In 1915, a small group of parents looking for an alternative to University School were seeking a tutor for their five sons. One of those parents, Mrs. Roberta Bole, identified in a young widower, former seminarian, and progressive educator from New York “the essence of her ideals for a teacher for her son at a time in the history of Cleveland when, in the opinion of many, private education was not living up to its reason for being.” That progressive educator, James A. Hawken, was not interested in leaving his teaching position at Browning School to become a tutor, but he was intrigued by the prospect of starting a new school that embraced a concept originally articulated by Bishop John Lancaster Spalding, “That the better self shall prevail and each generation introduce its successor to a higher plane of life.” While the parents of the five boys had no interest in funding a school, they agreed that if James Hawken could find a way to do so, they would encourage other families to enroll their sons. (See photo of original 5 – Pat Bole, John Teagle, Jim Weir, John Phillips, and Sherman Hayden.)
James Hawken, with the help of his friend Henry Sheffield, found a way to fulfill his dream of founding a such a school, and in October of 1915, Hawken School opened its doors for the first time to 19 boys. Classes were held in three rooms of a converted house at 1572 Ansel Road that overlooked Wade Park, while the upstairs served as living quarters for Hawken and two other original faculty members, William Phelan, who specialized in language studies, and Joe Motto, a talented artist and sculptor. (See photo from Get Ready landing page) The back yard, an area of about fifty square feet, served as the playground. There was no janitor, so the teachers took on maintenance of the facility as well, including snow shoveling, housekeeping, and landscaping duties.
Word spread quickly that this school offered something indeed very different and special, and Hawken soon outgrew its limited quarters. Upon Stephens’ arrival just one year after the school’s founding, he noted that “1572 was now the Headmaster’s home and a few doors south at 1588 was the new school, a much larger house and yard. The enrollment was thirty-five and four new masters were added to the faculty.” John Ciarillio, who was to become a beloved fixture at Hawken for the remainder of his life, arrived daily by bicycle to oversee the maintenance of the new building. H. Mortimer Smeed, Mr. Hawken’s nephew, also arrived that same year, ultimately establishing himself as a long-time teacher who was endearingly nicknamed “Toughy.” In its second year Hawken spanned grades one through five, with grades one and two ending at noon and grades three through six extending until late afternoon. Those who lived within a few blocks of schools went home for lunch, while the others spent the lunch hour walking with masters to the tea room at the Cleveland Art Museum.
The additional space at this new facility included a kitchen that served as Mr. Motto’s clay modeling studio and a barn that was used for drama, manual training, chapel, and athletics. It was in that barn where chapel services featured talks by the boys, where the first Christmas play was performed, and where the basketball team practiced for its first interscholastic game, which they lost by a score of 50 to 0.
April 1917 marked America’s entry into World War I and the subsequent depletion of the faculty that James Hawken had worked so hard to recruit and train under his “every master a headmaster” philosophy. Those who went off to war were replaced by an entirely new staff when the then first through sixth grade school opened in 1918, including the legendary Fannie Luehrs, John Carney, and Ross MacMahon joining the staff. After the war, Stephens, Smeed, and Phelan were happily welcomed back to the faculty by Jim Hawken, who knew better than to let a good teacher get away. Enrollment continued to climb at 1588 Ansel Road as a seventh grade was added and additional teachers hired.
By 1919, the school added an eighth grade, which occupied the third floor attic area of the house. By the end of the decade, plans were already underway to build a new school in rural Lyndhurst to accommodate the growing enrollment and to keep the boys safe from the increasing perils of automobile traffic on Ansel Road, which had already tragically taken the life of 9 year old Myron Herrick in 1917 when he ran into the road.
It was during these first years that the concept of fair play was introduced - though the signs that continue to grace our campuses and classrooms were not commissioned for design until the following decade. Charles Stephens called it “the one measuring stick… the golden rule and the bill of rights.” He went on to explain, “Coincident with the obvious task of teaching the means of communication, these youngsters must learn to live together, respecting the rights of one another and accepting freely the customs which society eventually enacts into law in the interest of all. To know freedom in law with its responsibilities as distinguished from license… is a must if we are to be truly free individuals. We had two words for it, “Fair Play.”
In those early years, two major elements kept Hawken anchored in the face of these formidable challenges: James A. Hawken’s extraordinary vision and unwavering principles, and the remarkable generosity of several early benefactors who ardently believed in that vision.
Because Hawken School’s original five families were not interested in financing the school, it fell on James Hawken to acquire the necessary funding. Being a man of limited financial means, he sought support from his friend Henry Sheffield, a wealthy and prominent Cleveland attorney who believed in Hawken and his friend’s vision for the school. James Hawken later acknowledged that without Sheffield’s financial support in those early years on Ansel Road, there would have been no school. Throughout the years, Sheffield continued to provide support for the school, as did Hawken himself, who preferred to reduce his own salary rather than compromise educational quality. Overseeing the quality of education was so important to James Hawken that he was known to turn down gifts that could potentially lead to a loss of control of educational policy. Another of the school’s earliest benefactors, Francis Payne Bolton, addressed this dilemma by joining with Roberta Holden Bole to establish the Hawken School Endowment Association in 1919, which could receive gifts for the school but had no voice in school policy. The Association’s first members included Frances and Chester Bolton, Roberta Bole, Warren Hayden, and Henry Sheffield. The first gift received was 14 acres of farmland in Lyndhurst from Frances and Chester Bolton. With that gift came the promise of funding for a new building to come several years later. Without the major financial support of Frances Bolton from the school’s beginnings until her death in 1977, Hawken School would not be what it is today. (Read more about Frances Payne Bolton’s remarkable life of public service and her contributions to Hawken.) – link to In Memoriam tribute by Stenberg in Hawken Review 1977; http://fpb.case.edu/visitors/boltonact.shtm
James Hawken’s Vision and Philosophy of Education
Hawken’s vision was to create very small classes that would focus not only on academics but also on the development of character. He was committed to recruiting teachers who were passionate about understanding the uniqueness of each boy and nurturing his individual talents. (See JAH’s philosophy of education) Hawken believed that school should be an extension of the home and thus maintained open and frequent communication with parents, often visiting with them in their homes or his home to discuss “the needs and welfare of the boy.” He was insistent that parents and teachers remain mindful of one thing in particular: that “the school… exists for the boy.” Charles Stephenson recalled, “We were encouraged to be creative, to explore, to experiment so long as we kept in mind our obligation to the pupil to reach certain goals in the teaching process.”
Hawken’s philosophy of teaching differed from that of any other private school in Cleveland in that he maintained a visionary perspective that went far beyond practical application. He regarded habits such as “obedience, observation, concentration, attention, courtesy, and so on” to be an essential part of the curriculum and a means of discovering “a higher plane of life” and one’s “better self.” Report cards included a character card which provided detailed assessments of each boy’s character traits. Individualized attention, appropriate use of time, differentiation, and character development were recurring themes in the instruction booklet James Hawken prepared for teachers called “An Examination of Conscience.” The concept of “fair play was taken very seriously; Charles Hickox ‘31 once recalled, “There was a fat effeminate boy whom we ridiculed one day. We lost our class ‘Fair Play’ sign for two weeks, and we smarted some.”
Hawken’s spirituality and religious background are reflected in his emphasis on character, discipline, and duty. A former seminarian, Hawken wrote, “We hope that our boys will have some spiritual qualities, but we mean that he shall know how to read and write and figure. My whole point is that these spiritual qualities (initiative, sincerity, truthfulness, courage, thoroughness, reverence, etc.) are infinitely more important to his present charm and future achievement than the most complete knowledge of writing arithmetic, history, grammar, classics, and natural science.” Hawken believed that learning should extend beyond one’s self and the classroom. In 1918 he organized the Cleveland chapter of the Junior Red Cross, enlisting students from all Cleveland schools in the war effort. By supplying necessities for soldiers, students were given an opportunity to fulfill their civic duty.
The First Nineteen Boys