• Jennifer Sanders-Tutt

Miss West's School for Girls

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

As you drive east on Jules St., you may notice a large house that looks slightly out of place in all its decrepit grandeur. This was once a private girls’ school, alive with the sounds of French being learned, Shakespeare plays, and dancing classes. Though the school would be short-lived, it would have a lasting impact on St. Joseph’s history. Former pupils would go on to remember with the utmost affection the two southern ladies who “created an atmosphere of gentle living” within the walls of the school.

Miss Eliza Alice West, or Miss E. Alice West as she was better known, and her partner, Miss Mary E. Carmichael, were brought to St. Joseph in 1907 by several prominent families. Before their arrival in St. Joseph, Misses West and Carmichael ran a private girls’ school in Savannah, GA.

Miss West’s School would occupy two well-known residences in the city before it was deemed necessary to construct a new school from the ground up to accommodate the needs of the school and its pupils. It would first occupy the Kennard Residence at 1803 Jules St., officially opening its doors on September 29, 1908. The school would go on to temporarily inhabit 2117 Faraon St. before finding a permanent location.

In the summer of 1910, construction began at 2618 Jules St. It was expected to be completed by Thanksgiving, and on November 28 it opened the doors. Georgia pine was used for the interior and the columned Colonial facade was white with three dark green dormers.

“The building will have a frontage of seventy feet on Jules street, and will be forty feet deep. In the basement most of which will be above ground, owing to the topography of the site, will be the dining room, kitchen, laundry, and furnace rooms. The first floor will contain an entrance lobby, public parlor and a dozen classrooms. In the second story will be the private apartments of Miss West and her teachers, and bedrooms for boarding pupils. The third floor will be used later as a gymnasium. It will be possible to accommodate 75-100 pupils.”

That same year the Census was taken. Within the household Eliza Alice was listed as the head. At the time, West’s mother, Mary, also resided with her. And Mary Carmichael was listed as Eliza Alice’s partner.

Though the school was highly regarded, not only within the community but nationally, by 1915 it was no longer sustainable. Much of this was probably due to more girls attending public high school. The school closed for enrollment in 1915, but graduated out the last class in 1916. The loss of West, Carmichael, and the school were deeply lamented by the community.

The school building would serve as apartments on and off throughout the years, with a brief stint as an emergency Influenza Hospital in 1918. Currently, it is unoccupied and has been allowed to fall into decrepitude.

After leaving St. Joseph, Miss Eliza Alice West would go on to teach Latin at St. Margaret’s School in Tappahannock, VA until her retirement in 1941. Miss Mary Carmichael taught in the public schools of Virginia. Carmichael passed away in 1929 at the age of 72. Eliza Alice West’s name appears on Carmichael death certificate as the informant. West spent the last part of her life in Richmond, VA in a Ladies Home before passing away in 1954. She is buried next to Mary Carmichael.

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