Classmates recall Bishop’s Lodge boarding school

March 3, 2013 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Mary Ellen Smith and Juliet Roseberry hadn’t seen each other since their days as classmates nearly 70 years ago at the Brownmoor School. It was an [auth] all-girls boarding and day school that operated in the 1930s and ’40s at what is now called the Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa in Tesuque.

On Wednesday morning, Roseberry, 83, of Fredricksburg, Texas, and Smith, 82, a Kansas native who now lives in Santa Fe, gathered at the resort, reunited by mutual friends.

When Smith realized friends of hers knew Roseberry, she said, “I almost had a vapor fit. She was my ideal.”

The Thorpe family owned Bishop’s Lodge for 80 years, from 1918 to 1998, operating it as a resort during the summer months. The Brownmoor School was founded in 1931 by co-directors Justine Ames Browne and Mary Atwell Moore, who leased four guest buildings during the academic year for classrooms, dormitories and living space.

“(The school) appeals to those parents who desire for their girls a development of their abilities under sympathetic guidance, and the maintenance of high standards of work and conduct,” reads a promotional brochure for the school printed in the late ’30s or early ’40s.

Roseberry came to study at Brownmoor because her father, an “oil man,” had a second home in Tesuque. She stayed for only one year before returning home to Houston. “I went back home because all my friends were writing to me about the fun they were having and saying ‘we’re dating now.’ I had a crush on a boy back home,” Roseberry said.

Smith, who is originally from Liberal, Kan., said her father was a rancher. The family spent their summers at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Smith first heard about the Brownmoor School from friends staying at the resort.

“At that point, I don’t think I knew what a boarding school was,” Smith said. “When I told my mother about it, she looked at me like I had a hole in my head. But when my father came back, Mother — she was elegant, Victorian, proper — proceeded to tell him that I would be going to boarding school.”

Smith studied at Brownmoor’s Santa Fe campus for two years, before the school relocated to Scottsdale, Ariz.

“Every morning at 7 a.m., we were awakened by the sound of one of the maids beating the tom-tom,” Smith recalled.

In addition to a standard course of study (including classes in English, history, science, language and mathematics), Brownmoor students spent a great deal of time outdoors. Each girl was given her own horse to ride, while tennis, archery, badminton, skiing and skating were also available. Electives comprised dancing, music, signing, fine arts and drama. “Social training” was also included in the curriculum, and Smith and Roseberry recall dances with boys from the Los Alamos Ranch School.

The daily schedule also allotted 15 minutes each day, from 5 to 5:15 p.m., for milk and cookies, which preceded dinner by an hour.

Smith remembers the school’s cuisine as “most miraculous.” The fare included fried corn mush with syrup, Philadelphia scrapple and, because many of the pupils came from ranching families, sides of lamb or beef.

Roseberry’s yearbook from 1945, called the Tom Tom, shows Smith (nee Hood) and Roseberry (nee Armer) with their freshman and sophomore classes, respectively. Both girls wear plaid skirts and sweaters over collared shirts. In addition to the usual inscriptions (“You’re a swell kid” and the like) the yearbook offers a calendar of major events during the school year, including the new girl/old girl baseball game on Oct. 6, and “Army ski movies at La Fonda” on Jan. 19.

Smith was called Niki during her school days, while Roseberry was called Judy. The name Niki came about because Smith was fond of giving all the other girls nicknames. “I nicknamed one girl ‘Mousy,’ and her mother never spoke to me again, even though it was true,” Smith said.

Smith and Roseberry usually took the train to New Mexico. From the train stations in Lamy or Vaughn, they took a bus to Santa Fe. “I remember going back home for Christmas when I was 14,” Roseberry said. “The train was filled with soldiers, and I just flirted the whole time. What fun it was, talking to all those cute guys.”

Both women remember the 1940s as an exciting time to be in New Mexico. They recalled the French doors of the dining room rattling on occasion, and suspect it was the result of Manhattan Project-related activities in Los Alamos. “There were Secret Service men all over Santa Fe,” Smith said, “and flamboyant artists who came from the East to be here.”

At night, the girls crowded around radios stationed in rooms across the property to listen to broadcasts about the war. “I have a vivid memory of listening to the wedding of (then-Princess) Elizabeth and (Prince) Philip,” Smith said.

“Didn’t we stay up all night to listen?” Roseberry asked. “I remember the images in my mind. We couldn’t see it, but there were such detailed descriptions of everything.”

Even though they spent only a year or two at the Brownmoor School, Roseberry and Smith remember it as the site of some of the best times of their lives.

“In 80 years, you do a hell of a lot of living,” Smith said. “There’s happiness and sadness and grief and joy. . The word magic is used a lot, but it has no context like this school and this atmosphere. We rode all over these mountains. It was like nothing else in the world.”

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