To give you an example of what student life was like in the 1870's at Ferry Hall, here's "A Voice from Our
Distant Past: 136 Years Later" by Rita MacAyeal, LFA Archivist, originally published in the Lake Forest Academy
Review, Fall 2007.
"...I arrived at Ferry Hall Wednesday, Jan. 4th. Was kindly so received, and the general warmth of cordiality
soon dissipated the sense of utter loneliness I felt when first coming among total strangers."
So reads the first page of an anonymous Ferry Hall diary generously donated to LFA by an alumnus who
purchased it from an auction website. We received the diary with excitement, and immediately set out to identify its author.
The first part of the diary included daily entries dating from January through June, 1871.
These were followed by a newspaper transcription entitled, "Sunnyside Weekly, Chillicothe, Ohio" dated 1887. At the end were
several entries describing the gathering of the "The Bloomer Club" signed by "Leola Clark Somers, Secretary," dated 1896.
Tucked into the diary were two calling cards with the names "Miss Ross Casady" and "Miss Julia Chumasero."
Deliving into our old Ferry Hall catalogues, I found that Rose Casady and Julia Chumasero were indeed
students in 1871. However, there also was a junior that year from Chillicothe, Ohio, named Ella W. Clark. If the diary was
hers, perhaps she was related to the Leola Clark Somers of later entries.
Turning to an online genealogy website, I learned that at the time of the 1880 Federal Census, Ella
was living in Ohio, married to John Somers, and had among her four children a 5-year old daughter named Leola. Now the picture
was complete: the diary had belonged to Ella Clark when she attended Ferry Hall in 1871, and then used years later by her
Ferry Hall opened in the fall of 1869. So, when Ella arrived in January 1871, the school was less than
two years old. Even though Ella lived at Ferry Hall for just one semester, her diary gives us a rate and fascinating into
daily life at Ferry Hall in its earliest era.
"Owing to the entertainment at the Academy tonight, and consequent thoughts and attention given to it,
the exercises are somewhat broken today." Ella's academic experience involved much recitation and memorization of lessons.
There were daily exercises, and outdoor activities, such as walks, sleigh rides, boat rides, and beach visits. Occasional
events at the Academy caused much excitement among the Ferry Hall girls.
"From the appearance of the morning, I thought we were to be deprived of the privilege of attending
church; but well protected from the blast by ample waterproofs, we sallied forth and arrived at church without any serious
inconvenience to anyone. Sermon was better then usual!" In keeping with the Presbyterian roots of the school, chapel services
were a de facto part of life, and visiting clergymen were frequent speakers. In her diary, Ella often quotes scripture and
reflects on church sermons.
"When a person is sick away from home, how they yearn for the comforts of there, and the kindness of
friends which are never rightly appreciated until they are beyond our reach." Even in language that may sound "stilted" to
our modern ear, Ella's homesickness rings familiar today. She writes several times about missing her family, and it is interesting
to note that she did not return to Ferry Hall the next year.
Ella Clark's diary documents many aspects of her life: academics, daily routines, special occasions
and events, gatherings with friends, and even a few outings to visit relatives in Chicago. Her diary is peppered with names
of Lake Foresters, visiting clergy, faculty, and schoolmates. Her written words paint for us a fuller picture of life in an
era far removed from our own. This surprise artifact "unearthed" from obscurity provided us with a unique voice from the past.
Thank you to Rita MacAyeal for allowing us to use this article!