Morristown Beard School recently marked its 125th anniversary, and we celebrate our storied past and honor those who have created the extraordinary School we know and love today. Throughout its history, Morristown Beard School has met the challenges and opportunities of each new decade, and responded to prepare our students for leadership. While staying true to its original values, MBS has actively transformed its facilities, its academic program, and its co-curricular programs to bring them to new levels of excellence and ensure that our education is as relevant as possible.
In the past decade alone, MBS has renovated every building on campus, installed turf on each athletic field, and constructed our spectacular performing arts center, Founders Hall. We have reformed our curriculum to emphasize critical thinking, problem solving, independent thought and intellectual risk taking. With vision and purpose, we have also expanded our global outreach programs and embraced the latest technology to meet the evolving needs of our students and faculty.
Celebrating 125 Years
The Life of the Schools 1891-2016
In celebration of our 125th anniversary, Dr. Alan Cooper—MBS former faculty , Archivist and Carol Selman ’64 have compiled stories from our past.
A look back at the first 100 years of history of The Beard School, The Morristown School, and Morristown Beard School written in 1991 by Pamela R. Bloom, then Chair of the Reading Department.
The History of Morristown Beard School
- St. Bartholomew's – Established in 1891
- Morristown School - Founded in 1898
- Beard School Partnership - 1971
- Morristown Beard School
- 125th Anniversary Gala Photo Gallery
St. Bartholomew's – Established in 1891
The wealth and cultural vitality of the Morristown area in the late 19th century, along with its proximity to New York and Philadelphia, produced several excellent schools for both boys and girls. For girls, Miss Dana’s school had achieved a national reputation and listed Dorothy Parker among its graduates. For boys, the Rev. F. E. Edwards, an Episcopalian minister and graduate of Harvard, extolling the healthy climate and natural beauty of the area, established his school in 1891 in the Normandy area of Morristown. Primarily a boarding school, St. Bartholomew’s enjoyed such a reputation that it was able to purchase the land on which the current Morristown-Beard School is located, and in 1896, the buildings were constructed in three months! During the 1898 school year, however, financial difficulties and the apparent disappearance of Rev. Edwards spelled the end of the school.
- The school was founded in 1891 by The Reverend F. E. Edwards (Episcopalian) in the Normandy Park area of Morristown, near the present location of MBS.
- Edwards wrote, because of the “increasing demand for boys’ boarding school of a high order near NYC, Morristown was chosen because it combined a healthful climate, beautiful scenery and accessibility to New York and Philadelphia.”
- From the school catalogue, “The school is two miles from the Morristown Station, built on a hillside overlooking the Boonton Valley. The buildings are supplied with electric lights, gas, city water and long distance telephone."
Buildings and Grounds
- The school flourished, and in 1896 the need for more room led to the purchase of the present location and the construction of the school buildings, “having every modern convenience for school life and built on strictly sanitary principles. The buildings are arranged for fifty boys.” The entire construction took three months to complete.
- The newly-built school opened on September 30, 1897, with 42 boys. Francis Woodman was on the faculty and was joined that year by Harvard classmates (Class of 1888) Arthur Butler and Thomas Browne.
- From the school catalogue, “ While the curriculum is arranged primarily for college preparation, the aim of the school is to educate boys in the broad sense of the word. French and German are not only part of the regular course but are spoken in the school. Music, drawing, and dancing are regularly provided for. All religious services are held in the chapel. Examinations are held monthly, the report of which is sent to parents. Saturday afternoon is a half-holiday when parents and friends of the boys are welcome. The terms are $700 per year, payable semi-annually in advance.”
- In 1898, the school failed because of financial difficulties, and The Reverend Edwards disappeared (no record of what actually happened). At that point, Browne, Butler and Woodman gathered enough funding to keep the school open while arranging for a $40,000 loan.
Morristown School - Founded in 1898
The demise of St. Bartholomew’s would have been only a footnote in the history of the area had it not been for three faculty members who decided, with substantial loan commitments and belief in their ideals, to continue the school on the same grounds with the new name. Francis Woodman, Arthur Butler and Thomas Browne, all Harvard graduates, assumed leadership, with the first two becoming Headmasters. The school introduced novel ideas in both school governance and curriculum and indeed, with such innovations as the senior project and curricula for both college preparation and vocational training, the school, through good times and bad, two world wars and numerous epidemics, remained open from 1898-1971.
In 1898, the three faculty from St. Bartholomew’s - Browne, Butler and Woodman - were installed as co-principals by the newly formed Board of Trustees and the school was renamed the Morristown School. Student involvement in the new school was evidenced by the formation of an Athletic Association, Library Association and a “Poor Boy” fund to support a local orphan, all supported by contributions from the students.
Ideals and Values
- The ideals of the Morristown School were, “to provide a place where boys could have the best possible chance to surpass themselves, to gain a sense of mastery and to learn to know the joy of service.” Another version of that sentiment was that, “every boy emerged an individual, different from every other boy, and never forced, distorted or melted to fit a mold. His individuality had been drawn out and his potential awakened.”
- During WW I, the students raised the money to purchase and equip the “Morristown School Ambulance” which was presented to the American Ambulance Service for use in France. After the war, the school received a certificate and brass plaque from the American Field Service in appreciation for the ambulance.
- In a unique spirit of friendship and concern for others, the 1957 basketball team presented a trophy to Delbarton (the perpetual rival) to recognize Paul Kreutz, a Delbarton student-athlete who drowned in 1956. The trophy was to be presented by vote of Delbarton students to a basketball team member, with Morristown students paying for the engraving of the winner each year.
- The sense of service never faltered, with, for instance, an increasing sense of social justice from the late 1960s. Such programs as raising money for UNICEF and local food banks continued the sense of giving back which has characterized the history of all three schools.
- From the dedication of Wilkie Hall in 1969, Headmaster Thompson Grant said of Valleau Wilkie, “(He) recognized that boys need to be accepted and recognized for what they are and not necessarily measured by what parents of others think they should be. How well he knew that boys need to be loved in pain and joy, in failure and success, not only when they are loveable but more especially when they are unlovable. He knew too that boys need discipline, rules of the game; that they need to know what they can and cannot do, what is wrong and what is right; a discipline that initially comes from without but which eventually must come from within – self-discipline…. This is still the basic characteristic of the school. We still believe that once we have secured a boy’s whole-hearted cooperation, he will strive to do everything well, whether it be his studies, activities, athletics or just growing up….This spirit of cooperation … has to be won through friendly concern for each boy, and a positive belief in his ultimate success; by showing him that the school cares about what he does and is personally concerned with his progress.”
Buildings and Grounds
- In terms of service to the school itself, in 1915 the school determined that it would like to have its own hockey rink and so the students formed themselves into a Forestry Squad to clear trees and brush from the land across Whippany Road (the former Catlin/Langdon estate) and a Powder Gang to blow out stumps and to loosen the earth for excavation. The rink was completed that summer.
- The gymnasium, built in the 1911 with contributions from students and other benefactors, burned in 1950 and was rebuilt by 1956 (?), and in 1986 it was greatly expanded with the addition of locker room spaces, a large gym and a swimming pool.
- The new Founders Hall (2009) was the culmination of many years of planning and dreaming. Headmaster/Founder Arthur Butler in 1922 at graduation spoke in part on the need for a building devoted to drama and music. This was repeated by Headmaster Philip Anderson who in 1990 added the need to bring the student body together regularly. The outcome, under Headmaster Dr. Alex Curtis, is the building with auditorium we have today, about 80 years after it was first imagined.
- The Crane Library was built in 1922, the funds for which were provided by the Crane family whose son was a sophomore at the school. Having served the school for many years and in several ways, as the library, as a faculty residence and as the Alumni House, the small building between what is now Beard Hall and the Dining Hall/Science Center, was bought by the Bigelow family in 1986 and the building was moved to their home in Madison.
- The current Furrer Math Center was built in 1961 for classroom space, maintenance and faculty apartments. This was the first capital improvement since the Crane Library in 1922.
- Wilkie Hall was completed in 1969 to contain an auditorium and classrooms. This was remodeled at the Technology Center in 2011.
- The tradition of Morning Meeting began in 1898. The intent was to begin the day with readings and discussions on political or other current events to help students stay informed about their country and happenings around the world. Since one motto of the Morristown School was “Civitas” (Citizenship), such a tradition was closely linked to the ideals of the school and its hopes for the students.
- In 1936, the curriculum for all boys included Math, English, language, history, science and Civics and Government but would allow for independent and advanced studies. This was well before AP level classes and even the Senior Project.
- In 1936, the school curriculum was enhanced through the creation of a second track to the former Classical (college-prep) program. This was a series of courses for juniors and seniors who would begin work rather than college. Today this would be vocational education but with an emphasis on management. However, a Hobby House (in an old laundry room) was created for woodworking, painting, modeling, photography, electrical hobbies and finally a short-wave radio station.
- The school experienced the epidemics prevalent at the time. First was scarlet fever in 1906, then there was a polio outbreak which closed the school for a month in 1916 and again in 1922, then the Spanish flu of 1918 caused another month-long break, and scarlet fever in 1921.
- The school was generally in good financial shape, but the Great Depression and WW II almost forced the school to close. In 1931, the effects of the depression sent the school into receivership but through the help of the school community and the alumni, MS was able to weather this storm and by 1934 was again on a firm foundation. The continuing economic pressures of the Great Depression and the specter of war caused a falling enrollment throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s.
- In 1940, Headmaster George Tilghman entered the Army, while other faculty joined and a number of students returned home. The school population numbered 37 (down from 128 in 1937). In 1942, closing the school was again broached, but lenient terms from banks and the selection of Valleau Wilkie as Headmaster, who gave $5000 to keep the school functioning until tuition payments arrived, kept the school open and enrollment slowly began to recover with students doing much of the maintenance and upkeep for the buildings and grounds.
- By 1970, declining enrollment brought about by the greatly lessened boarding department and cultural changes and financial difficulties from the construction of two buildings and the remortgaging that produced caused increasing pressure to close the boarding department and to admit girls. As this was the time for such mergers throughout the country, it was fortunate that the Beard School in Orange was likewise looking for a partner. After numerous meetings and much introspection, the joining happened, with the Beard School selling its property and moving entirely to the Morristown campus. This entailed extensive remodeling, especially in constructing separate facilities for the new female population.
- With Prize Day (Commencement) on June 5, 1971, Morristown School passed into its new life as MBS.
Beard School Partnership - 1971
The Beard School was the dream of Lucie, Lizzie and Ettie Beard, all teachers and administrators in schools in New York. Beginning with a kindergarten, the school, founded in 1891 in Orange, NJ, added a new grade each year until it had its first graduating class in 1903. The curriculum of the school was college preparation, rather novel for the times, along with other vocational and professional programs. Adhering to the personal and academic standards set by Lucie Beard, Headmistress for over 50 years, the girls obtained a superior education which was reinforced by the values inculcated by the school. While maintaining its core principles, the school recognized the cultural changes taking place in the late 1960s, along with changes in the neighborhood of Orange, and thus painfully began a search for a partner school with which to continue its long history and traditions. As it happened, the Morristown School was in the same predicament, and so, in 1971, the Beard School concluded its independent existence and became the partner of Morristown.
- In 1891, Lucie Beard and her two sisters, Lizzie and Ettie, founded the Beard School in Orange, NJ. Lucie had studied kindergarten education and science, and was then a principal of the West End Avenue School for Girls in New York City.
- The school started at Lincoln Avenue in Orange, but with the addition of more students, the school moved twice during the first eight years until it found its final location on Berkeley Avenue. Two buildings were built, Recitation House and the Cottage, and others were added as the school grew with the addition of a boarding department in 1900.
- The school opened with 13 boys and girls in the kindergarten, and through the last years of the 19th century gradually added a grade per year until 1903 when the school had its first graduating class.
Ideals and Values
- The tradition of Class Day began in 1903 when the senior class planted a tree and passed the shovel to the juniors, who would repeat the planting annually. This tradition lasted for the life of the school, and symbolized the loyalty, integrity and ideals of the school, the blossoming and thriving of individual talent.
- Service was an integral part of the Beard School philosophy. For instance, almost from the beginning, girls contributed to the support and education of a needy child in Kentucky. During WW I, the girls contributed to the war effort by making bandages and wound dressings, while providing for those at home then and during the Great Depression by sewing and knitting items which were donated to the Red Cross. During WW II, the girls worked for the Junior Red Cross and contributed time and money for other projects to help with the war effort.
- An interesting example of the ideals which a proper young lady should possess was the formation of a Posture Drive (1929-1934) which was continued by a Posture Committee.
Buildings and Grounds
- By the 1940s, the school had six buildings. Besides the original Recitation House and Cottage, there were the Corner House, Colonial House, Green Shutters and Main Hall.
- In 1953, a fire struck Main Hall and the Cottage, severely damaging both but causing no injuries. Local churches helped by storing items which could be salvaged, but the school faced fiscal disaster. The entire school community came together in the Emergency Building Fund and through numerous fund raising activities the new building at 560 Berkeley Ave. was constructed and occupied early in 1955.
- The curriculum centered on the “Collegiate” goal of preparing the girls for college, which at the time was quite novel, although other courses were offered in professional fields. The first graduate attended Vassar, fulfilling the dream of college preparation for young women as well as men.
- The curriculum was enhanced by Theater and Fine Arts, taught by the other Beard sisters, and then by the addition of Physical Education in 1905.
- The curriculum continued to grow with the times, adding AP courses and expanded science labs in the 1960s.
- In the early 1970s, cultural changes and the fortunes of the neighborhood in which the school was situated brought about the closing of the school, the selling of its property and the merger with Morristown School. George Burr, the first Headmaster of Beard, became the Associate Headmaster of the new MBS.
Morristown Beard School
The merger of Morristown School and the Beard School in 1971 to produce Morristown Beard School provided evidence that such mergers were possible and that the product was more than the sum of its parts. Through the leadership of Philip Anderson and Polly Campbell, the school took on a value structure which incorporated those of their predecessors while continuing and enhancing the educational opportunities offered to students of varied ability levels. The constant striving to improve, to offer more and more opportunities to students in their personal, academic and extracurricular growth shows the dedication of the Morristown Beard School to its heritages and to the education of those fortunate enough attend.
By 1970, declining enrollment, cultural changes and financial difficulties brought increased pressure on The Morristown School to close its boarding department and to admit girls. As this was the time for such mergers throughout the country, it was fortunate that the Beard School in Orange was likewise looking for a partner. After numerous meetings and much introspection, the joining happened, with the Beard School selling its property and moving entirely to the Morristown campus. This entailed extensive remodeling, especially in constructing separate facilities for the new female population.
- With Prize Day (Commencement) on June 5, 1971, Morristown School passed into its new life as MBS.
- In the early 1970s, cultural changes and the fortunes of the neighborhood in which the school was situated brought about the closing of the Beard School, the selling of its property and the merger with Morristown School. George Burr, the first Headmaster of Beard, became the Associate Headmaster of the new MBS.
- For both the Morristown and Beard Schools, the 1970s were a time of merging of separate schools, students, traditions, curricula and the myriad of other aspects of school life into a coherent whole. Through the leadership of Headmaster Philip Anderson, who came to MBS in 1974, and Trustee Polly Campbell, MBS became one school with traditions and histories made relevant to the times. The school motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera, came from the Beard School, while the school shield was from Morristown. Those involved at the time of the merger recollect the difficulties of discipline, not only for students, but also for the culture at large during the turbulent early years of the 1970s.
Ideals and Values
- From the dedication of Wilkie Hall, Headmaster Thompson Grant said of Valleau Wilkie, “(He) recognized that boys need to be accepted and recognized for what they are and not necessarily measured by what parents of others think they should be. How well he knew that boys need to be loved in pain and joy, in failure and success, not only when they are loveable but more especially when they are unlovable. He knew too that boys need discipline, rules of the game; that they need to know what they can and cannot do, what is wrong and what is right; a discipline that initially comes from without but which eventually must come from within – self-discipline…. This is still the basic characteristic of the school. We still believe that once we have secured a boy’s whole-hearted cooperation, he will strive to do everything well, whether it be his studies, activities, athletics or just growing up….This spirit of cooperation … has to be won through friendly concern for each boy, and a positive belief in his ultimate success; by showing him that the school cares about what he does and is personally concerned with his progress.”
- Headmaster Philip Anderson instilled the twin ideals of learning as fun, and success producing success to the extent that they are still the guiding principles of the school. A student with a mediocre academic record may be a superior athlete, and that recognition may translate back to the classroom. The student who never thought to try athletics, or drama, may decide to take all the school offers and thus find another outlet for their individual talents.
- Service has been a part of MBS from its founding since both the Beard and Morristown Schools emphasized, “giving back.” The current program involves the entire student body who annually record thousands of service hours in a myriad of venues. Individuals as well as teams and clubs participate in this aspect of school life.
- The gymnasium, built in the 1911 with contributions from students and other benefactors, burned in 1950 and was rebuilt by 1956. In 1986, it was greatly expanded with the addition of locker room spaces, a large gym and a swimming pool. The athletic fields were repositioned also at that time.
The new Founders Hall was the culmination of many years of planning and dreaming. Headmaster/Founder Arthur Butler in 1922 at graduation spoke in part on the need for a building devoted to drama and music. This was repeated by Headmaster Philip Anderson who in 1990 added the need to bring the student body together regularly. The outcome, under Headmaster Dr. Alex Curtis, is the building with auditorium we have today, about 80 years after it was first imagined.
- The current Furrer Math Center was built in 1961 for classroom space, maintenance and faculty apartments. This was the first capital improvement since the Crane Library in 1922. In 1979, the building became the Math Center with the upper level still used as apartments and later that area became the Learning Center.
- Wilkie Hall was completed in 1969 to contain an auditorium and classrooms. This was remodeled as the Technology Center in 2011.
- The area behind Beard Hall, in the early 1980s, was a ramshackle maintenance barn with apartments. In 1988, that building was demolished and the Dining Hall/Science Center was constructed.
- The area now known as the Middle School extension and Founders Hall was in the early 1980s part of the school road and there were three houses for faculty. All had been bought and moved to the site in the 1950s-60s. They were demolished as part of the reconstruction of that area of the campus prior to the building of Founders Hall.
- The old dining hall on the first floor of South Wing was remodeled in 1990 to house the Development and Alumni Offices, as well as the bookstore and classrooms. It became the Art Department and Learning Center in 2004.
As can be seen, the campus was not in great shape during the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1983, the concerted effort to upgrade the buildings on campus began in earnest. Talk about renovation centered at first on Beard Hall which in part retained its history as a dormitory with much space for storage but otherwise not used. One may recall seeing daylight in the corners of classrooms on the second floor. However, with Beard Hall being used for so many school functions, administrative offices, the library and classrooms, renovation would have to wait until other campus buildings were done. By 2000, the time had come to reimagine the main buildings on campus, Grant and Beard Halls. To accommodate the classrooms and library, classroom trailers were brought in on the tennis courts and the English, History and Foreign Language Departments, along with the Library and a couple of Middle School classrooms were moved there. A boardwalk was built connecting the trailers, which led to a truly memorable Homecoming On The Boardwalk in 2001. Gradually, as work was completed, departments could return to their new homes, Foreign Language and English in Grant Hall with offices on the first floor and History on the second floor of Beard. The Business Office was given the third floor while the Bookstore and club rooms were in the basement. To connect Grant and Beard, the colonnade was replaced (but using the same façade) to house the library and below that was the new Common Room (the old being on the first floor of Grant).
- At the Morristown School, the curriculum for all boys included Math, English, language, history, science and Civics and Government but would allow for independent and advanced studies. This was well before AP level classes and even the Senior Project.
- A unique characteristic of MBS is its tracking system, in which students in any particular subject may take classes tailored to their individual needs and skill level. This was instituted by Headmaster Philip Anderson upon his arrival in 1974 and has continued since then.
- The curriculum of the school has changed with the times to include novel methods of teaching and learning. Some examples are the Humanities program which coordinates learning in History and English, the use of iPads in all classes for texts and written work and the ever-evolving uses of technology around the campus. Students with special interests may take supervised independent studies and faculty may offer electives in their areas of interest.
- With Bloom’s Taxonomy and more modern versions of it as a guide, MBS seeks to provide opportunities for critical thinking and reasoning, skills needed for any work in the future.