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What can you tell me about Mrs. H.G. Cenas and her school?

Blake Pontchartrain: The New Orleans N.O. It All


Hey Blake,

  In her book Memories of the Old Plantation Home, Laura Locoul Gore tells of attending the school of Mrs. H.G. Cenas. I believe that Grace King went there as well. What can you tell me about this lady and her school? Where was it located?

Lynn Frank

Dear Lynn,

  Your question is timely, as this year marks the 150th anniversary of the school which educated young ladies in New Orleans during the 19th and 20th centuries, including the two women you mention — noted writer and historian Grace King and Laura Locoul Gore, namesake of Laura Plantation. It is referred to in various sources as the Cenas Institute, the Cenas School for Girls, and quite simply, Miss Cenas' school.

  Author Stanley Clisby Arthur includes the Cenas family in his 1931 history Old Families of Louisiana alongside names such as Fortier, Claiborne, Kenner and Chalmette. The patriarch was Blaise Cenas, who became the city's first postmaster and also its sheriff for a time. His six grandchildren included three young women who were most identified with the Cenas school — Frances, Clarisse and Heloise Cenas.

  Their mother, Margaret Pierce Cenas, founded the school, located at Esplanade and Claiborne Avenues, in 1865. "Courageously Mrs. Cenas and her elder daughters went to work in the establishment of the school at a time when the conservative Southern people were rather inclined to look askance at women who undertook the rather untoward thing of earning their own living," recalled The Times-Picayune. in Heloise Cenas' 1911 obituary. "The first families of the city were proud and glad to place their daughters under such cultured guidance."

  Grace King, born in New Orleans in 1852, was arguably the school's most famous pupil. In her book Memories of a Southern Woman of Letters. King recounted a visit many years later with her former teacher Heloise Cenas. "Going to her was like laying a gift on a votive altar, for in truth that I was able to write was owing to her, and any success I had gained was from the fruit whose seed she had sown," King wrote.

  It's unclear when the school closed. It appeared in city directories until 1910, but a 1915 directory of private schools for girls does include a listing for it.

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