A Rich History

In 1841 in a three-story house on Houston Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side, the Academy of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic boarding school for girls, was founded. Seventy-six years after its founding as an academy, Manhattanville was chartered as a college by the New York State Board of Regents. In 1952, the College moved to its current location in Westchester, N.Y., former estate of Whitelaw Reid. Today, Manhattanville's Reid Castle looks out over the green of the quadrangle to the renovated residence halls, academic buildings and housing complex for faculty and staff. Read the full historical timeline below, illustrated with period photographs.

The Academy of the Sacred Heart: 1841-1917

The founding location of the Academy of the Sacred Heart at 412 Houston Street, Lower East Side, 1841.


The Academy of the Sacred Heart was founded in 1841 by the Society of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic order of nuns. The Academy, both a boarding and day school with a six-year curriculum, was located at 412 Houston Street in New York City.


The Academy quickly outgrew its original building and moved to Astoria, Queens for two years, until finally purchasing the Lorillard Estate on February 17, 1847 for $50,000. The estate was located in the village of Manhattanville.

At the time of the move, the land was seen as ideal because of its eight mile distance north of New York City. Today this area is now a neighborhood still called Manhattanville. It is bordered by Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Morningside Heights, and the Hudson River. The campus was located on Convent Avenue between 131st and 135th Streets.

The Village of Manhattanville, circa 1860

The Academy of the Sacred Heart on Convent Avenue, 1887.

By the mid-1850s, there were more than 150 boarders enrolled at the Academy. The Society of the Sacred Heart at Manhattanville also ran a free parochial school for children in the neighborhood. The mission of the Academy of the Sacred Heart during the 19th century was summarized by Mother Tomassini, “We took ever care to perfect our children in correctness of language and distinction of manner. And they were expected to be able to carry on a sensible conversation or to write a letter worth reading.” Students at the Academy were taught in French for half of the day. Courses in philosophy were the cornerstone of the Academy curriculum. Students also completed coursework in science, mathematics, literature, and musical performance.


During the Civil War, the Academy of the Sacred Heart continued to grow. Many young Southern women were educated at Manhattanville and spent the duration of the war without word from their families. Upon the assassination of President Lincoln, the tower of the Academy building was draped in black from top to bottom in the nuns’ shawls. By 1870 there were 280 students enrolled in the Academy.

August 13, 1888

At 8 o’clock in the evening, flames were spotted on the roof of the Academy. The fire, believed to have been started by a workman’s stove in the attic of the building, spread rapidly and burned through the night. All 190 students and teachers located in the building escaped without injury. Classes at the parish school were moved into cottages on campus. Students in the Academy were moved to the nearby Ottendorffer estate.
The Sisters of the Sacred Heart immediately decided to rebuild upon the same foundation. Just one year later, on June 2, 1889, Commencement was held in the new Academy building.

The ruins of the Academy after the fire on August 13, 1888.

The Academy of the Sacred Heart Library, circa 1900.


The Academy celebrated the fifty-year anniversary of their time in Manhattanville. Events included an alumnae gathering. Three years later, in 1900, the Manhattanville Alumnae Association was founded. The Academy consisted of a six-year curriculum divided into a four-year high school education and a two-year optional postgraduate program. Publications discussed the Academy at the turn of the century as outstanding in its academic achievement and compared the school to contemporary women’s colleges. Upon the 1914 visit of the Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart, Reverend Mother Janet Stuart, conversation turned serious as to entering the world of higher education.


The Board of Trustees applied to the Regents of the University of the State of New York for approval to grant undergraduate degrees.

Early College Years: 1917-1949

March 1, 1917

A Provisional Charter was granted to award undergraduate degrees. The newly formed institution was named the College of the Sacred Heart.

June 12, 1918

The photo on the right depicts the first Graduates from the College of the Sacred Heart – Madeleine Smith and Claire Brassil.

College of the Sacred Heart Class of 1926


The Academy of the Sacred Heart was relocated to Noroton, Connecticut, leaving the College of the Sacred Heart as the sole institution on Convent Avenue in Manhattanville.

Grace Dammann RSCJ, President of Manhattanville 1930-1945.

February 19, 1937

College renamed Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart

October 1937

Under the guidance of President Grace Dammann, R.S.C.J., Manhattanville hosted a gathering of students from area Catholic colleges. This gathering resulted in the formation of the National Federation of Catholic College Students. The National Federation of Catholic College Students (N.F.C.C.S.) promoted organized Catholic action. This organization would go on to include more than 140 American colleges and play an active role in social activism, academic affairs, and religious life on Catholic campuses for the next three decades.

May 31, 1938

President Dammann, R.S.C.J. delivered the "Principles Versus Prejudices" speech. In 1938 Manhattanville students voted 79.6 percent in favor of admitting an African American student to the school. In response to the negative reactions of some alumnae, President Dammann, R.S.C.J. delivered a speech on May 31, 1938 entitled "Principles versus Prejudices." The speech was reprinted in Catholic and African American publications around the country. This signaled the first public display of Manhattanville’s commitment to social action and community involvement.


World War II – Manhattanville students, faculty, and staff responded to the war effort in a variety of ways. The Student Defense Council organized volunteer, conservation, and fundraising opportunities for students to partake.

In August 1943, Manhattanville responded to the shortage of nurses by creating the Aloysia Hardey School of Nursing which awarded degrees until 1948. Yet another wartime program of study was training for scientific secretaries. Due to increased development in the sciences and engineering, coursework was designed to introduce students to scientific and technical vocabulary, computing machines, and the composition of technical reports.

Aloysia Hardey School of Nursing Graduates, 1946.

Manhattanville Students, 1947


Given the threat of war in 1941, President Dammann opted to forgo a formal Centennial celebration. In 1947 upon the occasion of the 100 years in the Manhattanville neighborhood, President Eleanor O’Byrne, R.S.C.J., decided to mark the event with a year of alumnae and student activities. Guest speakers, lectures, and discussions focused upon the history of the school and what the future would hold for the College and its community.

A New Home: 1949-1966

September 15, 1949

As the American student population increased rapidly in the years following World War II, Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart and neighboring City College both struggled to accommodate growing class sizes and aging facilities. City College asked the City of New York for permission to absorb the Manhattanville campus. Manhattanville acquired the former estate of diplomat Whitelaw Reid, in Purchase, New York. All planning and construction of the new campus was completed in a year and a half.

President Eleanor O'Byrne, RSCJ and architects Eggers & Higgins.

Key transfer ceremony, Manhattanville College and City College Administrators.

October 27, 1951

The City of New York formally took title to the Manhattanville campus by right of eminent domain, condemned the buildings and the campus was acquired by City College. Manhattanville was given $8,808,620 for the campus and buildings.

October 1, 1952

The new 250 acre campus welcomed students, alumnae, and friends of the College to attend the Dedication of the Buildings, marking the formal opening of Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in Purchase, N.Y.
Buildings completed by this date: the previous residence or “Castle” converted for college administration, the Library, Benziger Dining Hall, Founder's Dormitory, Brownson Academic Building, and the Pius X Music Building. In the next five years, construction would begin on both a gymnasium and a second dormitory.

Dedication of the Spellman Dormitory and Kennedy Gymnasium- Kennedy family and Cardinal Spellman.

October 27, 1957

The dedication of the Spellman Dormitory and the Kennedy Gymnasium welcomed both Cardinal Spellman and members of the Kennedy family. The gymnasium was funded in part by a gift from the Kennedy family and named in honor of their daughter Kathleen Kennedy. Spellman Dormitory was named for Cardinal Spellman, archbishop of New York and friend of Manhattanville.


The Pius X School of Liturgical Music was founded in 1920 as a school which taught Gregorian Chant, among other musical styles. In 1959, when composing the musical "The Sound of Music," Richard Rogers visited Manhattanville to observe the program. According to Rogers, he was inspired by the visit to write “The Hills are Alive.” The Pius X School was incorporated into the music program in 1969.

Class in the Puis X School

Students at the March on Washington, August 1963


Manhattanville was named the Social Action Secretariat of the National Federation of Catholic College Students (N.F.C.C.S.). This responsibility included acting as the home base and main informational pathway for issues of a social nature. Over the next decade, Manhattanville's student body actively involved itself in the issues of racial equality, poverty, apartheid in South Africa, and substance abuse. Students took part in demonstrations, conventions, and legislation.


The O’Byrne Chapel completed. The Chapel was named in honor of President Eleanor O’Byrne, R.S.C.J. (1945-1966). Contemporary in design, the chapel includes sculptures by Frederick Shrady and Robert Weinman, and stained-glass windows by Stephen Bridges of Rambusch Studios.


Dammann and Tenney dormitories completed. The buildings were named for President Grace Dammann, R.S.C.J. and former registrar and history professor Mary B. Tenney, R.S.C.J. 

O'Byrne Chapel - installation of chapel bells.

Students studying


In September 1966 the Board of Trustees opted to revise the College By-laws so that Catholic Trustee representatives would no longer be appointed ex officio. This effectively changed the College to non-denominational. At the same annual meeting the Trustees also decided to change the name from Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart to, simply, Manhattanville College. This became official on December 7, 1966.


The College Charter was changed to include the education of both men and women.

December 8-13, 1969: Brownson Takeover

Eighteen African American students occupied Brownson Hall for six days. Protesting a lack of inclusion and support for African American students, the group offered a list of demands that included an increase in the number of African American faculty members, and course offerings focused upon African American history, art, and culture. The protest came to an end when President Elizabeth McCormack avowed to take a closer look at such issues and promised no protestor would face any consequences for their actions.

Students during the Brownson Takeover 1969

New Students 1969


The fall of 1971 welcomed the first coeducational freshmen class. The decision to include men in the mission of Manhattanville College was ultimately defended by President McCormack who believed students educated in a coeducational and nondenominational institution would be better prepared for the world. McCormack stated, “I always think of reality as so much larger than the human mind that, therefore, the more viewpoints on reality a student receives when being educated, the more


A grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities provided Manhattanville students, faculty, staff, and administration an opportunity to review and develop a new undergraduate curriculum. Foundations of the new curriculum were a peceptorial- an interdisciplinary freshman seminar led by a faculty advisor- and a portfolio, a personalized and guided self-assessment charting the development of each student. The U.S. Department of the Interior designated Reid Hall in the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its historical and architectural significance.


English Language Institute (E.L.I) founded. Today, the Institute attracts students from across the U.S. and more than 70 nations.


Barat House founded as a program and a place of spiritual and intellectual refreshment. Barat House has hosted hundreds of lectures, discussions, and workshops, becoming an essential part of the Manhattanville community.

Reid Hall

Students at Quad Jam 1990


Manhattanville College celebrated the Sesquicentennial of the school with a year of programming that celebrated the history of social justice at Manhattanville and distinguished female leaders in both its own history, and that of the local region. In the same year the campus underwent a campus-wide renovation. This included improvements to the residence halls and the creation of the current bookstore, pub, and post office in Benziger. In fall 1991 faculty housing was completed. Forty eight units, divided among three buildings, added a new dimension to the Manhattanville campus community.

Construction of Faculty Housing, 1991

A College Transformed: 1966-Present


Ohnell Environmental Center and Lady Chapel Restoration completed. In a project spanning several years, the Lady Chapel and its surrounding environment were transformed. The Lady Chapel, built in 1867 by Ben Holladay, is the oldest of the three remaining family chapels in Westchester County. Restoration of the building had been discussed since the 1970s when the wooden roof of the building collapsed. In the late 1990s plans developed that would not only restore the chapel but also create an environmental park for research. In 2004 architect Maya Lin redesigned the restoration of the Chapel including a glass roof as well as an environmental classroom to be constructed nearby. This classroom, constructed of recycled materials and designed in a way to maximize renewable energy, accompanied an overall improvement of the surrounding environment. The Holladay Stream was cleared of debris and invasive vegetation, and a Living Machine, a device made of living organisms, was developed to purify the water.

Restored Lady Chapel

Berman Center


Continuing the dedication to environmental sustainability, the newly constructed Richard A. Berman Center received a “Gold Rating” from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. The facility hosts the College's Communication and Media Department, as well as performance space, an art gallery, and a fitness center.