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Setting Women Up for Success: Lydia Fowler Wadleigh

The Police Athletic League Building at 34 1/2 East 12th Street between University Place and Broadway was built in 1855 for the New York City Board of Education, and designated an individual New York City landmark in 1998. The building has an amazing history in relation to the education of women and girls in our city; it first served as Grammar School 47, an all-girls school which the landmark designation report notes “was one of the first New York City schools built exclusively for the education of girls at a time when the city was trying to expand learning opportunities for young women,” and later became the home of New York’s first high school for girls. Instrumental in all those developments was Lydia Fowler Wadleigh.

Lydia Fowler Wadleigh

An early faculty member at Grammar School 47, Lydia Fowler Wadleigh (February 8, 1817 – October 27, 1888) was also a strong advocate for and champion of early and higher education for women.

Grammar School 47
Grammar School 47 on East 12th Street in 1855. Image via NYPL.

Wadleigh was born in Sutton New Hampshire on February 8, 1817, and attended the New Hampton Literary and Scientific Institution. She taught Latin and Greek at her alma mater as well as at other schools. In 1855 she was hired as the principal at the school for girls on 12th Street and in 1856 founded the 12th Street Advanced School for Girls at this location. Above and beyond serving as a teacher, she would frequently spend her own money on her students — not just for school supplies, but even shoes when needed.

34 1/2 East 12th Street today

By 1870, Wadleigh took on the role of “Lady Superintendent” of the city’s Daily Female Normal School, which would soon become New York Normal College, and eventually develop into today’s Hunter College (Hunter was a women’s college until it became co-educational in 1964).

Though Wadleigh died in 1888, when the Board of Education created the first official high school for girls in 1897, they located it at the East 12th Street building. The girls’ high school was later moved to a new building on West 115th Street (which was designed by noted architect C.B.J. Snyder and is itself a New York City landmark) and named in Wadleigh’s honor. The school remains here today as the Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

Though 34 1/2 is protected as an individual landmark, other great landmarks of women’s history in the surrounding area don’t enjoy similar protections. Want to learn more on how you can change that and advocate for the area south of Union Square? Click HERE.

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