Jean Greer Robinson
reprinted from an
Deaconess Hall: An Appreciation
by Mildred Morris
reprinted from the EQUITY Magazine (December 1934) upon the death of Jane Hall, co-founder of Professional Children's School
Jane Harris Hall, one of the truest friends the people of the theatre ever had, has passed away.
An enduring influence in the lives of so many of us, her intuition penetrated into our most intimate problems and her senstive understanding helped to solve them. Yet we, in turn, though benefitting by the tangible proofs of her accomplishment, know little about this vital woman herself.
But that was the way of Jane Hall.
From the time she graduated as Deaconess from the Protestant Episcopal Church School in Philadelphia and taught a Bible Class of young working girls at St. Stephen's Church in that city, she followed an unselfed vision of devoted service to others for thirty-five years.
When the Reverend Doctor Loring W. Batten of St. Mark's Church in New York City, who was her one-tme instructor, asked her to come to his parish and start a club for young students, she first revealed her gift of organization.
Open-minded, free from the letter of religion, kind, humorous, she created an atmosphere of frank conversation among the group of young people. Eagerly these boys and girls gathered about her to consult her on their professions, their dreams, their love affairs and chat. With that clear, straight gaze from her deep, blue eyes and the whimsical smile that hovered always about her lips, she gave them sound counsel and they called her their God-Mother.
"I have more children than anyone else"
Visiting one day a girl's bare studio in a shabby house, she was startled to see a pistol lying on a table and when she exclaimed, "Why is this here?" it was explained that it would not be safe for a girl to live there alone without it.
From that instant Jane Hall was determined to found a club where students might live in a homelike atmosphere and be properly protected. She took an apartment, through the financial assistance of a friend, Mrs. Charles Hemingway, which accommodated five girls, and this small group decided to name themselves The Three Arts Club.
There were so many applications for admittance, Miss Hall soon realized the necessity of moving to larger quarters and went to Bishop Greer with her plan. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and the Bishop visited the Club and saw for himself the need. A suitable house was found on Lexington Avenue and appointing Miss Hall as Deaconess in charge, the Bishop formed the first Board of Managers. Mrs. John Henry Hammond was made President, herself as young as many of the students, and through the years she has remained the Club's devoted and loyal friend. Soon two houses were filled with young women coming not only from every part of the country but from such distant lands as China.
Keenly following and aiding each struggling student, Miss Hall soon recognized the uncertain and precarious way of the Dramatic Girls. A space in the Club was specially reserved for them so that they might find an emergency lodging when they returned unexpectedly from the sudden closing of a a road engagement.
"I have more children than anyone else," Miss Hall once said and though she would not have breathed the admission, even to herself, her children of the theatre seemed ever nearest and dearest to her. Perhaps she felt they were less practical, their careers more heartbreaking and too, sometimes more gloriously lifted to mountain-top success. No one who saw her at the opening night of "Enter Madame" a hot August night in New York, when the Garrick Theatre was crowded with anxious people longing to see the vicarious career of Gilda Varesi crowned with laurels will forget Jane Hall, her Deaconess bonnet a little awry with excitement, her cheeks flushed, her eyes like stars. When the first act curtain brought a dizzily contented feeling that the play was "going over" she exclaimed, "This is a great night for us." For she had been a steady beacon of light to Gilda Varesi's long night of effort. She had always believed in her.
There was the artist-soul in Miss Hall, -- she would always strain forward to the unattainable goal of perfection. So, not content with the Club's flourishing course, she must move it to a more convenient location, one nearer the music, art and dramatic schools. An agreeable corner house was found on Eighty-sixth Street and West End Avenue, then another and still another taken, as from every State in the Union came shy, awkward girls, who under her sane influence found themselves. Instead of a prima donna role, a picture hung on the line at the Academy, or an illuminated name on Broadway, they discovered they wanted to go home and marry the man waiting for them there. Flighty students were steadied. Those who were discouraged cheered, for Miss Hall did not hesitate to plead a deserving girl's cause in a theatrical manager's office or a director's conference room.
It was when the Club outgrew these three houses on West End Avenue and moved to its present site on Eighty-fifth Street, a time when the Three Arts Clubs had been established in Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati, London, that Miss Hall's creative spirit grew restive. The special needs of the Dramatic girls were, as usual, uppermost in her mind. They should have a special club int he theatre district, she felt, where they might return for a rest between rehearsals, or reach their rooms easily after the night performance. And so the Rehearsal Club was founded and it met with immediate success.
Professional Children's School Established
Who, but Jane Hall, would have remembered the professional children, highly sensitized little people, who often had no schooling, or with nerves smarting from lack of sleep, sporadically studied in stuffy day coaches, taught by an irritable parent?
It was evident that a school should be established in New York with class hours adapted to the requirements of the theatrical profession and a mailing system arranged for pupils in road companies to continue their studies. The Professional Children's School filled a great need and like all the organizations Miss Hall started, outgrew its quarters and was removed to a house which she directed.
Then a vaster plan grew in her mind, -- to found a boarding school for actors' children, where they might stay while their parents were traveling. The projecte was started but conditions then made it seem advisable to postpone the undertaking.
So Miss Hall paused for the first time in her active life and decide to make her home in Scarsdale. But there was always need of her and when Dean Ray of the Little Church Around the Corner asked her to help organize the Episcopal Actors' Guild, she responded at once, for to bring the Church and the Theatre together had always been a desire near to her heart, and one more useful work was started with her help. George Arliss was made President, Jane Hall, Social Secretary, and serving as hostess, starting a library of books on the theatre, in the hall each afternoon to welcome the members, she became a moving spirit in the Guild.
The years full of accomplishment had passed quickly. Miss Hall was seventy-six and determining definitely to withdraw from the exacting tempo of New York, she made a home in Newark. Then a nostalgia seized her to return to her early occupation. She became a Deaconess of the Diocese of Newark and Communicant and Deaconess of St. Luke's Church, Montclair.
"I want to die in the traces," she said and her wish was nearly granted for she was actively at work until the last two years of her long life. Even then her interest in people was as alive as ever, letters came to her from all over the world. She kept in close touch with her children and remembered each of them, following lovingly their lives.
Yes, that was the way of Jane Hall.