Mary A. Ripley was a teacher at Central High School from the 1860s through the 1880s. She was born in Windham, Connecticut in 1831, but grew up in Alden, New York and attended local schools. She was known around town as one of the few woman who dared in the 1880s to wear her hair short.
Miss Ripley taught for seven years at School 7. In 1861, she became a member of the faculty at Central High School. She was determined to make over the school. At the time, the teachers often had to call in the police to stop the students’ riots. Miss Ripley asked for the job of taking care of the boys’ study hall, which was where many of the riots originated. The male teachers doubted she’d be able to handle the boys, but Miss Ripley kept order with little difficulty. She would tell people her goal was to develop young people’s conduct and character.
In 1867, Miss Ripley published a volume of poems. She also wrote a textbook of Parsing Lessons for small school room use and a book titled Household Service. Many considered Miss Ripley a talented poet and writer; however, her heart was truly dedicated towards her students. She made long lasting impacts on her students.
Several of her poems were featured in magazines. The following comes from the Magazine of Poetry and Literary Review, Volume 6:
When the State Normal School opened in Albany, Miss Ripley was summoned there to become one of its first teachers. She went to Albany to teach for a few years, but missed her old school so she returned to Buffalo. She taught at Central until 1888.
Miss Ripley received many honors in her years teaching. During the Civil War, at a Washington’s Birthday celebration, she was seated with former President Millard Fillmore. In 1886, for her 25th anniversary of teaching at Central, she was given a gold watch and roses. For her retirement, she was given a diamond ring from “Miss Ripley’s Boys and Girls”. They formed the Mary A. Ripley Association, which met for several years. Miss Ripley passed away in 1893.
The Mary A. Ripley Memorial Library was established in the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union building. Miss Ripley was a member of the Board of Directors of the Union. The Ripley Memorial Library was furnished at a cost of $2,000 and contained 500 volumes when it first opened. The Ripley Memorial Library was established with the Public Libraries division of the University of the State of New York. The library was widely used as a place to read and study.
The Women’s Educational and Industrial Union was established in 1884 by Harriet Townsend. We’ll get to more about the Townsend men and Townsend Street on another day, but it’s women’s history month, so we’ll talk about her today! Mrs. Townsend was made the CEO of the organization due to her intelligence, vision and management skills. She had no children, which allowed her to work full time for the advancement of women, advocating for women’s rights all of her life. The Union building was located on Delaware Ave at Niagara Square (site of the City Court Building) in the former Babcock house, which was later demolished to build a larger building. During the dedication ceremony of the new building, Miss Ripley recited a poem she had written.
Membership into the Union was $1. Union reports stated “We no longer listen to the selfish moralist who cries ‘Let the woman stay in her home, her only safe haven'”, and that “it is not, an association of benevolent, well-to-do women, joined for the purpose of reaching down to help the poor and persecuted women, but a Union of all classes and conditions of women”. The concept was unique at the time.
The Union building contained the first gymnasium for women in Buffalo, kitchen space for instruction in nutrition and cooking, and provided classes on various topics not provided in public schools. The Union gave scholarships to women to attend Bryant and Stratton and trained women for low wage jobs, such as cooks, domestics, and seamstresses. The Union taught members how to navigate the bureaucracy of government. The Union lobbied to establish equal guardianship rights for women in case of divorce. The Union successfully got a women appointed to the School Board and fought for rights for all women.
The Union dissolved in 1915, finding that its work was finished – most of its groundbreaking programs had been adopted by educational, governmental and civic organizations. These Women’s Union began programs we take for granted today such as vocational education, physical education, night school, free kindergartens, probation officers, Legal Aid, etc. The building then became Townsend Hall, part of the University at Buffalo and was the college’s first College of Arts and Sciences, named after Harriet Townsend. The building was razed in 1959 after it was destroyed by fire. The Townsend Hall name was transferred to a building on South Campus.
Learn about other streets in the Street Index.
- “Ripley Place is Memorial To Beloved Central High Teacher” Courier Express Oct 5, 1941, sec 5 p 3
- “Streets Have Historical Link” Buffalo Courier Express. Dec 7 1952 p 7-8
- The Women’s Educational and Industrial Union of Buffalo. Compiled by Mrs. Frederick J. Shepard.
- “Harriet A. Townsend: The Women’s Union.” Susan Eck. Western New York Heritage Press.
- The Magazine of Poetry, A Monthly Review. Charles Wells Moulton. Buffalo NY 1894.