At 1615 Chestnut Street there was no gymnasium, and physical exercise meant calisthenics and walking. Indeed, the Victorian culture was suspicious of anything for girls that might seem masculine. After The Chestnut Street Seminary moved to the Ogontz Estate in suburban Elkins Park, there was plenty of opportunity and room for a variety of athletic activities from riding, to tennis, to sports in the school’s new gymnasium and on its vast fields.
However, in 1888, one of the school’s principals, Sylvia Eastman, introduced a new and startling concept—military drill for girls, complete with uniforms, officers, and faux weapons. Whether this had anything to do with Jay Cooke’s influence remains unclear, though the original belt buckles, and even the later ones, bear a striking resemblance to Civil War gear. What is known is that Ogontz was the first girls’ school to adopt this remarkable practice, though others would follow (Lasell Seminary in Auburndale, Massachusetts, for one). Certainly Ogontz is the school that would become known for it throughout the next six decades, the attire changing periodically with changing times.