to an article called "Pelletier Hall stained glass windows get a new home" in the newsletter of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Province of Mid-North America,  Feb. 2017, the stained glass windows were to move to Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Montgomery, OH, later that year.