|In the spring of 1917 a group of mothers of widely differing social circles met to discuss the means of providing a school experience for their four-year olds. The Rochester area at this time did not have a program for four-year-olds; in fact, these women (original records say there were ten, but only nine are named: Mrs. Max Adler, Mrs. Mortimer Anstice, Mrs. Cogswell Bently, Mrs. Franklin Book, Mrs. Harry Frankenstein, Mrs. Walter Meyers, Mrs. Kenneth Townson, Mrs. Julian Wiley, and Mrs. Horace Wolf) were criticized for their plan to “shirk their responsibilities and hand over their youngsters to the care of another.”|
The mothers consulted with Miss Mary Jean Miller of the City normal School and, under her guidance, decided to start a Montessori school. There had been two earlier attempts at a Montessori school in Rochester. The first was a kindergarten in the home of Mrs. Edward Mulligan, run by Miss Miller. The other consisted of the son of Mrs. Horace Wolf and three small guests; Mrs. Wolf had purchased the necessary materials from the “Children’s House” in New York, studied the philosophy and practice of the system with Miss Miller, and taught her little charges at the benches and tables which were formerly in the Mulligan schoolroom. The Montessori method stressed the development of the individual at his own pace, with the teacher as a ‘guide” rather than as a “goad.” It sought the development of habits of decision, concentration, self reliance, and personality in the student. In 1917 such aims were considered quite revolutionary.
The mothers engaged a teacher from New York who had studied under Montessori in Rome. They decided the school was to be democratic, with scholarships for a few less privileged children, and cooperative, with the parents and teacher running it together. In 1917, with only ten students each paying $8 a month tuition, and with costs for a teacher, rent, heat, and light to pay, the mothers were valuable assistants.
Mrs. Kenneth Townson (niece of Mrs. Mulligan) was chosen first president, and Mrs. Cogswell (Harriet) Bently was credited as the founder. The school opened for the summer in the front rooms of a house on Oxford Street, and the following winter it moved around the corner to a vacant tailor shop on Park Avenue. The mothers collected chairs, rugs, curtains, and other necessities to furnish the school. Later, when the school day was lengthened, they took turns preparing lunch. They called for and delivered pupils. Later, some of them even taught. And so, during that first year, the pattern was set for the future Harley School.
The 1917 principles, because they were both visionary and practical, have won the respect and dedicated service of hundreds of Harley students, faculty, and parents.
The school was first called “The Children’s University School of Rochester.” Its stated purpose was “to interpret and meet the needs of the individual child so that he may fit in with and serve his fellow beings to the height of his power. The school surrounds the child with conditions which free his potentialities for full growth and development and seriously take into account not only his outward achievement but the kind of individual developed through the achievement.
The method to be used was described in this way:
“In an environment scientifically prepared to meet the needs of the individual child he chooses his own work and continues as long at this task as his inner satisfaction demands. Through a feeling of achievement and mastery, each child feels himself a stronger, more capable individual and gains courage to proceed with more difficult problems and to help others and cooperate with them along the way. No child is held back or forced forward to keep pace with another, but progresses as rapidly as his ability allows. The teacher guides and protects the child’s inner powers without disturbing them; consequently, the child has a chance to express his own individuality, and habits of decision, concentration, self-reliance, and personal responsibility are developed. Where there is no hindrance or outer compulsion, where conditions are prepared to free mind and body, where the approach toward the child is positive rather than negative – rebelion is never born, and the discipline of the teacher gives way to discipline from within by the child himself. He, therefore, has an opportunity completely to realize himself, become mater of himself, and develop the power to respect the rights of others.”
Over the next few years the school moved from the Park Avenue store to an apartment nearby, then to a room in Anthony Memorial Hall at the University of Rochester, and then to larger quarters in the basement of Third Presbyterian Church on the corner of Meigs Street and East Avenue. Newspaper accounts mention a “Miss Wareing” as the first director, but we have no other information about the earliest faculty members.
The first printed bulletin in our records is for the school’s sixth year, 1922-23, when it was housed in Third Presbyterian Church. This bulletin pays tribute to an earlier director – Miss Gertrude Hume – but lists as the present director Miss Katherine Quinlan (later Mrs. Shedd). It mentions that there has been an increase in enrollment of 300% since the school’s founding and that the scope of the school is.
“For children of three and four, the school gives the training and companionship which they need under the happiest and best conditions. The work is free and spontaneous, and it leads directly to the regular school. Children of five and six usually start, of their own initiative, reading, writing, and number work. In this first grade each child advances at the rate of his own individual maturity and is commonly ready for second grade at six and a half. The school plans to carry the children through the fourth, grade, always keeping in mind the principles of the Montessori method. Each group has a half hour period of French daily in which they have conversations, games and songs. The older children learn to read and translate French. A half hour period in music is allowed for each group. The children gain an appreciation of good music through ear training, which forms the basis for tone, pitch time, and rhythms.”
Mrs. Francis Cunningham, who was an aunt of Stephen Hinrichs, headmaster of Harley from 1963-1977, served as president of the Board of Trustees at this time. The French classes mentioned above were taught by Madame Dinah Windholz, who became a legend at Harley School as a teacher of great charm and enthusiasm.
In January 1924, the school was incorporated under the Education Law of the State of New York under the name HARLEY – the name being a combination of the first three and last three letters of Mrs. Harriet Bentley’s name. The first meeting of the incorporators, members, and trustees of the Harley School was held January 28.1924 at 2:00 p.m. at the office of attorneys Hubbell, Taylor, Goodwin, and Moser, 31 Exchange Street, Rochester.
Also, in 1924, after two years at Third Presbyterian Church, the school needed even more room, and so it acquired a home of its own – a house at 242 Oxford Street. The school year 1924-25 opened at this location. Three groups encompassing pre-school through 5th grade were limited to 15 in each. Yearly tuition ranged from $150 to $225. The purpose and method were essentially the same as that listed in previous bulletins. The following phrase is interesting: “The child is limited only by the rights of others and, far from being abandoned to his own devices to work havoc and destruction, he is carefully and precisely shown the proper handling and use of his environment.” Ruth Walcott (later Mrs. Hugh MacKenzie) was hired to teach the new 5th grade. She recollects these days as follows:
“On the ground floor of the rambling and rather spacious hold house Fanny MacLean had the pre-school group, still under the influence of the Montessori Method. Since she was something of an artist and musician herself, these small children were inspired to do amazing things! On the second floor were two other groups – 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades under the direction of Katherine Quinlan Shedd; and 4th and 5th of which I had charge.
Everyone was talking and thinking about ‘Progressive Education’ during those years, and the group of parents who started the school were very serious about combining the best of various methods in their children’s education. As the emphasis was always on the individual’s interest and ability, it was an everyday phenomenon as one observed the different groups to see one child completely absorbed in some beloved book for a couple of hours, another getting on with a project in painting, and still another doing advanced arithmetic ‘beyond the call of duty.’ Mrs. Francis Cunningham, the Board president, gave direction and counsel in the art work, and several mothers participated in some area of special interest.
My outstanding memory is of small groups of children working at their own particular pace, in various areas of interest. It was relaxed, informal, intimate – there were very few disciplinary problems. It had many of the elements of learning at home, some of the give and take of a large family where the older children took it upon themselves to help the younger ones. It was such an exciting educational venture that it is hard, in retrospect, to recall the things which didn’t work!”
Ted Trimble, who attended Harley from 1922-1931, remembers an occasion when there was some sort of epidemic and so his class met on the front porch of his house at 633 East Avenue, where the Rochester Museum and Science Center now stands. Such was the relaxed atmosphere prevalent then!
By 1925 the stage was set for the real flowering of the new little school – “The Sumner Years.”
The school grew and prospered. Enrollment increased to 55 in 1925-26, and it became necessary to rent the downstairs apartment in a house across the street from2 42 Oxford Street in order to house grades 3-6.
In September 1925, an event of major importance occurred for the school. Miss Louise Sumner became the director. She had taught previously at Evanston High School, and for 10 years she had been director of a girls’ camp in the Adirondacks, a position she kept for many years after she became Harley’s director. During the years of her tenure, 1925-1944, the school grew into the school we know today – a school for boys and girls for nursery school age to college entrance. Because she was a woman of vision, courage, and infinite dedication, she was able to appreciate and make real the principles laid down in 1917 by the original mothers. She also added many ideas of her own, Harleyites of today will recognize many of the policies we sponsor as having come from her.