History & Traditions
A Brief History of Hotchkiss
In the late 1800s, at the crossing of two country roads in Lakeville, Connecticut, sat an expanse of land known for its beauty and commanding views. On these 65 acres, which at the time comprised open fields and several houses, Maria Harrison Bissell Hotchkiss chose to found The Hotchkiss School. Today, that original gift of land anchors an 827-acre campus with academic and residential buildings, playing fields and green lawns, a working farm, the deepest freshwater lake in Connecticut, and lovely vistas of the Berkshire mountains. Hotchkiss is by design a medium-sized school in a large school setting—a setting located in an area designated by The Nature Conservancy as one of 200 “Last Great Places.”
Strengthened by Time
With the guidance of then President of Yale University Timothy Dwight, Maria Hotchkiss established the School in 1891 to prepare young men for Yale. Since then, Hotchkiss has become coeducational, grown in size and scope, and established itself as one of the premier secondary schools in the country. Hotchkiss offers a classical education, finding strength in a traditional approach that has worked well and stood the test of time. Yet, over time, the Hotchkiss curriculum also has grown in size, and now includes more than 200 courses in seven academic departments.
A 121-Year Policy
When The Hotchkiss School opened its doors in 1892, the first 50 boys were charged a boarding tuition of $600--more than many families could afford. But fortunately, Maria Hotchkiss had insisted on something unique in allocating the funds to establish the School: Hotchkiss would offer scholarship aid to deserving students. Thanks to her foresight, thousands of students have benefited from a policy that has remained constant for more than 120 years. Today, approximately 35 percent of the Hotchkiss student body receives financial assistance from an aid budget of nearly $8.42 million.
In 1971, one of the School's most beloved headmasters, A. William
Olsen ’39 – known as “the O” to students– declared
to the Hotchkiss community his decision on coeducation:
“ We are moving into a new world; there can be no return to the old. . . . One of my charges as headmaster is to protect the best of the past, . . . but my biggest responsibility is to prepare students for the future. . . . I recommended to the Trustees that Hotchkiss become coeducational as soon as possible. . . . ”
Calling Hotchkiss’s previous males-only admission policy “an accident of history,” the board of trustees supported the O’s decision and declared that “coeducation is not a fad; it is a sensible response to change.” Three years later, in September 1974, 88 young women entered Hotchkiss as preps, lower-mids, upper-mids, and seniors. Today, the number of boys and girls attending Hotchkiss is roughly equal.
A relationship between this School located in northwestern Connecticut and the wider world began almost as soon as the School was founded. As early as 1912 Hotchkiss recruited students from China. This long-standing “China connection” may or may not play a role in the unique circumstance that, over the course of its history, the School has educated a quarter of the American ambassadors to China, including Ambassador Clark T. "Sandy" Randt Jr. ’64. In the first half of the 20th century, Hotchkiss Headmaster George Van Santvoord ’08 was instrumental in recruiting international students from all parts of the world to Hotchkiss. He also enabled Hotchkiss students to study abroad by having the School join the English-Speaking Union program and through the inception of The International Schoolboy Exchange in 1928. Today, the Hotchkiss student body includes students from 34 countries, and on average 5 to 10 students study abroad each year with the School Year Abroad program. Begun by the Class of 1948, The Fund for Global Understanding provides grant support for students participating in summer community service projects throughout the world. Hotchkiss is also a member of Round Square and Global Connections, international organizations that bring together students, faculty, and school leaders from around the world.
Lessons of Differences
What is the best feature about attending Hotchkiss? Current students will likely say, living and learning with people from all over the world, and from all different backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities. From the beginning, Maria Hotchkiss was not interested in establishing “a school for the pampered sons of rich gentlemen.” Over the last several decades, a multifaceted diversity has increasingly come to Hotchkiss. In the 1960s Hotchkiss began its first formal participation in minority student recruitment programs such as the U.S. Grant Program – begun by Hotchkiss graduates attending Yale – as well as A Better Chance (ABC) and the Greater Opportunity (GO) Program. The Hotchkiss connection with Prep for Prep, an organization that helps prepare minority students for academically demanding independent schools, began in the early 1980s. Today, 43 percent of Hotchkiss students identify themselves as students of color.
"Greening" the Hotchkiss Blue
In 1996 the School’s mission was broadened to include “commitment to environmental stewardship” as one of the desired outcomes of a Hotchkiss education. With over 500 acres of woods, two lakes, wetlands, fields, brooks, and ponds on campus, learning about the environment begins the day new students arrive. These natural resources have also allowed Hotchkiss to be among the first schools to adopt courses such as AP Environmental Science, limnology (lake studies), and stream ecology. In 2004, the School launched its Summer Environmental Science program, where students learn to read the natural environment as field naturalist, ecologist, and cultural historian. In 2005, the School completed construction of the first building on campus to achieve the respected LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, the Esther Eastman Music Center. Flinn and Edelman Dormitories and Monahan have also been LEED certified; and the Biomass Central Heating Facility is one of only three LEED-certified plants in the country.
Through more than a century’s experience and changing times, Hotchkiss has remained steadfast in its mission: to provide an educational experience that is challenging yet supportive, broad but well-informed. We are primarily a boarding school, but day students make up nine percent of our enrollment. Of our 600 students, 21 percent come from countries other than the U.S. This diverse group of boys and girls live and learn in an environment with unparalleled opportunities, and go on to attend leading colleges and universities throughout the United States and the world.