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 123-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 a century. Today, approximately 35 percent of the Hotchkiss student body receives financial assistance from an aid budget of nearly $8.42 million.


In 1971, Headmaster A. William (Bill) Olsen ’39 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 Olsen’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.

Globally Connected

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 students from China have come to Hotchkiss. 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 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 Diversity

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.

"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.

Hotchkiss Today

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.


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Blue and White Society

Dedicated to school spirit and led by mascot Bucky the Bearcat, Blue and White takes its name from Hotchkiss's school colors. Members of Blue and White help organize orientation, pep rallies, and Spirit Days (see below).


Contra Dance

In the late 1970s, former math teacher Art Eddy brought his enthusiasm for contra dancing (think: square dancing) to campus. Since then, the first night of orientation has been host to a School-wide contra dance in the field house. With almost the entire School twirling and spinning their partners on the dance floor, students say it's one of the highlights of the year.


Class Nomenclature

The terminology for the four classes -- Prep (9th grade), Lower Mid (10th), Upper Mid (11th), and Senior -- came to Hotchkiss with the School’s first headmaster, Edward G. Coy. Coy had been head of the Greek department at Phillips Academy in Andover. Hotchkiss and Andover are the only schools to use this nomenclature.


Fun Fridays

From student film screenings to spaghetti-eating contests to student-driven discussions, the program for Friday all-school Auditorium meetings is developed and run by the school co-presidents.


Headmaster's Holiday

The first Headmaster's Holiday was called in 1908 in honor of Maxwell O. Parry H'1905 to commemorate his winning the Ten Eyck Prize at Yale. Students wait in anticipation for a holiday to be announced, which means they can enjoy a day of relaxation and fun -- after linking arms and singing "Fair Hotchkiss" in celebration.



May 2015 brought the 14th annual JamFest, a brainchild of a Hotchkiss student, with student bands from multiple schools playing on campus.


Matriculation Ceremony

Before Opening Chapel, all new students meet with the head of school in the chapel for a ceremony welcoming them into the Hotchkiss student body. Each student introduces himself or herself to the rest of the new students, shakes the head’s hand, and signs his or her name and hometown in one of two large leather-bound books (one for Pythians, one for Olympians – see below).


Olympians & Pythians

When Hotchkiss was founded, members of these two student intramural teams competed in gymnastics matches, providing a major source of entertainment, competition, and friendly rivalry. Today, the teams comprise both students and faculty, and the friendly rivalry continues in a wider variety of contests including the Bow Tie Bowl. Whether you’re an Olympian or a Pythian depends on your class year: students to be graduated and faculty hired in odd years are Olympians, and in even years, Pythians.


Opening Chapel

The evening before the first day of classes, the entire student body and all faculty members assemble for Convocation. The head of school and the two student co-presidents welcome everyone, and the head delivers a talk. The evening ends with a presentation of selected student awards and the singing of "Fair Hotchkiss," the School's alma mater.


School Seal & Motto

At the seal’s center is Athena, the patron goddess of ancient Athens and of wisdom, shown in profile with her helmet. Encircling her image are the full school name, "The Hotchkiss School," its founding date "MDCCCXCI," and the words of the Hotchkiss motto: "Moniti Meliora Sequamur." The Latin phrase is taken from Virgil’s Aeneid, Book 3, and might be loosely translated to mean, “After instruction, let us move on to pursue higher things.”


Upper Mid Carnival

A much-anticipated event complete with slip 'n' slide, dunking machine, cotton candy, burgers, and much more that first began in 1965. The carnival is organized and run by the seniors as a class fun- and fund-raiser every spring.


Seniors First

From the days of daily chapel service, seating for all-school meetings has been by class, with the seniors at the front of the room, symbolizing their leadership of the school. At the close of each meeting the head of school dismisses the entire student body with “Seniors first,” granting the senior class the right to depart before other students. At the end of the school year, after the graduation of the senior class, an all-school meeting is called, and the remaining classes move up to their new seats. The following fall, new preps take their places behind them.


Spirit Days

The week leading up to and including “Taft Day," the Saturday in the fall when Hotchkiss teams compete against the Taft School. From kickoff night to the Friday night pep rally and bonfire to Taft Day itself, blue and white rule.


Student-Faculty Basketball Game

An event for which the entire Hotchkiss community turns out. The game takes place on the night before “Long Winter Weekend,” a three-day weekend in late January. Students are known for dressing up in creative costumes, and faculty members are known for plenty of antics of their own. Each year, funds raised from ticket sales go to a selected charity.


Coy-Tinker or Tinker-Coy Olympics

Can you run and balance an egg on a spoon at the same time? Coy and Tinker are the dormitories housing both ninth and tenth grade boys. Each year, the residents of these two dorms have the opportunity to test such skills in this afternoon-long competition, which usually takes place on the first Sunday in October. And lest you think "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," loyal residents of each dorm are equally insistent on the naming variation that puts their dormitory first!


Tokens of Esteem

In 1984, the custom began of having each member of the senior class present the head of school with a small token of esteem on the graduation podium. That year, the head was given a marble by each class member; the following year it was golf balls. More recent tokens of choice have been stickers of the U.S. flag, playing cards, "+1", and candy sticks.


"Daily Themes" at Hotchkiss can be traced all the way back to the early part of the 20th century. The term refers to a two-month period during which all lower mids write up to 40 papers on themes of their choosing. A second writing tradition at Hotchkiss is the “ticket,” a spontaneous overnight essay assigned in all grades. The essay becomes the student’s “ticket” into class the following day.