The Orchard School's Nine Mothers: Discovering the stories of Orchard's Founders

There are certain historical facts about the founding of The Orchard School that any third grader can tell you: what year the school began, where was the first school, who was the first teacher, and even who were the first students to attend Orchard.  And yes, they could tell you the names of Orchard’s nine mothers:

But recently, while working on the book “The Orchard School A to Z'' in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of Orchard, my co-author/fellow Orchard parent Sarah Edwards and I were enchanted with these women.  We wanted to know more about who these women were, and what inspired them to start a progressive education school. Their stories have inspired us to keep digging, and in honor of Women’s History Month, we’d like to share some of what we have learned about the nine women who founded The Orchard School in 1922.

At the time of Orchard’s founding in 1922, the mothers ranged in age from 34 (Emily Taggart Sinclair) to 46 (Ruth Schuyler Cole).  Most of the women were born in Indianapolis or nearby, but two moved to the Indianapolis area as married women.  Some were related (the Carey sisters), several went to college together (Mary Carey Appel, Edith Whitehill Clowes, and Ruth McCulloch Bon all attended Vassar College), and others knew one another from shared interests, such as art and reading clubs, not to mention other civic clubs, such as Indianapolis Dramatic Club, the Women’s Club, and the Progressive Education Club.  

In April 1922, several of Orchard's founding mothers invited Marietta Johnson of the School of Organic Education to give a lecture on Progressive education in Indianapolis. In the months following her visit, the group of mothers solidified their plan for the creation of The Orchard School. Back row, from left: Mary Carey Appel, Dean Tyndall, Martha Carey, and Ruth Schuyler. Front row, from left: Elizabeth Driggs Bacon, Anna Burns, and Lois Knefler

Here are some brief snapshots of Orchard’s nine mothers.  The research is a work in progress derived from combing through newspaper archives, online genealogical sites, and other sources, such as websites of universities, local institutions & associations, and Indiana/ Indianapolis history organizations. 

Mary Carey Appel: Mary was the fourth child of  John and Mary Stewart Carey.  After attending Shortridge High School, Mary went to Vassar College in New York. After graduating in 1906, she returned to Indianapolis, where she volunteered with organizations including the Christamore Settlement, the Progressive Education club, and the Public Health Nursing Association. She was very active in the Indiana Vassar Club, serving on the board and hosting meetings at her home.  She married Frederick Appel in 1914, and their 3 children John, Alan, and Eleanor all attended Orchard.  Mary was the chair of Orchard’s founding Board and stayed active in the management of the school throughout its early years. Mary passed away in 1931 at the age of 46.

Martha Stewart Carey: An older sister of Mary, Martha was very interested in teaching and education.  She graduated from Mrs. Somer's Mt Vernon School in Washington, DC in 1899.  After traveling abroad for a year, she returned to Indianapolis and took classes at Mrs. Blaker’s Teachers College (which later became the College of Education at Butler University).  Martha was involved in the Free Kindergarten Movement, teaching at what is now known as  Christamore House for many years.  Martha is credited with starting the Christamore Aid Society in 1908 (now known as the Christamore House Guild) to provide volunteer support.  Martha was also very active in an Indianapolis chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Red Cross.  Martha did not marry, and she passed away in 1925 at the age of 45.

Elizabeth Driggs Bacon: Bess, as she was frequently known, was a talented artist.  She studied at the Art Institute in Chicago and with The Artist's League in New York.  Her work was featured in the Herron Art Institute (which later became the Indianapolis Museum of Art), including an exhibit of 14 of her portraits.  She had paintings included in each of the first four Hoosier Salons held in Chicago.  In addition to being an artist, Bess also was an art critic for the Indianapolis News, worked as the publicity director for Herron Art Institute, and also taught children’s art classes there.  Like many of the other mothers, she was active in the Progressive Club and the Indiana Artists Club.  She married Louis Bacon in 1911, and they had one daughter, Honoria, who attended Orchard.  She passed away in 1928 at the age of 47.

Evelyn Fortune (Lilly) Bartlett: Daughter of journalist and civic leader William Fortune, Evelyn also had artistic talent.  She attended Kinckerbacker Hall school and went to study in Briarcliffe Manor, NY before returning to Indianapolis and taking classes at the Herron Art Institute.  In 1907, she married Eli Lilly Jr, and they had a daughter Evie, who attended Orchard.  Evelyn was an active member of The Propylaeum Club, as were many of the nine mothers, along with the Progressive Club and the Indianapolis Dramatic Club.  Her second marriage to artist Frederic Bartlett allowed Evelyn to focus on her painting, and her works were exhibited several times, including a solo show at Herron in 1934.  She spent the majority of her later life in Massachusetts and Florida until she passed away in 1997, just shy of her 110th birthday.

Evelyn Fortune (Lilly) Bartlett in 1994 with Former Head of School Charlie Clark who served from 1984 to 1994.

Ruth McCulloch Bon: Like Mary Carey Appel and Edith Whitehill Clowes, Ruth attended Vassar College.  Ruth was also very active in the Indiana Vassar Club, which held events for alumni of the college and current students alike.  She married Frederic Bon in 1912, and they moved to Brooklyn NY, before moving back to Indianapolis and having two children, Mary Ann and David, who both attended Orchard. In 1925, Ruth wrote an article for the Vassar Quarterly describing how she and the other mothers had started Orchard to “develop the child on all sides”  Ruth was also engaged with several civic groups, including the YWCA, the Propylaeum, the Progressive Club, and the Indiana Dramatics Club. Ruth passed away in 1935 at the age of 52.

Edith Whitehill Hinkel Clowes: Edith is probably the most well-known of the nine mothers. She was born in Buffalo, where she attended the progressive Franklin School, which may have influenced her later participation in founding The Orchard School.  She attended Vassar at the same time as Mary Carey Appel.  She met George Clowes, who had moved from Europe to Buffalo, and they married in 1910.  They moved to Indianapolis in 1919 for his work with Eli Lilly and Company with their two sons George Jr, and Allen, who would attend Orchard. Edith served as Chair of Orchard’s Board for several years and frequently attended events at the school.  Her interests overlapped with many of the nine mothers, including gardening, art, and civic organizations.  She and Ruth Schuyler Cole were very active in the Art Association of Indianapolis, with the Clowes later donating their collection to the Indianapolis Art Museum, housed in the newly built Clowes Pavillion.  The charitable Clowes Fund that George and Edith started funded many projects around Indianapolis, including Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University.  Edith passed away in 1967 at the age of 81.

Edith Whitehill Hinkel Clowes in May of 1957 during the laying of the cornerstone at Orchard's current campus on 64th st. The school officially moved in a few months later in the fall.

Ruth Schuyler Cole: Ruth is one of the few mothers not born in Indianapolis. Originally from Pana, IL, Ruth graduated from the Ogontz School in Philadelphia in 1897 and later moved to Indianapolis in 1901 after marrying Dr. Albert Cole of Indianapolis. Though their two children Albert Jr, and Harry were born more than a decade before the founding of Orchard, one of the sons attended the Fairhope Organic School founded by Marietta Johnson, who was an inspiration to Orchard’s nine mothers.  In addition to her work with Orchard, Ruth was very involved in the Art Association of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Women’s Club, and the Progressive Club.  Ruth and her husband were the first to build a year-round home in Crows Nest called Cedar Crest, which later became the IUPUI Chancellor’s house, and they were instrumental in the incorporation of Crows Nest.  Ruth passed away in 1961 at the age of 85. 

Mary Parrott Failey: Born in Indianapolis, Mary’s family was one of the early settlers in the area.  She graduated from Shortridge before attending Bennett College in New York. She married Robert Failey in 1913, and they had three children, Robert Jr, James, and William, who all attended Orchard.  Her interests overlapped extensively with the other mothers, including being active with The Children’s Museum, the Indianapolis Women’s Club, the Dramatic Club, and the Arts Association of Indianapolis.  Mary served on Orchard’s Board and remained involved with the school throughout her lifetime.  Like many in the Indianapolis area, the Faileys spent many summers in northern Michigan, where Mary had a well-known garden.  Mary passed away in 1970 at the age of 84.

Emily Taggart Sinclair: Similar to some of the other mothers, Emily’s family was very well known in Indianapolis, as her father Thomas was the mayor of Indianapolis (1895-1901).  Emily was a star basketball player first at Shortridge High School and then at Knickerbacker Hall.  After graduation, she attended Ingleside College in New York and later studied in Paris for several months with her sister.  In 1914, Emily married William Richardson Sinclair, and they had three children, Dora, Thomas, and Letitia, who all attended Orchard.  Emily was involved in the Progressive Club, the Red Cross, the Gardening Club, and the Arts Association of Indiana.  She also served on the Washington Township Advisory Board.  She passed away in 1969 at the age of  81 years old. 

As you can see, the paths of these women crossed many times in Indianapolis, through family and civic commitments and dedication to the arts and social causes.  These brief snapshots of their lives show some of these intersections and demonstrate just how fortunate the Orchard community is that their care and concern for the welfare of children spurred them on when many other causes were vying for their passion and time.  We invite you to share other stories and information you have about these inspiring women. 

Image from “The Orchard School A to Z” book.

“The Orchard School A to Z” will be published in April to celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary.  The book illustrates the vision of the nine mothers in starting a progressive school and how those values are threaded throughout the experiences of students, teachers, staff, and families across the past 100 years.  Be on the lookout for more information.

Colleen O'Brien
Sarah Edwards
Authors of "The Orchard School A to Z"

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