History of Ladycliff College

On January 1, 1900, the Franciscan Sisters of Peekskill acquired Cranston’s Hotel, a summer retreat perched on the cliffs along the west bank of the Hudson on property adjacent to the United States Military Academy at West Point. The Sisters named this majestic, dramatic parcel “Lady Cliff”; it would house their School—the Academy of Our Lady of Angels, founded in 1870 and located in Peekskill, New York. Dedication of the buildings and grounds took place on September 9, 1900, and the Sisters set out to modernize and renovate the properties.  While doing so, they changed their School’s name to Ladycliff Academy.  New buildings were erected to expand this boarding school; the Chapel was constructed in 1904, Lady Hall in 1913, and Rosary Hall in 1933.  Ladycliff Academy and Ladycliff College co-existed on the property until the 1960s when the Academy relocated to Mohegan in order to accommodate expansion of the College.

            Ladycliff College opened its doors in 1933, having received its charter from the Board of Regents of the University of New York.  Materials promoting the College to interested young women and their families highlighted the Sisters’ goals for students:  “You will find here what your mind desires, ideal location, a liberal education, social activities, religious activities—all of which are directed to the development of a noble and useful life.”  The Sisters of St. Francis aimed “to extend through the medium of higher education its full development of young women . . . to be efficient members and leaders of society.”  The curriculum offered students cultural background, it prepared them to teach, and it emphasized both religion and philosophy.  As well, the curriculum incorporated art, music, and physical conditioning.  A philosophy for the education of women was established; it would remain the foundation for academic studies and personal development for the life of the College.  During the decade it was founded, Ladycliff awarded degrees annually, the average number of graduates per year being 16.

            In 1940, the Board of Regents granted Ladycliff College a permanent charter empowering it to award both the Bachelor of Arts and the Bachelor of Science degrees.

As the 1940s took their course, Ladycliff College grew, granting over 30 degrees per year.  The class of 1950 included 46 women, an unprecedented graduation rate that would not be equaled for some time.  A total of 315 women graduated from Ladycliff in that decade.  These alumnae were the first to experience the comprehensive curriculum reform that suggested an institutional plan for growth. 

A number of facilities projects were completed to accommodate the increased enrollment, among these the construction of Mary Hall in 1951, the remodeling of Lourdes Hall also in 1951, and the installation of a new chapel façade in 1955.  Close to the end of the decade on October 18, 1958, Ladycliff celebrated its Silver Jubilee at a dinner dance benefiting the scholarship fund held at Bear Mountain Inn.

            In 1960, Ladycliff received accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and thus became part of a whole new arena in Catholic Higher Education.  The number of degrees granted soared as a result, and increased enrollments drove additional improvements to the facilities.  Campus expansion was aided by the departure of Ladycliff Academy, which relocated to Mohegan.  With this change, the College acquired Regina Hall and Lady Hall, which both provided residence and academic facilities.  Other facilities improvements included the construction of two major sites: Spellman Hall in 1967 and the Library in 1969.  Through the 1960s, 737 women earned degrees from the College. 

In 1961, Ladycliff matched the graduation rate of 1950 (46 women), and in 1969, 115 women graduated from the College.  Aims for students remained intact through this time, an honors programs was introduced, honor societies followed, a foundation curriculum was in place, and a variety of concentrations were available to students.  With the close of the decade came the admittance of men as matriculated students in all programs available at the College.  Other major changes occurred in areas of student life.  A new student orientation, a student council, Athletic Association activities, clubs across the disciplines, and various student publications provided numerous options for personal development, engagement in student life, and use of one’s talents and skills.  The basic curricular framework remained intact though numerous new courses added depth and options for students’ overall program of study.  Developments off campus supported Ladycliff’s emergence in the region and beyond.  The College began to affiliate with a number of professional organizations. 

Anyone reviewing archival data about the College from the early 1970s would conclude that it held great promise for the decade and beyond.  Socioeconomic and institutional indicators all suggested further growth in all aspects of life and work on campus.  Sadly, though, the 1970s was the last decade for Ladycliff College. 

New opportunities for study had emerged in studio art, business management, anthropology, sociology, political science, psychology.  A program of cultural activities was introduced, bringing nationally-recognized speakers, performers, and authors to campus.  Additionally, a student-run Social Committee was established to schedule social events and thus round out campus events.  Co-curricular organizations, such as the Literary Discussion Group and the Glee Club emerged to link opportunities for personal development to academic interests. 

Several events capture further the vibrancy of the decade.  The College received a grant from the Federal Government to support expansion of the library collection; the Glee Club traveled to Italy; a January intersession for intensive, interdisciplinary study was added to the academic calendar; and the College celebrated its diamond jubilee.   It was a period of institutional growth and student opportunities, yet one marred by fiscal woes.  In this last decade, graduation patterns continued, and a total of 1124 students earned degrees in this last decade.    The class of 1978 included 7 men.  Two other graduating classes of the decade, the classes of 1977 and 1979, each included 131 graduates and therefore share the honor of being the largest graduating class in the history of the College. 

In its first full decade of fulfilling a contemporary mission for women and men, Ladycliff had emerged as a successful model in terms of student outcomes, curricular offerings, and student life.  The advancements enjoyed and witnessed were not without cost, though.  A commitment to affordability made it impossible to sustain the College financially.  In 1980, despite its great successes, Ladycliff College closed.  The last class to graduate on campus was the class of 1980, a group of 89 students.  Since the College retained its charter for an additional year, 44 students from the class of 1981 became Ladycliff alumni, having chosen to transfer credit to the institution in order to receive a diploma bearing its name. 

A total of 2661individuals earned degrees from Ladycliff College.  An additional 3000 students enrolled in courses at the College at one time or another as non-matriculated students.  These 5661 individuals enjoyed the magical experience of studying in a beautiful setting and within a time-honored context for learning and personal growth. 


The Presidents of Ladycliff College


Mother M. Charles Borromeo Dwyer, FMSC, 1933-1951

Sister M. Jane Thomas Gorman, Ph.D., FMSC, 1951-1969

Sister M. Denise Treasy, Ph.D., FMSC, 1969-1971

Reverend Monsignor Francis J. Breidenbach, Ph.D., 1971-1980


A full history of the College, which includes photographs over time and the reflections of many alumnae, is documented in a Ladycliff Remembered:  A Journey through Time, a book by Linda Buzzeo Best.  For additional information about this publication, contact her directly at lbest@kean.edu.

Ladycliff College

Highland Falls, New York


by Dr. Linda Buzzeo Best (Ladycliff 1972)

Professor of English

Kean University, Union, New Jersey

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