Banner image            Home    What's New    Articles    Images    Subjects    Corrections    Advanced Search    Timeline    Maps    Multimedia    About
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

PRIVATE SCHOOLS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

PRIVATE SCHOOLS. The public-school movement in the U.S. did not really begin until the 1830s and 1840s. Consequently, schools established in the early 19th century were, of necessity, private schools. The line between public and private, however, was not as rigid as it is today. The people believed that education benefited the community at large and that the costs should be borne by all. In 1817 the trustees of Cleveland passed a resolution ordering that those who had contributed toward the erection of a private school building should be reimbursed. This kind of government support was common throughout the country before the development of public schools. These early private schools died out soon after 1836, when CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL first established a free school in the city. The next period of growth of private schools began in the late 19th century. Urban public schools nationwide were experiencing a time of growth and turmoil. An influx of immigrants meant that public schools were losing much of their Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking singularity, and it was believed that the quality of education and moral instruction was suffering. That led to the development of private schools that were more in tune with an older ideal of education. The mission of the BROOKS MILITARY SCHOOL, founded in 1877, was to fulfill "the need of a classical and English school in Cleveland . . . a church school which should afford the highest order of instruction . . . whose chief aim would be for all pupils to become truthful, courteous, Christian gentlemen." Other schools, e.g., LAUREL SCHOOL, founded in 1896, followed newer models, such as John Dewey's Progressivism. These schools came to share a number of important characteristics: they were single-sex, emphasized a high-quality college preparatory education and Protestant moral values, and prepared students to take a role in upper-class society.

The most successful private schools that developed at this time were MISS MITTLEBERGER'S SCHOOL, HATHAWAY BROWN, UNIVERSITY SCHOOL, Laurel School, and HAWKEN SCHOOL. They were all founded by strong individuals who convinced wealthy industrialists such as the Mathers, Herricks, Wades, and Boltons that they had a better way to educate their children. A primary goal of the schools was to prepare students for acceptance to the best Eastern colleges and universities. Another important characteristic of these schools is that they were developed as, or came to be called, country day schools. The best setting for education was thought to be away from the central city. Initially, the schools were located in the area of upper Euclid Ave. As the city spread, though, they moved east. With encouragement from the VAN SWERINGEN† brothers, Hathaway Brown, Laurel, and Univ. schools moved to SHAKER HEIGHTS in, the 1920s. Hawken moved to LYNDHURST. (Miss Mittleberger's School closed in 1908 when she retired.)

The period from the 1930s to the 1950s saw little change in Cleveland's private schools. Hathaway Brown, Laurel, Univ., and Hawken schools had established themselves with solid reputations. The Depression of the 1930s, the war years of the 1940s, and the prosperity of the 1950s posed challenges, but they led to no dramatic changes in the schools. Beginning in the 1960s, however, there was a new spirit of reform which saw dramatic changes in the older, established schools as well as the inauguration of new private schools. Some of the changes at the older schools were cosmetic. Uniforms became less stringent or were replaced by dress codes. Gone was the girls' uniform of long skirts, stiff corsets, high linen collars, and tight belts, replaced by more casual skirts, sweaters of various colors, and slacks in the cold winter months. The schools closed their dormitories, which had always housed a few students from out of town or from the remote Cleveland areas. Other changes were more substantive. The most important one involved reaching out to new constituencies. An attempt was made to break down the stereotype of elitism and snobbery of the private schools. The WASPish, elitist heritage did not disappear, but increasing numbers of blacks, Jews, and Catholics were accepted. Scholarship funds, while not new to the schools, were strengthened to enable a few middle- and lower-income students to attend. Hawken became coeducational in 1974, but Hathaway Brown, Laurel, and Univ. School remained committed to single-sex education.

As the older, established schools experienced a resurgence, new private schools were founded to meet the increasing dissatisfaction with public schools. Confidence in public schools reached an all-time low. Desegregation was unsettling and often inflamed the crisis in public schools. Lake Ridge Academy, Ruffing Montessori, and the Griswold School were founded at this time to meet the newly perceived crisis. Lake Ridge Academy was founded in North Ridgeville in 1963 for upper middle-class families on Cleveland's far west side. Ruffing Montessori was the first school of this type founded in Cleveland, and the second in the U.S. The attraction of Montessori schools was that learning took place without external rewards and grades. Wealthy supporters were found, and the school was able to move from its early quarters in a west side Catholic church to 2 campuses: one in Cleveland Hts. and one in Rocky River (see MONTESSORI SCHOOLS). The Griswold High School, originally founded as a private, proprietary school in 1924, was purchased to serve as an alternative to the upheaval that took place in the Cleveland public school system in 1979 as a result of court-ordered desegregation. An elementary school, the Freedom Academy, was added to the high school to provide an option for younger children. In a short period, the schools came to be, seen as an alternative for those dissatisfied with public schools for a variety of reasons, not only desegregation. By 1985 one-third of the students came from school districts other than the city of Cleveland. In contrast to other private schools, Griswold's clientele is largely lower middle-class, and no wealthy patrons were found to support the school.

Timothy C. Connell

Laurel School

Last Modified: 04 Mar 1998 05:04:06 PM

Related Article(s)
This site maintained by Case Western Reserve University