From its founding in 1810 as the Maidenhead Academy, what is today known as The Lawrenceville School has maintained two defining characteristics: a willingness to explore and adopt the best practices in education as they have evolved and, at the same time, a commitment to maintaining traditions that continue to resonate with students. From the first Head Master, Rev. Isaac VanArsdale Brown, who introduced then-novel foreign language study and routine exercise to the students of the 1820s, through today, the School has always striven to provide students with the highest quality of education as understood at the time.
Arguably the single most powerful development in the character of the school occurred in 1883, when the school was transformed from a small proprietarial enterprise, owned (and renamed) by each successive headmaster, to one run by the Lawrenceville School Board of Trustees under the auspices of the John Cleve Green Foundation. As The Lawrenceville School, the institution established many of the traits it is known for today, including its hallmark House System and an intense School spirit. The changes were reflected on the campus itself when the Board asked landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park, and prominent architects Peabody and Sterns of Boston to design the newly expanded grounds of the school to thoughtfully and deliberately create a strong community atmosphere. The result was the Circle, now a National Historic Landmark.
So distinct was the character of Lawrenceville that it grew to occupy a special place in the American imagination. Owen Johnson, an alumnus of the School, first captured the “new” Lawrenceville in his 1910 novel, The Varmint, which recounts the travails and adventures of one Dink Stover as he made his way through Lawrenceville from New Boy to graduate. Stover became one of the country’s most beloved fictional characters, and Johnson followed his success in a series of Lawrenceville Stories in what was at that time the most popular magazine in America. In 1950 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released The Happy Years, a Hollywood version of The Varmint, filmed on campus and starring Leo G. Carroll and Dean Stockwell (as Dink).
Throughout the 1900s, Lawrenceville continued to develop as a leader in academic innovation, including early adoption of Advanced Placement (AP) courses and the introduction of nationally and internationally known guest speakers designed to broaden the intellectual horizons of young Lawrentians. Among the most lasting changes was the introduction in 1936 of the Harkness method of education, which sought to bring the benefits of the house system to the classroom by providing an intimate environment for intellectual discourse around a single, large conference table.
Discussion of coeducation began in earnest in the 1970s and after a lengthy, but thoughtful analysis of what it would mean both pedagogically and practically to the school, the Board elected to accept female students in 1985. The first girls arrived on campus in 1987 and brought a new vitality to the campus community. As the 20th century drew to a close, the school embraced the ever increasing diversity of its students in gender, geography, faith, race and socio-economic group, focusing on the need for a Lawrentian education to include broad exposure to all facets of the global community and an appreciation for and understanding of multiculturalism.
For more than 200 years, Lawrenceville graduates have gone on to success in their chosen fields, prepared by their education for the changing world around them. As the School enters its third century of educating students, we welcome you to join the legacy of Lawrenceville and discover what it means to be a Lawrentian in the 21st century.