Ellis Preserve History



Charles E. Ellis was born in Philadelphia, PA.

He entered the lumber business with his father, Amos, who made a fortune during the massive development of north Philadelphia. His father later became president of the Citizens Railway Company. The horse-drawn trolley cars were similar to old-fashioned stagecoaches, except they ran on rails and were pulled by horses or mules. When Amos died, Charles assumed the role of President of the trolley company.


Charles died from a gunshot to the head from his own revolver.

He had been suffering from tuberculosis of the glands, rheumatism, and neuralgia. When his physician advised him his condition was incurable he took to his bed where he remained until his death. Charles’s Will left the bulk of his four million six hundred thousand dollar estate  toward fulfilling his dream of establishing a school to provide free education and maintenance for white fatherless girls. The Will stipulated that the principal was to be invested until the income accumulated to $100,000. Thereafter, the expense of operating the school was to come from income only and the principal was to remain intact. Charles’s Will stated that girls from Philadelphia were to be selected first and the students were to be educated and maintained only from ages 13 to 17.


The William Disston property in Whitemarsh, known as Militia Hall, was leased and the “Charles E. Ellis School for Fatherless Girls” opened.


The college moved to 234 acres in Newtown Square. It included the White House, Taylor House, and a swimming pool. John T. Windrim designed the cottages and Ellis Hall.


Camp Tonawanda, later named Camp Ellis, was established. The girls only went home for one month in the summer and the remaining summertime was spent at the camp.


The school was accredited by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Instruction and by the Middle States Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges.

Mendelson Meehan was hired as horticulturist. The school became a registered arboretum with 600 varieties of trees and inaugurated an annual tree planting day.


The Trustees expanded the Ellis campus through two land purchases from the Dupont family. The 60 acres included the historic John West House.


Students from Latin American countries were admitted to the school. Most came from families of wealth and were sent to Ellis just to learn to speak English.


The redesigned center of Ellis Hall was opened after a fire, housing classrooms, the library, art studio, science laboratory, ten sound-proofed music and practice rooms. In addition, the beautiful new Commons Building was completed with a dining room with seating capacity of over 300 and home economics laboratories.


Camp Ellis was now open to the public on paying basis. In addition to boarding students, daytime only students were now being accepted. Tuition per semester ranged from $150 for kindergarten to $375 for senior high school.


An Appraisal of the Ellis Country School was presented to Judge Charles Klein, the Vice President of the Provident Trust Company of Philadelphia. The appraisal found the organization to be too complicated and overstaffed, suggested closing camp Ellis because it was operating at a deficit, and stated that too many teachers were employed due to too many courses being offered that were not required to qualify for higher education. Furthermore, the assessment found the school unable to develop local recruitment programs and pointed out that students’ records were being poorly kept. It also recommended closing the Garratt-Williamson Lodge which only had 18 students. The observers concluded that the school had lost sight of the fact that its main purpose was to provide an education and home for fatherless girls and that Charles Ellis had never intended to provide a “finishing school” for girls capable of paying tuition.


Camp Ellis Closed.


The orphaned girls claimed that there was a double standard for treatment by the staff and administration. Tuition was now around $1700 per year.


The schools name was changed, once again, to the Charles E. Ellis School.


A new infirmary building was designed and completed.


A new Library and additional classrooms were built. The graduating class consisted of sixty students, of which all but ten were tuition-paying students.


A new art and dance studio was added. By this time about half of the graduating class were scholarship girls.


The first Black student entered Ellis. Before the school’s closure the student body was at least a third non-white. Operating deficits were rising.


A new wing was dedicated and built to the gymnasium.


The first girls from welfare agencies were admitted.

The trustees were of the belief that by closing the school, selling the property, and establishing a Trust Fund, more fatherless girls could be helped and a program like that would closer meet the intent of Charles Ellis’s Will. Otherwise, a deficit of $1.2 million was predicted by 1978. With approximately 100 girls still in school and very few as paying students, Judge Charles Klein of Philadelphia Orphans’ Court ruled that the school must be closed at the end of the term. President Robert F. Good presided over the closing of Ellis on June 11, 1977, the day of its 45th commencement. The Ellis graduating class joined by all 73 undergraduates who could now never be Ellis graduates raised their voices in the Ellis School Hymn.


PNC and the Court made a wise decision to close the school. The Ellis Trust Fund is valued at approximately $40 million. Since 1981, it has awarded over $20 million to assist orphaned and functional orphaned girls attend the schools of their choice. The Fund awards approximately a million and a half dollars yearly to assist two thousand Philadelphia girls.