A BRIEF HISTORY – MOORELAND HILL SCHOOL THROUGH THE YEARS
By Nancy F. Judd, P ’80, ‘86
In 1930, three forward thinking women fulfilled a dream to provide a quality education for junior high school students by founding a small private school. Undaunted by the Great Depression, Alice Eddy, Dorothy Frisbie and Elise Hart retained a Yale educated teaching master to provide thorough academic training for their young sons to properly prepare them to enter competitive boarding and day preparatory schools.
Alexander Kern began his duties in a room in the Eddy home with much enthusiasm, drilling his four seventh grade students, Howard Eddy, Robert Frisbie, David Hart and Donald Hart, in the disciplines of reading, writing, arithmetic and Latin. He also directed the students’ free time with games of touch football and instruction in high and broad jumping on the Eddys’ large lawn.
The venture was an immediate success and the three women invited a friend, Margaret Young, and their four husbands, Stanley Eddy, Robert Frisbie, Donald Hart and Louis Young, to join the enterprise of expanding the one-room school. On May 9, 1931, the Shuttle Meadow School was incorporated as a nonprofit institution. Joining the Misters Eddy, Frisbie, Hart and Young as Trustees were James North, Paul Rogers, Frank Vibberts, George Flanagan, Donald Montgomery, Maurice Pease and William Rowland.
The corporation, now duly formed, set about its first task of finding a suitable schoolhouse. Mrs. Hart approached E. Allen Moore, a former teacher turned industrialist and son of acclaimed American artist Nelson Augustus Moore (1824-1902), who became the school’s first benefactor. He offered the use of a small farmhouse he owned on Lincoln Road at a rental of one dollar per year for three years. Renovations were made and furniture and equipment purchased. Mrs. Frisbie wrote, “Our finances were limited and so the mothers furnished the office from their attics, made the curtains with their own hands, and brought kitchen utensils from their own kitchens. A barn was also on the property that housed the horses the Hart boys rode to school.”
As the project proceeded it began to need money, so the four women borrowed $1,500, since none of the men “wanted to go security” due to the precarious financial picture of the times. The bank note was repaid on schedule and the school was one of the few enterprises to operate at a profit all through the Depression.
Master Kern resigned his position after the founding tutorial year and following an extensive search, Roger Pease was engaged in 1931 as the first official headmaster to the now 17 enrolled students. An English teacher at The Kingswood School, Pease was known as a gifted academician and immediately laid forth a challenging curriculum of English, arithmetic, algebra, history, Latin and French. In an early catalog he wrote, “The School is not progressive. It insists that students work hard at a simplified curriculum as an antidote for the progressive tendency to play at an extremely diversified curriculum. It trains pupils to do hard, or even unpleasant tasks well; it believes that there is no easy road to scholarship, and that a difficulty conquered by perseverance and courage leads to more lasting satisfaction than does an interesting task easily performed.”
The first commencement was held in 1933 with a class of eight graduates including Betty Flanagan Koop, now of Hanover, NH, the wife of former Surgeon General of the U.S., Dr. C. Everett Koop. All eight went on to select secondary schools. During the 1933-1934 academic year, benefactor Moore extended the school lease for five additional years, but in 1937 he gave the house, barn and land to the school. In recognition of Moore’s gift the Shuttle Meadow School was renamed Mooreland Hill School.
Pease set the course for Mooreland and the heads that followed enriched the school through the particular talents each individual brought. Philip Thomas, who became the second headmaster in 1941, was a very popular headmaster, known for his humility, compassion and sense of humor. His presence prompted a student to write, “I suppose our school isn’t the best or biggest in the world, but next to my home, it has meant more to me and had more influence on me than most anything I know.” Thomas introduced competitive athletics and free days for hiking and picnics while emphasizing the priorities of challenging academics, chore periods and extra-curricular activities. Thomas died of heart disease during his eighth year as headmaster. Oscar Steege, who succeeded Thomas, served the school for the longest tenure, 26 years. He was dedicated to strong academics and was charged with the first expansion of the school’s facilities. He oversaw the razing of the old barn, which had become the gymnasium, the construction of a new gymnasium, Founders Hall, a large addition to Founders Hall, and the building of the art studio, lovingly built by English teacher Roderick Brown.
The “modern” heads of school, from 1977 to 2005, were charged with growing and modernizing the school. Under John Thompson, Pennington Bowditch and Dane Peters, the school grew in size and facilities were updated, redecorated and expanded, culminating in the renovation and expansion of the gymnasium and the addition of needed classroom space and the creation of a state of the art science suite. During those years, technology was added and continues to be a priority under Headmaster Michael Dooman. Three acting interim heads also served the school: Kitty Thomas for a year following the death of her husband Philip Thomas, Nancy Judd for nine months following the resignation of Bowditch; and Robert Lazear, former Head of Kingswood-Oxford School, who served for a year during a head of school search. Headmaster Waller joined Mooreland in the summer of 2002 from St. Clement’s Episcopal School, El Paso, TX, a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. During his first three years, he promoted curricular changes including the addition of Spanish and physics, and embarked on a strong community service program which has taken students and the school into the greater community.
Present Headmaster, Michael Dooman, is an alumnus of the school. He graduated from the Loomis Chaffee School in 1981 and received a B.A. degree in the Classics and Political Science from Drew University in 1985 and an M.A. in History from Trinity College in 1994. He has also studied at the Klingenstein Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. He began his career in education as teacher of Latin, English and history at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, Philadelphia. He joined the Mooreland Hill faculty in 1986 as teacher of Latin, English, and history, and baseball coach and served a 14-year tenure during which time he was named Director of Studies, Dean of Students and Assistant Head. Mr. Dooman returns to Mooreland from The Country School in Madison, CT. where he was the former Middle School Director.
Mooreland is now poised to meet the challenges of the next 25 years, bringing the school to its centenary in 2030.