Rosemary Hall Beginnings
In 1878, Mary Choate had helped co-found a vocational organization for Civil War widows, called the New York Exchange for Women’s Work. It was organized to help widows support themselves by earning a living. This became a prototype for similar organizations across the country. Mary decided to promote this principle of self – sufficiency further by creating a school to prepare women for college. On October 2, 1890, Rosemary Hall was opened. Caroline Ruutz-Rees was the Headmistress for 48 years.
The school moved to Greenwich in 1900.Between 1900 and 1971, Rosemary Hall School resided at the junction of Ridgeway and Zaccheus Mead Lane in Greenwich. It was a private girl’s school, which prepared young women for college. Mary Atwater Choate founded the school in 1890, on the Rosemary Farm in Wallingford, that had been in her family for 5 generations. In 1896, her husband – Judge William Choate – started the Choate Boy’s School on the same grounds.
Rosemary Hall Firsts
Rosemary Hall was the scene of many notable firsts over the years. In 1892, the earliest literary magazine in a girls’ school – The Question Mark – was published. The first Shakespearian play in a girl’s school was performed there in 1893. The first girl’s interscholastic basketball game was played between Rosemary Hall and the New Haven Normal School. In 1896,Rosemary Hall had the first girl’s Cricket Team. Lady Baden-Powell – wife of Boy Scout founder Lord Baden-Powell – awarded Caresse Crosby (Class of 1911) the Eagle Amulet, essentially making her the first Girl Scout. The school also had the best girl’s field hockey team, which was undefeated for 3 consecutive years.
Enrollment at the school tended to vary from year to year. One year they’d have 226 pupils, the next they might have 98. In 1937, Life magazine printed a 4-page photo essay on the annual dance. Young men from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and Exeter would travel to socialize with the women. The school was incorporated as the Rosemary Hall Foundation on April 18, 1950, to protect its future.
Rosemary Hall Controversy
A major controversy erupted in 1966. The Headmistress refused to admit an African-American student to the school. Her decision was challenged. As a sign of protest, the Dean of Student Services and several faculty members resigned their positions. Eventually, the Headmistress finally relented, and the first African-American student was admitted in the fall. One might say this was a reflection of what was going on in the rest of the country during the Civil Rights era. Segregation was being challenged, and people wanted an equal chance for quality education. Many demonstrated for their fellow Americans. It was one of the most dynamic eras in our history.
Unfortunately, more controversy has been steered up recently by accusations of abuse. Since it’s considered an elite private school with a storied history, it’s hoped that this situation can be investigated and resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.
Historical Architecture Significance
When the Greenwich Campus was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, there were 16 contributing buildings and 18 acres of land. One thing that was lacking was a place to worship. The students raised $15,000 to build St.Bede’s Chapel through bake sales, social teas and other benefits. With these funds, they were able to build a beautiful Middle English Gothic church with granite walls, hand-hewn timbers and a Welsh red tile floor. A 16-foot English glass altar window adorned the interior. The roof was made of unnailed slate. Students had carried stones from a nearby farm to build the foundation. When the school was relocated, actress Ali MacGraw – a 1956 graduate – offered to contribute money to relocate the church, but couldn’t get enough support.
By 1967, Rosemary Hall began to experience a decline in enrollment. This put a significant financial strain on the school. Something had to be done. On January 8, 1968, officials from Wallingford’s Choate boys school met privately with the Chairman of the Rosemary Hall Board of Directors. By June 1968, they agreed to merge and move Rosemary Hall back to the Choate campus. A brand new co-ed school would be built to provide a quality secondary education to prepare students for college. A press release on September 26th announced the proposed relocation of Rosemary Hall. The school moved back to Wallingford in September of 1971 and became co-educational.
It’s interesting to note that between 1915 and 1965, every graduate’s name was printed in gold on the ceiling of. I don’t know if this tribute still survives since the Carmel Academy (formerly the Westchester Fairfield Hebrew Academy) and Japanese School of New York now occupy the campus at the junction of Ridgeway and Zaccheus Mead Lane. When Rosemary Hall and Choate merged, it formed a union of two prominent New England families. There was an even more important historic event, which adds to the school’s notoriety. In 1775, George Washington stopped for tea at the “Red House”. This is now the Squire Stanley House on the Choate Campus.
The school is now called “The Choate Rosemary Hall School”. Many famous people have studied there, including John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, Ali MacGraw, Glenn Close, Edward Albee, Michael Douglas, Ivanka Trump and James Whitmore. Many more Choate Rosemary Hall graduates have made significant contributions in all walks of life. Greenwich is home to many nationally recognized private schools, as well as its excellent public school system. Graduates go on to attend the best colleges in the country. Our schools do a commendable job in preparing students for higher education by giving them the skills they need to succeed.
MacDonald, J: Common Roots/Shared Purposes: Celebrating 125 of Choate Rosemary Hall; accessed on June 9 at: http://issuu.com/choaterosemaryhall/docs/125_combined_history_final_issuu?e=4557709/36371896