“Yes, the school has become a large school and yet has, I know, the spirit and vitality of the small school. I daresay that the school with a small enrollment is as much a part of the past as the little red school house. The circumstances change but the spirit, the essence, remains the same.” - James  A. Hawken in a letter to Dick Day, December 1959

U.S. History: 1950s

The postwar decade of the 1950s was a period of tremendous growth and abundance. The rise of consumerism helped to create jobs, which in turn created more wealth. More people could afford to buy houses and raise families, and thus the concept of “suburbia” and the “baby boom” came to fruition. Travel became accessible to the masses with the passing of The Federal Highway Act and the availability of jet airline passenger flights. Along with these positive changes, the decade was marked by the Cold War, the Red Scare, and the Korean War. With the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957, American politicians appropriated millions of dollars to badly needed U.S. educational reform in the areas of science and mathematics. Other significant events include the ruling that made segregation illegal and the addition of Alaska and Hawaii as the 49th and 50th states in America.

Television news broadcasts changed the way people understood and interpreted current events, and entertainment options expanded with the first color television show airing in 1951, Disneyland opening in 1955, and the advent of the first drive-in movies and shopping malls. On the fashion front, blue jeans, poodle skirts, pony tails, flat-tops, and saddle shoes were popular. Rock ‘n roll made its way into the music industry with stars like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, and music became portable for the first time with the invention of the transistor radio. The rise of the “beatnik” generation marked the beginning of the anti-establishment movement, advancements in space exploration led to a new genre called science fiction, and artists experimented with the concepts of abstract expressionism and existentialism.

  • Average housing prices rose from $8,450 to $12,400 between 1950 and 1959
  • Average annual income rose from $3,210 in 1950 to %5,010 in 1959
  • The price of a gallon of gas rose from 18 cents a gallon in 1950 to 25 cents a gallon in 1959
  • The average cost of a new car rose from $1,510 in 1950 to $2,200 in 1959
Popular TV Shows
  • Lassie
  • Bonanza
  • The Twilight Zone
  • Leave it to Beaver
  • The Ed Sullivan Show
  • I Love Lucy
Famous People
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • John Wayne
  • Elvis Presley
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Jackie Robinson
Popular Toys
  • Barbie Dolls
  • Construction sets
  • Hula hoops
  • Hopalong Cassidy guns and western gear
  • Silly putty
  • The Cleveland Browns won three championship games in the 1950s
  • The World Cup made a comeback after a twelve-year hiatus
  • Professional golf became popular
  • Jackie Robinson, Wilt Chamberlain, Sugar Ray Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Frank Gifford became household names
Technology and Inventions
  • Computer modem and microchip
  • First oral contraceptive
  • Video Recorder and video tape
  • Credit card
  • Hydrogen bomb
  • Lunar probe
  • Polio vaccine

Hawken in the 1950s

The 1950s marked a decade of monumental growth and change for Hawken. Plans for expansion continued, with the Lower School addition that opened in 1952 to house grades 4 through 6, plans for a 1959 addition to the primary school, and ultimately, plans for expansion through grade twelve. Financial challenges accompanied these plans and, according to Carl Holmes, there was added pressure to “make a teacher an offer he can’t refuse” due to the increase in post-war industrial salaries, which were luring teachers from classrooms.
The School was able to weather these challenges through the generosity of philanthropists and the strengthening of Board leadership. While the School knew that it needed to wean itself from the Bolton’s support, the family continued to generously support the school, in part with an additional 10 acre gift of Lyndhurst land in 1954 to be used for nature study, play, and athletic fields. In 1958, through increased fiscal prudence, the School reported a profit for the first time in its history: $1500.

The 1950s also saw the development of new programming on campus. Sports continued to be primarily intramural, with the football team typically playing only two interscholastic games per season. The Vikings-Cyclops events in swimming, basketball, and hockey were ongoing and provided the boys with opportunities to compete and to hone their athletic skills.

The Fathers Club was also established in the 1950s - an idea seeded by Carl Holmes, who had a deep conviction that fathers and sons needed to spend time together and who, according to Charles Stephens, was “ever ready to excuse a boy to go fishing, duck hunting, or to a football or baseball game with his Dad.” Filling a gap which the school budget could not provide, the Fathers Club played a very significant and active role in the school, arranging “highly instructive” field trips to a variety of industries and institutions including University Hospitals, Republic Steel, and Firestone Tire. As Stephens described it, the boys got to “see the things men do first hand, under very pleasant circumstances.” The Club also organized meetings in the chapel, where students were recognized and awarded letters in athletics and prizes for academic achievement.  A significant outcome of the Fathers Club was the establishment of the school’s alma mater; the Fathers Club initiated a competition, offering a prize for the best school song. The winner was the Meyfarth family, who collaborated to create the Hawken Alma Mater.

The Lower School Chronicle, a “newsy and up to the minute paper” written by the boys under the direction of Mr. Smeed, made its debut in the early 1950s. Headlines from a 1953 issue include “Grade 4Y Wins Room Inspection for First Month,” “Mr. Smeed Takes a Back Dive into Fish Pool,” and “Soccer Game Won by Cyclops.” Some issues contained illustrations, like a cartoon that was captioned, “Mr. Smeed’s Famous Last Words, ‘Hurry up, chapel!’”

Alumni began to play an increasingly significant role in the life of the school during the 1950s, supporting the sabbatical and scholarship programs. The decade marked the start of the Hawken School Alumni Letter, which was assembled and edited by Mr. Stephens several times a year. In 1953, Mr. Stephens reported there were close to 50 second generation Hawken boys in the School, and closed a 1954 alumni letter with, “Why not drop in at school some day? The boys may seem young to you, but many of the names and faces will startle your memory and take you back to the days when you had their fathers as classmates.”

Of the original school faculty, Stephens, Smeed, Sipple and Ciarillo remained at the start of the decade, but Sipple retired in the mid-50s, and Stephens was easing into his retirement planned for 1955. A June 1954 publication reads, “There was an extra diploma given at this Commencement. After thirty-eight years of attendance Mr. Stephens finally made it. His diploma granted him the privilege of continuing his teaching and appointed him Head of the Upper School, Emeritus. He was re-treaded rather than retired which probably made him the happiest of graduates.”
The sudden death of Carl Holmes in the spring of 1955 after 23 years of serving as headmaster shocked and saddened the Hawken community. Liv Ireland was able to provide continuity as chair of the Board of Trustees, and Charles Stephens, in spite of his plans to retire at the end of that year, stepped up to serve as interim headmaster to enable the Board to undertake a thorough search for the next headmaster.

Though the school’s 40th anniversary in 1955 was overshadowed by Holmes’ death, Charles Stephens, who offered a moving tribute to Carl Holmes in his June alumni letter, ended the publication with these words: 

Since this is the fortieth anniversary, to us in the family, especially the older members, our thoughts will also turn back to the first two decades; to Mr. Hawken who brought the school to life and set the course. His great ideals gave this school its Character which has been its great strength throughout the years. We shall also recall those he gathered about him to carry out and on his work. Mr. Carney, Miss Luehrs, Mr. Smeed, Mr. MacMahon (who dropped in the other day, looking fine), and all those who have followed since Ansel Road days. Our School has been blessed with a host of loyal friends from the founding families and our first Treasurer, Mr. Sheffield, down through the years. At forty we face the future with all the promise the past assures us.

Later in November of 1955, the school held a special 40th anniversary dinner that included a special performance by Morris Everett singing a song written by Dixon Morgan: “Saga of the Hawken School” (sung to the tune of “Davey Crockett” with interludes of “Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots” and “O Sole Mio.”) Stephens, Smeed, and Ciarlillo (who started as the school janitor and “has always held a higher place in the hearts of Hawken boys than his humble title suggests”) are highlighted in the songs’ lyrics and were also acknowledged in the December 1955 Alumni Letter for “doing their fortieth year.”

While James Hawken had been invited to return to the school over the years since his departure, a 1953 Alumni letter reported that “James A. Hawken has retired from active work. He is now living in Santa Barbara, California, and all the king’s horses cannot drag him east of the Rockies.” Hawken did, however, stay in contact with his former colleagues and, in the mid-50s, re-established his connection to the School through a growing friendship with Hawken’s next headmaster, Richard Day, who ushered in a new era of change with his arrival in 1956. What he was doing resonated with James Hawken, who saw in Day someone who was carrying out his original plan, keeping the essence of the school intact. He considered him someone who shared his vision and dedication, and he felt a great debt of gratitude to him as expressed in a later dated December 8, 1959: “…I’ve been so long out of the school itself. You have generously re-established me. Thank you and God bless you.”

Dick Day was a change agent, too much so for some. He, like Hawken, encouraged teachers to innovate and experiment with new methods, and he believed in faculty collaboration. In fact, he increased the food budget to encourage faculty to “confer with each other in the kitchen” – something James Hawken also fostered in the school’s early years. Some of the innovations Day introduced included teaching French by “the oral method” and using the “Gillingham technique” to teach reading to boys who “do not seem to learn by conventional methods.” Day was also committed to raising teacher salaries and was determined to extend the school through grade 12.

By the late 50s, Liv Ireland initiated a campaign to grow endowment funds for teacher salaries and for the grade 12 expansion project. Around that same time, Charles Stephens wrote headmaster Dick Day in October of 1958, “At the end of this school year I shall have completed five splendid years on “Borrowed Time.” You know, too, of the feeling I have expressed for the need of new, young, and vigorous blood in the life stream of the School to insure its continued success.” Dick Day responded in a letter to alumni, “Hawken will always be part Charles R. Stephens.” While the school community felt deeply the loss of Stephens, they appreciated the vibrant young talent of new teachers like Poutasse, Robey, and Williams.

In May of 1959, the Alumni Letter reported that 340 students had enrolled and announced the addition to the primary school, which was to be the first step in the plan to expand the Lyndhurst campus to accommodate students through grade 12.  But as those plans were being considered, there was news of an alternative offer in Chesterland that would change the course of their plans in the upcoming decade.

Hawken School | Lower & Middle Schools, 5000 Clubside Rd, Lyndhurst, OH 44124
Upper School, PO Box 8002 (12465 County Line Rd), Gates Mills, OH 44040
Gries Center, 10823 Magnolia Dr, Cleveland, OH 44106