Historic St. Agnes Academy

     ... and theLa Salette Academy


In October 2015, we came across a very rare 1878 Commencement Program on EBay for St. Agnes Academy and La Salette Academy.  Only one Commencement Program for the Memphis  Male and Female High Schools of 1875  is known to be older.  So after our winning bid, it was natural that the Commencement Program be featured on the Historic-Memphis.com website, along with the histories of St. Agnes Academy, and the previously unknown La Salette Academy.  To add to this discovery, we also located the newspaper review of this commencement in the 1878  Memphis Daily Appeal.

  1878 Commencement Program


The 1878 Commencement Program >

St. Agnes Academy and La Salette Academy held their annual Commencement June 20, 1878 at St. Peter's Sodality Hall on Washington Street.  This very rare one-page Commencement Program is pictured on the right, along with newspaper coverage of the event in the 1878 Memphis Daily Appeal.  Brief histories of both schools appear below along with vintage documents and photos.


1892 St. Peter's Catholic Church


       1878 Program

1878 Daily Appeal


Click on small photos to enlarge them. 




St. Agnes Academy "for young ladies" was founded by the Dominican Sisters in 1851.  The founding Sisters were Magdalen Clark, Catherine McCormack, Vincentia Fitzpatrick, Ann Simpson, Sr. Lucy Harper, and Emily Thorpe.  The school was located in the Memphis suburbs at 697 Vance  Street at Orleans, about 1 1/4 mile from city center.  On opening day there were 20 boarders and about 15 day-students.  By the time the school year ended, the enrollment had increased to more that 50.  The school followed Catholic principles but was not run by the Mem[his diocese.

St. Agnes vintage Postcard  

The school was a popular choice.  In the fall of 1867 and again in 1873, Memphis was overwhelmed by yellow fever epidemics.  During these times, many of the Dominican Sisters died rendering service to the sick of the city.   In May of 1878 the Academy burned.  It was quickly rebuilt and almost ready by the Fall term.  But that term coincided with the worst Yellow Fever epidemic of all.  However, the school recovered.


The expanding St. Agnes Academy


In 1911, two wings were added to the building to accommodate the growing enrollment.  In 1918, the faculty established the Memphis Conservatory of Music where students could acquire a B.A. degree in music.  It became the formal music education center of Memphis.


1866 notice

1870 Ad

1872 Ad

1876 Ad

1878 Fire!

1878 Daily Appeal  ..


1878 New Building      

1879 Opening after Fever....

Vance - Orleans today...

Memphis History

Sisters Memorial



1883 Review


1947 Chapel

1947 Library


After 100 years at Vance and Orleans, St. Agnes Academy moved to its present site on Walnut Grove Road in 1951.  In 1956 a new building was added, the St. Dominic school for boys.   The present school has kindergarten education for boys and girls ages 3 to 5, single-sex classes for girls and boys, grades one to six, coordinated junior high classes for boys and girls, grades 7 and 8, and college preparatory education for girls from grades nine through twelve.



St. Agnes - today...


Students at St. Agnes were, and are
"imbued with Catholic principles and Dominican spirituality, which stress truth in word and action, the value of study and sharing knowledge with others, the necessity of combining contemplation with action, and the commitment to the Four Pillars of Study, Prayer, Community, and Service."


St. Agnes  - Vintage


<  A rare 1947 St. Agnes Yearbook.  The entire book is posted on the website.  Click on the cover to open it.

By 1867, St. Agnes had become very successful and its building was so over-crowded that another Catholic girl's school was opened at 178 Third Street.  It was originally named "St. Agnes Day School" but later changed to "La Salette Academy".  La Salette also grew rapidly.  During the 1873 and 1878 yellow fever epidemics, the La Salette building was used as a hospital and several Sisters succumbed to the Fever.  After the epidemic was over, La Salette reopened and continued for about 12 more years.  It closed around 1893 because St. Agnes, with its new wing additions, was now able to accommodate more pupils.  In 1901, La Salette's building became an early home of the Nineteenth Century Club.  In 1905, the revised Memphis numbering system changed the address to 174 N. 3rd Street.

La Salette Academy


1867 Announcement

1867 Ad

1871 Announcement

1871 Announcement

1871 Ad


1872 Ad 1878 Announcement 1883 Announcement Or is this La Salette? Location of La Salette

NOTE:  When the La Salette Academy vacated the historic building at 178 Third, it became the Men's Only Boarding House of Confederate Spy Ginny Moon.  Several important  builders of Memphis lived there, including Hu Brinkley.   From 1901 to 1926, it was the 19th Century Club.


Clara Conway was educated at St. Agnes Academy and began a successful career as a teacher in the public schools.  By 1877 she left this position to open her own school - a high grade school for girls.  She believed her school would make women economically independent and to do this, she knew a solid education was necessary.  Conway became one of the most prominent figures in education in the South and her school held a unique place in the region as a major preparatory school for young women. 

Clara Conway  

Clara Conway Institute


The Clara Conway Institute had a fine reference library, a well-equipped gymnasium, a science lab, and a complete arts studio.  There were courses in voice, piano, theory, and public speaking.  Over the years Conway won the friendship of famous artists, musicians, authors and scientists.   Graduates from her school were readily admitted to Vassar and Wellesley - without examination.   Her school closed in 1893.  There was a pergola dedicated to Clara Conway in Overton Park in 1908, but it was destroyed during a heavy windstorm in 1936.   Sacred Heart took over the Conway building on Poplar.

Clara Conway Pergola  


St. Anges  and La Salette Memorabilia


     1940s Dance Ticket

1926 Yearbook

1941 Yearbook 1952 Yearbook









The Historic-Memphis website does not intentionally post copyrighted photos and material without permission or credit.  On occasion a "non-credited" photo might possibly be posted because we were unable to find a name to give credit.  Because of the nature of our non-commercial, non-profit, educational website, we strongly believe that these photos would be considered "Fair Use.  We have certainly made no monetary gain, although those using this website for historic or Genealogy research have certainly profited.  If by chance, we have posted your copyrighted photo, please contact us, and we'll remove it immediately, or we'll add your credit if that's your choice.  In the past, we have found that many photographers volunteer to have their works included on these pages and we'll  also do that if you contact us with a photo that fits a particular page. 


The "Historic-Memphis" website would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their contributions which helped make this website possible:  Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Law Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Shelby County Register of Deeds, Memphis City Schools, Memphis Business Men's Club, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Memphis City Park Commission, Memphis Film Commission, Carnival Memphis, Memphis Historical Railroad Page, Memphis Heritage Inc, Beale Street Historic District, Cobblestone Historic District, Memphis Historic Districts, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Tennessee State Archives, Library of Congress, Kemmons Wilson Family, Richard S. Brashier, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Woody Savage and many individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on the pages of their contributions.  Special thanks to Memphis Realtor, Joe Spake, for giving us carte blanche access to his outstanding collection of contemporary Memphis photos.

We do not have high definition  copies of the photos on these pages.  If anyone wishes to secure high definition photos,  you'll have to contact the photographer  or the collector.  (To avoid any possibility of contributing to SPAM, we do not maintain a file of email addresses for anyone who contacts us).