Hockaday was undoubtedly offering the best education available for women in this region, but, for all its scholars, it is still remembered by most Dallas citizens as a finishing school, "a very adequate education for the gracious life." A private school in those days, by its very nature, was designed to serve a homogeneous segment of the population. Most of the parents Miss Hockaday dealt with knew each other and shared a common purpose in sending their daughters to her school. That is, "Educate my daughter to be a woman of taste who moves gracefully in any social circle. Give us cultured young ladies who will raise the standards of this community by supporting the arts, daughters with a sense of noblesse oblige who feel a responsibility to upgrade this growing city." To that end, Hockaday girls devoted some time to assisting social workers "to make certain that the neediest, most deserving, and cleanest families received help" at Christmas. "By the contacts," the 1938 history notes, "the girls saw with heartfelt sympathy and keen interest how the other half lives."
They were also given a thorough grounding in the social graces. Many remember Miss Miriam Morgan, who joined the faculty shortly after the school opened, as the ultimate authority on manners. The Hockaday history even records table manners contests with score cards. Report cards as late as 1948 show that the girls were being graded with an S (Satisfactory) or an I (Improvement Needed) for "knows the meaning of joy’’ or "speaks in conversational tones" and of course, "behaves in a ladylike manner at all times." "Courtesy caps," green and white beanies, were still being awarded in the '60s.
"Finishing" also meant travel. For nearly a decade between the two World Wars, Hockaday sent travel classes abroad. Accounts of these trips are frothy confections of send-off parties at the Waldorf Astoria, orchid corsages, first-class staterooms aboard the Vulcania, raucous Spanish sailors in Seville, Christmas in St. Moritz with the Cambridge ski team, tea with Lady Astor, an audience with the Pope, the coronation of George VI, Mussolini reviewing his troops in the Villa Borghese, chocolate croissants, and French classes at the Sorbonne. Small wonder that for some women Hockaday was the high point of their lives.
Even those who stayed at home were treated to the museum-quality antique collections of Miss Hockaday’s cottage, as well as a steady stream of world-renowned personalities as diverse as concert artist Josef Lhevinne, General Jonathan Wainwright, and later the Reverend Peter Marshall. I am always a little amused when Hockaday graduates point proudly to the visit of Gertrude Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas in 1935. For one thing, it suggests that Miss Hockaday was willing to suspend her moral imperatives when it came to artistic guests, but I also wonder how many people who met Miss Stein in 1935 had the slightest idea of what she was talking about. "Fusing being with the continuous present"? Indeed. One Junior College student candidly admitted, "Miss Stein was reading from one of her books, a poem concerning "then" and "when." She was very kind, though, and seemed not the least disturbed at our evident lack of understanding of her poems." And what did Gertrude and Alice think of Hockaday? Alice B. Toklas tells us in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook:
On to Dallas where we went to stay with Miss Ela Hockaday at her Junior College. It was a fresh new world. Gertrude Stein became attached to the young students, to Miss Hockaday, and the life in Miss Hockaday’s home and on the campus ... The only recipe I carried away was for cornsticks, not knowing in my ignorance that a special iron was required in which to bake them. But when we sailed back to France in my stateroom one was waiting for me, a proof of Miss Hockaday's continuing attentiveness. What did the Germans, when they took it in 1944, expect to do with it? And what are they doing with it now?
So what does all of this have to do with Hockaday in 1978? To the casual observer, perhaps very little. In one day I see a dozen or so students sprawled in front of a TV watching All My Children in Tarry House, the senior lounge. Mrs. Lively, the executive housekeeper since the early '40s, is murmuring that the girls are dropping tangerine seeds in the Great Hall. A blue-jean-clad teacher saunters by on her way to the ceramics studio. A sixth-grade class struggles with computer language — "let" statements, "destructive read-ins," and "content read-outs." The headmaster shakes hands with his students as they enter school for the day and prides himself on knowing most of their names, but for the rest of the day he must concern himself primarily with Hockaday’s greatest worry: money. Does Miss Ela live here anymore?
The changes have come gradually. Miss Hockaday, convinced by her "privy council" that her school would never survive estate taxes, agreed in 1942 to transform it into a publicly owned institution operated by a board of trustees. In an emotional letter, she gave the school theoretically to her alumnae. Although she continued to live on the campus, Miss Hockaday officially retired in 1947, just as the second generation was entering Hockaday. She greeted these daughters with the same scrutiny she had given their mothers. One second-generation Hockadaisy recalls her first encounter with Miss Ela. "We had driven in from Amarillo, and my mother saw Miss Hockaday walking across the campus. ’Miss Hockaday, I want you to meet my daughter." Miss Hockaday took one look at me and said to my mother, "Oh, Imogene, how could you have allowed this child to dye her eyelashes?’"
Dyed eyelashes were the least of Hockaday’s worries in the 1950s. In addition to the second generation, the school was acquiring a new and less restrained constituency — the oil people. Hockaday was becoming a status symbol to be collected along with oil wells, Neiman’s labels, and Cadillacs. Jett Rink’s daughters came from the small towns in West Texas and from oil towns in Louisiana and Oklahoma to fill the boarding department at Hockaday. Some of these young girls arrived with special instructions from their parents that the child not be allowed to see any newspapers dealing with her family’s fabulous wealth. Others were less discreet. "Somebody was always getting out of class to go donate a building to SMU," recalls one '50s alum. She also recalled that the "oil" girls were likely to be dripping in jewels at the dances, and many of them had fancy cars stashed somewhere in town. "Somebody in my class got a Cadillac with a bar in the back for graduation," remembers another. According to these alums, the main recreation for boarding students on Saturday was shopping all day at Neiman-Marcus. "I once saw a boarder buy seven vicuna sweaters in one afternoon, just because she was mad at her daddy for sending her away from her boyfriend back home. My mother said, 'Miss Hockaday would never have permitted that.'"
Miss Hockaday died in 1956, and gradually the teachers who had worked closely with her retired or lost their earlier impact. Some of these second-generation daughters had heard so much about Hockaday that by the time they actually enrolled, they were disappointed. "My mother had told me what Miss Grow, the Latin teacher, would say on our first day of class. And she did give the same speech about how you came into this world with only your name ... and what you do with that name is so important. That may have inspired my mother’s generation, but I kept thinking how terrible it was that in all those years Miss Grow had never changed. She said the same words, fought the same Gallic wars, and it never occurred to her that most of us could hardly wait to change our names. She was Miss Grow forever, but she wasn’t anyone I wanted to emulate. I remember that she spit on the blackboard when she talked facing the board and had to erase the spit. Isn’t it awful to remember that? I also remember seeing her squat one day to retrieve a pencil. I was shocked momentarily to see that she had knees just like the rest of us. Unlike my mother, I was a terrible Latin student, so I spent most of the year hearing Miss Grow say, ’Oh, Virginia. I’m so disappointed in you.’"
Like them or not, teachers like Miss Grow had the power to withhold school honors or to vindicate you when you were falsely accused. One alumna recalled being put "on report" for smoking in the restroom. "Miss Grow looked me straight in the eye and said, ’Did you smoke?’ Everyone knew you couldn’t lie to Miss Grow, so when I said ’no,’ the matter was dropped." Some of these teachers must have been rather like maiden aunts whom you never really liked, but who had a disproportionate hold over your life. As another graduate said, "I still have the haunting feeling that because I couldn’t live up to Miss Grow’s expectations, somewhere it is permanently recorded that I was a failure."
In 1961 Hockaday moved north to a very barren hundred acres on Forest Lane and Welch Road. The school’s original patrons had moved north long before, leaving the gracious gardens of Swiss Avenue and Munger Place in a state of decay. Dallas was growing rapidly and no longer looked to a few families or a school to be the arbiters of taste and culture. Some alumnae reacted violently to the modern edifice on the new campus. One says it still reminds her of a Green Stamp redemption center, and others insist that travelers sometimes mistake it for a motel. The fact is, Hockaday on Welch Road is a swanky-looking school. (Swanky is a word I’m sure Miss Hockaday never used.) And when someone wants to point a finger at a rich girls’ school, Hockaday, with its glassy atrium, is an easy target.