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Dora Fay Payne

Dora Fay Payne

Female 1915 - 2002  (87 years)



St. Elizabeth's Academy, Established 1888, Purcell, Oklahoma

Founded in February, 1888, one year before Oklahoma was opened to settlement and barely a year after Purcell was established as a junction point on the Santa Fe, St. Elizabeth is one of Oklahoma's most famous old schools. The spacious, roomy, two-storied frame building, set in a grassy plot with a peaceful background of slender poplars, elms and cedars, is still a thing of considerable beauty. For many years it was the only educational landmark in an unsettled area, and the sight of students playing about its grounds, supervised by the black-robed nuns, against the bright southwestern skies, has become familiar to nearly all Oklahomans who have lived here any length of time. When St. Elizabeth's convent was founded, in 1888, Purcell was a part of the Chickasaw nation of the old Indian territory, and the gateway to the great ranching empire which lay to the west and south. The country then was all pastureland, heavily wooded and a ranch of 10,000 to 20,000 acres was commonplace. Most of the settlers were Chickasaws, but here were also Choctaw families, and a good many white settlers. All were eager to send their children to school and the news that St. Elizabeth's convent had opened in Purcell was welcomed far and wide. Families packed their children and brought them to board and room at the convent, or if there was no space there, boarded them in homes and they attended day school. Three eager young nuns, all now dead, of the Order of St. Francis, made their way west from Philadelphia and arrived in Purcell on Feb. 14, 1888. At the time there was under construction a three-room frame building on the same lot where the Benedictine priests had built a one-room church. Sunday services were conducted in the church which on week days was converted into two school rooms by hanging a heavy carpet to form a partition. By November, however, the new three-room frame building was completed and enrolment consisted of 120 pupils. Ages of these pupils ranged from 6 to 18 years. Soon, there were 25 boarders, then 50. Money for the grounds, buildings and teachers was paid for by Miss Katherine Drexel of the wealthy Philadelphia Drexel family. She had become interested in educating the Indians through the efforts of Father Vincent Jolly, O.S.B., who taught at the Sacred Heart academy situated in unsettled wilderness in what is now Pottawatomie county. Father Jolly, accompanied by Father William Capital, took turns in coming to Purcell to hold services. Father Jolly told Miss Drexel of the Indian boys and girls who needed educational opportunities, and described the great wilderness, which pioneers were still to conquer. One church was unable to bear the expense. But Miss Drexel could and did for 60 years. Miss Drexel furnished money for the grounds, buildings and early support, and a new building site was selected in 1891 by the Very Rev. Ignatius Jean, Benedictine priest, while Rev. F. Steven, director of the Indian bureau, gave the plans of the building to Miss Drexel. At her instigation, Archbishop Ryan of Philadelphia designated the Sisters of St. Francis of the Philadelphia Foundation, Mother House in Glen Riddle, Pa., to take charge of the mission. Miss Drexel also offered to pay of the sister's support. In an area known as Love's pasture, named for the late Robert Love, Purcell's founder, who proved to be very helpful to the new school, ground was broken and the building erected which still stands today. On the second floor near the chapel is a bronze plaque dedicated to the founder, the late Father Vincent Jolly. Government support by which the Indian girls' tuition was paid in part by the government was withdrawn in 1932......(Causing the sisters) to run the institution on practically no income except from Miss Drexel. For some time the sisters kept the girls without government aid from their own slender resources as teachers. Continued maintenance soon became impossible. The school shut its doors for good in 1948. (Excerpted from an August 15, 1948 article in the Daily Oklahoman about the closure of St. Elizabeth's)

Owner/SourceCharles Richard Strong
Datelate 1920's to Early 1930's
PlacePurcell, Oklahoma
Linked toAnna Laura Payne; Dora Fay Payne; Lois Marie Payne
AlbumsSt. Elizabeth's Academy, Purcell, Oklahoma