New York Training School for Deaconesses Project

(History Provided by the Episcopal Diocese of New York Archives)

THE NEW YORK TRAINING SCHOOL FOR DEACONESSES was founded in October 1890, by the Rev. William R. Huntington, D.D., as a school where women might be trained to meet the requirements of the Canon on Deaconesses, drawn by him and passed largely through his efforts at the Convention of 1889. Through the instrumentality of Dr. Huntington a considerable sum of money was raised with which a building on East Twelfth Street was bought, where the pupils were first housed. Rooms in Grace Settlement House were used for Recitation Halls.
This, however, he always regarded as an inconvenient and temporary arrangement; and when his life-long friend, Archdeacon C. C. Tiffany, left to the School a legacy of $120,000 upon the condition that a suitable school building in memory of Mrs. Tiffany should be erected in the Close of the Cathedral, Dr. Huntington took immediate steps toward fulfilling these requirements. The planning of the building was a great joy to him and one of the last acts of his life was the signing of the contract for its construction. Designed by architects Heins & Lafarge, the cornerstone for the building was laid May 7, 1910. The building contains a chapel at the eastern end known as the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, a Library, a Refectory, recitation rooms and dormitories for 50 students.
From 1890-1919 284 women were admitted to the school; 169 graduated, of whom 95 became deaconesses. As enrollments dropped the school was closed in 1947 and the building was turned over to the Cathedral to be used primarily for offices, with the upper floors used as residences for the Suffragan Bishop and for the Canon Ministers of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
The New York Training School for Deaconesses records are part of the archives collection of the Diocese of New York. The archives received a grant from EWHP to provide a finding aid for the 19 banker’s boxes and 8 hollinger boxes of material that comprise the NYTS collection. The archives has now processed about two-thirds of the material. You can access the new finding aid in Word here. In addition we are providing a link to a 1907 description of the school from The Churchman. the Archives are located in the former training school building (now Cathedral offices) on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. For access to the collection, contact Wayne Kempton, Archivist at 212-316-7419 or

In America, the adoption of the Canon of 1889 marked a new beginning in the history of the Deaconess cause. With a view to furnishing the preparation therein required, there was opened, experimentally, in October, 1890, with the approval of the Bishop of the Diocese of New York, and under the patronage of William Reed Huntington, the Rector of Grace Church, a school known as “Grace House Training School for Deaconesses.” It was under the immediate care of the Rev. Haslett McKim, D.D., whose services were gratuitously rendered, and he was assisted by a staff of ten teachers.

The result of the first year proved so satisfactory that it was determined by the promoters of the school to incorporate it under a new name; to place it under the management of a board of trustees; and by giving to the bishop of the diocese the right of nomination in the filling of all vacancies in the Board, to relieve the institution of the look of being a merely parochial undertaking. The school was forthwith incorporated under the laws of the State of New York as The New York Training School For Deaconesses, and although it has retained a quasi connection with Grace parish, inasmuch as the classes continue to meet in Grace Settlement on East 12th Street, the tie has ceased to be a necessary one, and the institution has become, to all intents and purposes, general in its scope and reach.

The Deaconess of the Church in Modern Times
Reprinted from the Churchman May 4, 1907

The school is presided over by a Dean, Deaconess Susan Trevor Knapp. It is governed by a board of trustees, and has a faculty consisting of nine clergymen, one physician and six women. There are at present eighty graduates, fifty of whom are Deaconesses. Many women enter the school and are trained for the mission field and for parish works that have no thought of becoming Deaconesses; and many of the missionaries now laboring in foreign lands are among the latter number. Deaconesses from the New York school are at present at work in thirteen dioceses and missionary jurisdictions within the limits of the United States; also in Nova Scotia, in the Latin Quarter of Paris, in China, in Japan, and in the Hawaiian and Philippine Islands.

A glimpse of the day’s routine in the school may prove interesting. The rising bell sounds at half-past six. By seven-thirty it is expected that all of the household will have assembled in the Oratory. Parochial relations are left entirely to the students, and it is desired, and proven by experience to be true, that the ladies come for their training from parishes of the most divergent schools of thought. The students are therefore expected to go to their parish church for their Communions, and the devotions in the Oratory, which has no altar, correspond to the family prayers of a devout household. After breakfast, which is at a quarter to eight, housework, in which every student is expected to take her part, occupies the time until nine o’clock. A study hour follows, and then the regular instructions continue until twenty minutes past twelve. The curriculum is modeled very much upon that of a Theological Seminary, and a high standard is insisted upon both in regard to scholarship and the development of character. Luncheon is served at one o’clock, preceding which the students assemble again in the Oratory for an Intercessory Service, lasting about a quarter of an hour. Very touching petitions are oftentimes sent in by people outside the school to be offered at this time, and it is always a great joy to the earnest women who gather for this purpose, to have their friends and persons unknown to them avail themselves of this means of having their requests made known unto God.

The students are carefully restricted in their afternoon work that they may have time for exercise and recreation. During this time, and in the evening, the elective studies, Greek and Ecclesiastical Music, are taken up; also the practical courses in Plain Sewing, Ecclesiastical Embroidery, Nursingtaught by a resident graduate nurseBook-keeping, Cooking and Laundry Work, from which the students are at liberty to make their own choice.

Afternoon tea at five o’clock is an informal affair, at which visitors are always expected. Dinner is at half-past six; and the day closes with prayers at nine. The prayers ended, silence is enjoined, and conversation ceases until after the service next morning. Lights are out at eleven o’clock.

“We do nothing” (writes the Warden, the Rev. Dr. Huntington), “to encourage, and, if there were need, should do everything to discourage, the tendency to conform to the Sisterhood type of life. Our idea is that the Deaconess is emphatically either a diocesan or a parochial helper of the clergy. If she is serving in a diocesan institution, school, hospital, or the like, she is then in a direct relation to the bishop. If she is serving in a parish, then her position is precisely that of a Curate, with only this differencethat her duties are such as a woman can properly undertake.”

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