Photo above: Advertisement in many newspapers all over state. The Brandon Bell August 28, 1914

Webster dictionary defines finishing as “something that competes or ends”. Miss Wolcott ‘s School was referred to as a Finishing School for young ladies of Denver’s society.

Anna Louise Wolcott was born in 1858 in Rhode Island to wealthy parents. Her father Samuel, a descendent of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a congregationalist minister whose first wife died in Syria when they were serving as missionaries. His second wife gave him 11 children, among them a US Senator (Edward Wolcott, builder of the Wolhurst estate in Littleton), a Texas cattle baron, a minister and among the girls, Anna.

Anna, like her sisters, was educated in private schools and graduated from Wellesley College. She relocated to Denver and became principal at the private school Wolfe Hall. She established the Wolcott finishing school in 1898 to educate Denver’s society young ladies.

Boys were accepted as day students but were few in number. The young ladies lived in dormitories and had access to a swimming pool, bowling alley, and music facilities complete with a pipe organ. Subjects taught were typical for fashionable young ladies, needlework, art and watercolors, but also included astronomy, political science, gymnastics and math.   Two mandatory classes were etiquette and elocution. Etiquette was more than knowing which fork to use at a formal dinner. Etiquette lessons included how to make polite conversation while dancing, when to wear gloves and what length glove was appropriate for each occasion, and tips on sitting like a lady. Elocution involved learning to correctly enunciate the constants in each word, eliminate regional accents, and learning to use voice inflections to gently emphasize a statement. Each spring the students produced and starred in a Shakespeare play at Elitch Garden. An article in the Rocky Mountain Daily News from May 10, 1907 recounted the events surrounding “Twelfth Night” performance at Elitch’s, when “a Coaching Party was given by Colonel William A. Hughes in honor of his granddaughter, Annie Springer”.

The school eventually expanded to three buildings, located in the Capital Hill area of Denver. Trustees of the school included Adolf Coors of Coors Brewing, Mrs. Walter Cheeseman and Mrs. David Moffat, both married to developers of the Denver Pacific Railway. Colonel William Hughes, who owned Sunland Ranch (aka the HR) Mansion)  also served on the prestigious Board of Trustees.

Photo: View of the School from 14th and Marion. Courtesy of Denver Municipal Facts Vol. 2 1910

The students were the cream of Denver’s Society: Buffalo Bill’s granddaughter Clara, Molly Brown’s daughter Helen, Antoinette Perry (later of Broadway fame), Helen Bonfils, later owner of The Denver Post, Annie Springer whose father John Springer and grandfather Colonel William Hughes owned Highlands Ranch Mansion, and Mamie Dowd, later to be the First Lady to President Dwight D Eisenhower.

By 1924 the school closed its doors, with the buildings renovated into apartments shortly after. The apartment buildings, connected by a unique bridge, are at 1410-1414 Marion Street in the Capitol Hill area of Denver. According to a current tenant with no knowledge of the building‘s past, “the stairs are a killer, steep and narrow”. Cars whiz by on the busy city street, yet within the quiet front triangular shaped courtyard, one can almost hear the subdued voices of young ladies from long ago.


Written by Mary Beth Watkins, HRHS , with Thanks to Merriman Webster, History Colorado, Colorado Historic Newspapers