About Us
A History

A Shady Hill Timeline - 1915 to 1949

The First Admission Catalog, ca. 1919

Mrs. Hocking with Students at Shady Hill Square

The School at the Norton Estate — Shady Hill Square

Katharine Taylor

Building the Coolidge Hill Campus ca. 1926

James P. "Mac" McCarthy

Everett "Smitty" Smith

Agnes Swift

The Assembly Hall in 1934

The Old Woodshop In The Wetlands

May Day in 1937

The First Gym on Coolidge Hill

Miss Abbott

Mary Eliot

Edward Yeomans

"Creating a school is like any other job of creation; there comes a time calling for all there is in you, and more, even for heroism."
- from "Creating a School" by Agnes and Ernest Hocking
published in The Atlantic Monthly

A popular, public elementary school, the Agassiz School in Cambridge (also known as Miss Baldwin's School), is closed, forcing parents to look for alternatives. When the school closes, the beloved Miss Baldwin, the principal and a preeminent African American educator retires.

Ernest and Agnes Hocking, working in conjunction with Professor and Mrs. Wallace Atwood, begin the "Cooperative Open Air School" in the Hocking home at 16 Quincy Street in Cambridge. Classes are held on the back porch with the windows open in all seasons. It is the first independent, coeducational school in the area.

At the school's 80th birthday in 1995, Richard Hocking '19 recounted the names of the school's first students: Margaret Lane, Rosamund Lane, Mary Williams, Franklin Willians, Katherine Sturgis, Wallace Atwood Jr., and Richard himself. 

Parents share the teaching of arithmetic, history, geography, poetry, music, French, biology, carpentry, and drawing. In the early days of the school, a Cambridge neighbor, Robert Frost, visits and reads his poetry to the children.

The embryonic school prospers enough that six teachers and a janitor are listed on the payroll. Parents continue to serve as volunteer teachers.

Due to a growing enrollment — there are now 70 students — the school moves to the Charles Eliot Norton Estate ("Shady Hill Square") at the corner of Scott and Holden Streets in Cambridge. At this location, it constructs four "cottage-like" classroom buildings and an assembly hall. 

The school hires C. H. Martin to be the principal, but he is drafted into the army before school starts in the fall and Mrs. Hocking is appointed in his place. Lillian Putnam is hired to teach science and stays at the school for 40 years. Tuitions range from $90 for Grade I to $155 for Grades VII and VIII.

Ellen Scott Davidson is hired as principal. The enrollment drops to below 40 students. There are discussions about transferring control of the school to Harvard University's Division of Education to serve as a lab school, but that idea is ultimately rejected. 

Miss Davidson resigns because of ill health and is replaced by Miss Cobb as principal.

The Board is asked to provide more heat for the classrooms. "Present conditions are well enough for the children, but too heroic for the teachers, at least on very cold days. A temperature of not less than 30 degrees to 40 degrees is desirable." No action is taken. Miss Cobb resigns. Tuition is $110 for Beginners and $300 for Grade IX. The total budget for salaries is $9,140.

Katharine Taylor, who had been a teacher at the Francis Parker School in Chicago, is hired as principal. She introduces the Central Subject teaching methodology. based her experiences at that school. The first Grade IX is added, amidst debate on whether to make this a permanent change. The Grade IV central subject of Ancient Greece is established.

Dr. Richard Cabot asks that his loan of $2,000 be considered a gift, the first substantial donation to the school.

The school establishes the first Parents' Council to act in an advisory capacity to the board and administration.

Anne Longfellow Thorp, granddaughter of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is hired to teach history and Grade VII; she remains at the school until 1951. Enrollment reaches 100 students, although Grades VII and IX have only three students each.

After lengthy discussions and negotiations, the school buys land on Coolidge Hill for $30,000. It is described as "250,000 square feet of land, of which about an acre is upland now available for building and the remainder is near the level of the river and somewhat marshy." Tuitions are raised by $50 at each level to achieve a more secure financial footing and to make teachers' salaries more competitive with those at other schools.

The Cooperative Open Air School is re-incorporated as Shady Hill School. F. W. Mead is chosen as the architect for the buildings on the Coolidge Hill campus and construction begins. F. Law Olmsted's firm does the landscaping. The total campus construction cost, including the cost of grading some of the property, is $109,668.

School opens in October on the new campus. Two homerooms are provided in each of the buildings, together with washrooms and lockers. Each homeroom has an adjoining smaller room called a group room. In keeping with its open-air traditions, the buildings are constructed so that the windows can drop completely into the sills.

The Assembly Hall is built during the fall. 

Informal apprenticeships become the Teacher Training Course (TTC) with two apprentice teachers in the frist class. The first apprentices were Helen Fogg and Anne Coolidge; both were hired to teach at the school the year after their apprenticeships.

The Shady Hill Play Book is published by MacMillan.

James ("Mac") McCarthy, the school's first male teacher, is hired to teach Grade VII and ends up teaching a variety of grades and subject areas. He creates the Shady Hill Latin Lessons, which were eventually published by Harvard University Press. He teaches at the school until his death in 1958.

In a student straw vote for president, 12 votes are for Herbert Hoover (Republican), 7 are for Al Smith (Democrat), and 108 are for Norman Thomas (Socialist).

Everett Smith ("Smitty") joins the faculty to teach Grade V; he establishes one of the great Central Subjects calling it the Age of Discovery. He also begins the tradition of having students draw a map of the world free hand from memory. He retires in 1963. 

At its October 4 meeting, the Board outlines preliminary plans for a $500,000 endowment campaign. The stock market crashes three weeks later. 

A skating rink is built at the edge of the playing field. The Board decides to postpone the appeal for the endowment until "a little later" in light of "the present financial depression throughout the country." 

Margaret Crane is hired as Rhythms Assistant; she stays through 1957. Enrollment is now 156 students and Miss Taylor reports that "the waiting list for the younger grades is long and there is no longer difficulty in keeping a full school."

Miss Taylor reports the worst flooding of the campus since the move to Coolidge Hill. It was the opinion that "the raising of the Browne & Nichols field south of the play field had sent a great deal of water northwards into our fields."

Agnes Swift is hired to teach Grade VI, but soon becomes the school's librarian, a post she holds until 1973.

A second class is added to kindergarten (called Beginners) and Grade I as a way to deal with increasing enrollments. A new building is constructed to house the new classes. Enrollment reaches 218 students.

The school buys 40,000 square feet of land at the southwest edge of the campus from the Mt. Auburn Cemetery Trustees for $5,500. A wooden play platform is erected near the new lower school building for outdoor play when conditions would otherwise be too wet. An automatic thermostat stoker is installed in the central coal furnace. Double classes are extended to Grade II as enrollment increases to 241 students.

Randolph "Ted" Martin is hired to teach math; he stays for 38 years until his retirement in 1973. Helen Hayes starts as athletic teacher. Credited with being the inventor of "Ghost," she stays until 1961.

The first Beginners Building is built. Kathleen Raoul is hired to teach in the lower school; she retires in 1974. The school's enrollment is at 287.

The German zeppelin Hindenburg flies over the school in May and students and teachers report the sighting.

Sports were known as "play" and the Playhouse — the school's first gymnasium (also known as the Badminton Building) — is constructed on the site of the former skating pond at the cost of $12,000. The loan for construction costs is secured by promised membership dues to a badminton club.

Ruth Abbott is hired to teach music, becoming a legend by her retirement in 1968.


The first Science Building is constructed.

On December 8, Miss Taylor gathered the children in the Assembly Hall to tell them that "the war had begun, that it was serious, and that it would last a long time." Families in the Coolidge Hill neighborhood offered their basements as air-raid shelters for the school.

During the war, a number of children from England and Germany came to the United States for safety, lived with Shady Hill families, and attended the school.

Around this time, the school seeks to attract and enrolls its first families of color. Shady Hill's first Asian-American student graduates.

The Teacher Training Course graduates its first African American apprentice, Minnie Wood, who came to Shady Hill after graduating from the Tuskegee Institute.

The U.S.O. uses the school grounds and Assembly Hall every Sunday. The Buildings and Grounds Committee reports that the fill around the Playhouse is sinking.

The second grade building is destroyed by fire. The school publishes the first issue of the Shady Hill News.

Electric clocks are installed in every building.

Shady Hill is accredited to offer teacher training under the GI Bill. Frank Vincent is hired to teach French; he stays at Shady Hill until 1974. Miss Taylor reports that the storage cellar under the kitchen is "under water a large part of the time."

A new wing is added to the Grade III building at a cost of $15,000. Enrollment is 350 students. The community celebrates Katharine Taylor's 25th anniversary as Director and The Katharine Taylor Fund is launched to raise $300,000 to cover on-going needs of the school. Articles about Shady Hill appear in Time Magazine, the Boston Globe, and The Boston Traveler.

Mary Eliot, who came to Shady Hill as an apprentice in the fall of 1947, is hired as a fourth grade teacher. She teaches both fourth and seventh grades before being appointed Assistant Director, and eventually Associate Director, of the school. She serves as Acting Director from 1961 to 1963 and again in 1981. She stays until her retirement in 1989.

A group of parents and teachers paint the inside of the Assembly Hall over a weekend.

Katharine Taylor retires and Edward Yeomans is appointed Director. The school's enrollment is 375 students, including 10 African American students.

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