The entrance to Riverdale Country School for Girls in winter of 1965.

The Girls School was originially established as The Country Day School for Girls at Riverdale-on-the-Hudson in 1935 with Miriam Denness Cooper as the principal. After a few years, it was fully embraced as a member of the Riverdale family and renamed as the Riverdale Country School for Girls. (At the time, Riverdale was comprised of four schools: the Neighborhood School, The Riverdale Music School, The Riverdale School for Boys, and The Riverdale School for Girls.) The Boys and Girls Schools remained separate until the fall of 1972 when they merged and became fully co-ed.

In February 2022, we asked alumnae from the Girls School to share their memories from their time at the school. We received wonderful stories about the friendships they made, the classes they took, and the sports they played. Here are ten of the submissions we received:

The teachers at Riverdale KNEW us and cared enough to extend themselves beyond the ordinary call of duty, seeking innovative ways to involve us in the process of learning.

Dinny Sloan Lewis ’54

Mademoiselle Hedwig Breguet and her gray cat from the 1951 yearbook, which was dedicated to her.

“First memory: the wonderful big houses in which we had our classrooms; the art studio and biology lab on the top floor of the senior building; the cozy, informal learning spaces, each with its individual character, plenty of sunlight; the dining room with round tables where our teachers served us up a wholesome hot lunch every day; the hockey field that sloped down to the river. The entire physical space was conducive to intellectual intimacy. Then there was Chapel which was held at the start of the day and where we learned to sing wonderful traditional songs like “Jerusalem” and our school song, penned by Miss Cooper. Our 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Silverman, stands out in my mind as one of the most progressive and influential mentors I ever had. But there were many other wonderful pedagogues: Gerald McGerr; his eventual wife, Rita Fanelli; Mademoiselle Hedwig Breguet, [whose] gray cat sat on her desk during classes and who took students to France in the summer and who signed us up to read to the blind. Miss Peet opened my eyes to a completely new way of looking at math, allayed my math anxiety, and we loved her. Then there was the choir with Lydia Todd and her wonderful successor. We sang quality music from the classical repertoire: Debussy, Benjamin Britten – serious classical fare…. The teachers I had at Riverdale KNEW us (and we knew them) and cared enough to extend themselves beyond the ordinary call of duty for us, seeking innovative ways to reach out and involve us in the process of learning. Now that I look back on my ten years there, I am grateful for everything the school did for me.” 

Dinny Sloan Lewis ’54

Photo from 1938 of the Junior Building on the River Campus that now houses the Learning Lab.

“The 45-minute school bus ride from Manhattan was an introduction to students. At our campus, an early memory that comes to mind is dancing to 45s on the porch of the Junior Building in Form III. I loved Peter Hayward’s sculpture class! I remember being so tired after school and having a lot of homework to do. We did not receive grades. It was drummed into us to look up words in the dictionary. I did an extra project in French for Miss Breguet and received an International diploma. Although we were separated from the Boys School, social events were fun. Our class [marked] the 50th anniversary of RCS so we always felt very special.”

Sue Jacobs Schaffzin ’57

RCS taught me how to study, so my transition into college was a no-brainer!

Pam Reiche Betz ’64

Portrait of Micki Seligson ’59 done in her senior year by art teacher and artist Peter Hayward.
Micki Seligson’s 1959 yearbook photo.

“Peter Hayward was our art teacher and when we were Seniors he offered to paint our portraits. I took him up on it and I’m including it here. It has been a special possession ever since 1959. I recall that, when I wanted to take home what I thought was a finished painting to give to my parents, Peter wasn’t happy because something wasn’t finished. I don’t remember what that something was, it might have been his signature! For reasons I can’t explain, I remember his price. It was $75. I consider it a steal at that price even [though] many years have passed and the dollar is worth a lot more.”

Micki Seligson ’59

A sketch of the Senior Building by Gerald McGerr and made at the request of the 1964 yearbook staff.

“The Girls School was a place of traditions. Big and Little Sisters from the Upper and Lower school, singing grace standing behind our chairs before lunch every day, chapel in the morning that was changed to morning meeting when Mrs. Hollstein replaced Miss Cooper, the Grey Key Society being allowed to smoke when you were a senior in the senior lounge. And the singing of “It is the spirit that quickeneth, thus sayeth the lord and thus sayeth god too confirming the word. This truth Oh Riverdale help us to live. Our honor, our creed.” Or something like that. As for the arts, there was always chorus and musicals at the Boys School if you could sing and plays there too. But the heart of the matter for the arts at the Girls School (and many in my class were remembering this recently) was Gerald McGerr. Mr. McGerr was wonderfully encouraging about our artwork and he had a fantastic class on art history with beautiful slides that I remember so vividly. He showed us how a work of art taught us everything-culture, history, aesthetics, gossip-he brought in everything to demonstrate that the arts were the heart of the matter. And it was exciting to go to the art room on the very top floor of the upper school building. It was a very traditional place and our classes were good and we learned a lot. We were always told that the friends we made at Riverdale would be our friends for life and 60 years since graduation, I can say that so far that is completely true.”  

Jessica Hoffmann Davis ’61

Rachel Hadas’s poem Symmetry featured in the 1963 issue of the Girls School magazine, Literary Leaves.

“I remember reading As You Like It in seventh grade with Miss Gisolfi and Great Expectations a year or two later with a very pregnant Mrs. Martin, who climbed up on her desk with Kathy Vorhaus’s St. Bernard [that had] accompanied Kathy to school. Mrs. Rohrbach, Mrs. McGerr, Mrs. Fenichell, Mrs. Foley, all excellent teachers. And Mr. McGerr’s wonderful art classes, with music playing, up in an attic space…pure joy. I also loved the huge chestnut tree at the top of the hill that sloped down to the river. I loved that we got to walk back and forth between buildings, and to spend a lot of time outside – not that I was ever any good at field hockey or lacrosse, unlike my athletic classmates Barbara Foley and Jane Lisman and Chris O’Sullivan and Sue Kaffenburgh and Karen Rosin. Tennis, ditto. Many fine memories.” 

Rachel Hadas ’65

Although co-ed education is the norm today and women have evolved significantly since the ’60s, back in those ‘dark ages’, I learned leadership and to get my voice heard, which I’ve used throughout my professional career. Those were the days!

Pam Reiche Betz ’64

A personal timeline for the Girls School in the 1969 yearbook.

“My vivid memories are of the transition to co-education, which had us shuttling by bus to the Hill Campus for history and math. Because the boys and girls were taught to different standards, the transition was pretty unsettling. My memories of arts are of concerts in which we sang under the baton of Stokowski and where I first encountered Johannes Somary (later my daughter’s choir director at Horace Mann).” 

Katherine Valyi ’69

History teacher Lee Whedon Stearns

“A time of great change…. My class at the girls’ school was the guinea pig for the first iteration of an integrated humanities reading list in our senior-year English course. Also the first (probably only) indoor graduation. The great copper beech tree was more important as a structural feature defining the school than were the buildings. We were teen testers of the administration. We tried, for example, to slip snarky new words for the alma mater into the yearbook…. Key memories for me are Mary DeKay’s English courses, working on the Lit Magazine, our writing a new school constitution, Lee Whedon’s Junior year European history course and an independent study I did with her senior year, and working with the administration to set up maybe the first senior projects in the country (or so some have claimed) to replace classes in protest of the war in Vietnam. There was a lot of truly terrible stuff, too. I will skip that.”

Amy Elisabeth Davis ’70

Amy Davis shared her thoughts on writing and Riverdale in the 1970 yearbook.

Math teacher Nancy Rosenberg
English teacher Rita McGerr

“Lee Whedon (History) was the Girls School teacher who had the most impact [on] me at Riverdale. Her metaphor about learning history stays with me today—that it was like filling in a big tapestry or needlepoint—you work on a section at a time and eventually get an idea of the big picture. She ably led our trimester abroad, teaching along the way, and giving us independence during the travel portion that would have shocked my mother but built my confidence. Mrs. McGerr and Mrs. Rosenberg were also among the greats. I loved the intimacy and civility of the Girls School. I arrived as a newcomer in grade 10 but was quickly welcomed by classmates. I am still in touch with a few of them 50 (shocking!) years later. Having lunch served at tables where we stood up when the teacher arrived was quite a welcome contrast with my prior public junior high school cafeteria…. I did appreciate the integration with the Boys School though. Many great teachers there too, and some long-term friendships formed. The new campuses are glitzier but I doubt the education is better—I hope it is as good!”

Rosemary Reiss ’72

The trust, encouragement, and generosity gave me the freedom to wander the campus and the wooded areas making photographs and learning to ‘see.’

Donnamarie Barnes ’74

Art teacher and artist Gaylord Flory was characterized in the 1968 yearbook as having “been more than a teacher; he has been a friend.”

“I have very fond memories of the Girls School and of the time I spent there. My closest and oldest friendships now are the friendships I made during those years at Riverdale. My artistic career is also linked to the time at the Girls School. During my years there I was just beginning to be interested in photography and the art teacher, Mr. Flory was extremely encouraging to me to pursue it. During art class he would offer me the art department 35mm camera and tell me to go out and take pictures of the grounds instead of making paintings! This trust, encouragement, and generosity gave me the freedom to wander the campus and the wooded areas making photographs and learning to “see.” It was a gift I have never forgotten and remains a beloved memory of my time at the Girls School.”  

Donnamarie Barnes ’74