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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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MOUNT SAINT JOSEPH ACADEMY is a separate topic.

Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

ST. JOSEPH ACADEMY. In June 1843 at the request of Bishop Mathias, five SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (BVM) came to Dubuque. The same year, they opened a school for "young ladies" called St. Mary's Female Academy near ST. RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL. The institution was originally for day pupils and boarders. (1) Their relocation to St. Joseph's Prairie eight miles southwest of Dubuque proved disastrous. In 1849 a fire destroyed all their buildings and possessions. (2)

Returning to Dubuque, the Sisters moved to St. Joseph's Hall at Sacred Heart School. (3) In 1868 Very Rev. Terrence J. Donaghoe purchased a house called the Wellington Mansion for the Sisters at 13th and Main. The home was the former home of J. J. Dyer, a local attorney. (4) It became a convent for the Sisters and a school for girls. (5)

On October 9, 1868, the Sisters opened St. Joseph Academy with twenty-six students. (6) After a brick building was constructed at the rear of the property, classes were moved there. The one classroom and assembly room in the brick building were arranged so that one large hall could be created for the performance of theatrical productions, recitals, and commencements. Gymnastic exhibitions were held on the terraced lawn. (7)

Under the direction of Sister Mary Margaret Mann, one of the original five Sisters who came to Dubuque, the school offered from twelve to fourteen subjects. Music, embroidery, art, speech, and exercise were considered requirements of the "refined young lady." The first year, there were eight Sisters to teach the twenty-six students. (8)

The boarding students at the academy were transferred in 1881 to MOUNT SAINT JOSEPH ACADEMY. St. Joseph's Academy became a "day school." (9) At the Academy, the dormitories on second floor were converted into classrooms. (10) FRIDOLIN HEER & SON announced in September, 1891 drawing plans for a $20,000 addition. Located on the south side of the present building, this would include "recitation and study rooms." (11)

In 1901 increased enrollment led to the need for a larger building. Beginning on June 13, 1901, construction began on a three-story structure, the "Academy Building," built at the front of the property. The terrace was replaced by a high stone wall. The new building contained eight classrooms, a laboratory and a large auditorium. Further expansion of the campus was made possible in 1933 by the purchase of the James Levi home. (12)

In 1911 the academy was accredited by the University of Iowa. An annual report was made a part of the school program in 1912. (13)

In 1914 the St. Joseph alumnae association was organized. The group was affiliated with the National Federation of Alumnae of the Sisters of Charity BVM and the International Federation of Catholic Alumnae. (14)

In 1928, a blue serge uniform with white collar and cuffs was introduced at the academy. This was modified through the years to become a white blouse and blue serge jumper. (15) The academy continued the grade courses for girls until 1928 when the lower grades were incorporated with St. Patrick's School. (16)

On February 15, 1930 a fire damaged three floors of the hall. (17) In 1933 with a total school enrollment of 175, St. Joseph Academy had its largest graduating class, 36 students. (18)

In 1940 the upper grades were incorporated in the parish school leaving the academy exclusively a high school.

In 1948 the school paper, SJA Reporter was first published. It continually received All-Catholic rating from the Catholic High School Press Association. Among other awards, science students received honorable mention in the Westinghouse Science Talent Research in 1949, 1950, 1952, and 1953. Music students received Midwest music scholarships to Clarke College in 1949 and 1951. Voice scholarships to Clarke were awarded to students in 1950 and 1954. A full tuition scholarship to Clarke was presented to a student in 1952. (19)

By 1959 when the academy closed, nearly 1,700 girls had graduated from the school. In its last year, thirteen Sisters taught 278 girls five subjects with the music course no longer required. (20)

St. Joseph Academy, the oldest Iowa Catholic school, was the only one of the four local high schools closed because of the construction of WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL that was no longer used as a school. In its final form, the academy property at 1345 Main included a 206 x 118 foot lot with three buildings owned by the Sisters of Charity.

The City of Dubuque once considered using the school as a police station. Plans had also been made to convert the building into small apartments, but the project proved too expensive. Sold to FISCHER COMPANIES (THE) in 1961, the building remained empty and a target of vandals. In early 1965, building authorities placed a condemnation order against the building which was torn down in August of the same year. (21)



1. "Academy 75 Years Old," Telegraph Herald, October 3, 1943, p. 18

2. Freese, Mildred. "St. Joseph's Ends Long History," Telegraph Herald, June 5, 1959, p. 19

3. Ibid.

4. Oldt, Franklin T. The History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, Online: http://books.google.com/books?id=u9xDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA464&lpg=PA464&dq=Burton%27s+Furnace+%28dubuque+history%29&source=bl&ots=0CkCGLFR0v&sig=a0Ou1vN3ew6nQUYoq2aOJsXF9Mg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=j3HVT5XALaP42QXVp9iFDw&ved=0CGgQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=Burton%27s%20Furnace%20%28dubuque%20history%29&f=false (p. 526)

5. Driscoll, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Justin A. With Faith and Vision: Schools of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, 1836-1966, Dubuque: Bureau of Education, Archdiocese of Dubuque, 1967, p. 313

6. Freese

7. Driscoll

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. "Municipal Molecules," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 3, 1891, p. 4

11. Driscoll, p. 314

12. Freese

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. "Academy 75 Years Old."

16. Driscoll, p. 314

17. Ibid.

18. "Academy 75 Years Old."

19. Driscoll, p. 314

20. Freese