About Us

A History

  • Katharine Taylor on the Origins of Shady Hill


In 1915, The Cooperative Open Air School opened at 16 Quincy Street in Cambridge, on the back porch of a home owned by Ernest and Agnes Hocking. The school was started by Harvard-affiliated parents whose children had attended the Agassiz School, a public school in Cambridge that was slated for renovation. The parents, joined by two or three "professional" teachers, instructed the children in arithmetic, history, geography, poetry, music, French, biology, carpentry and drawing. It was the first independent, coeducational elementary school in the Boston area.

By 1917, the enrollment had grown too large for the back porch; the school purchased a portion of the Charles Eliot Norton estate at the corner of Scott and Holden Streets in Cambridge. In this location — Shady Hill Square — the enrollment grew even further. In 1924, the parents purchased the school's present location on Coolidge Hill in Cambridge. The Cooperative Open Air School officially became Shady Hill School in 1925.

The school's progressive roots came from the founding families' enthusiasm for the writings of John Dewey and other leading educators of the time. The founders were committed to the use of original source materials, a "spirit of simplicity and devotion to learning," and the idea of freedom coupled with responsibility. The school's progressive teaching philosophy has attracted a succession of master-teachers to its faculty and generations of devoted parents to its constituency.

In 2015-2016, we celebrated Shady Hill's 100th birthday with a series of events that combined tradition and a look back at our past with a look ahead to our future.

617.520.5260      178 Coolidge Hill  Cambridge MA 02138           Association of Independent Schools in New England