St. Mark's School (Massachusetts)

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St Mark's School
Motto Age Quod Agis
literal translation: "Do What You Do",
figurative translation: "Drive because you are driven".
Established 1865
Type Private high school, boarding
Students 331 (2008–09)
Location Southborough, Massachusetts,, USA
Campus Suburban
Colors Blue & White         
Mascot Winged Lion
Newspaper The St. Marker
St. Mark's Library.jpg
The library

St. Mark’s School is a coeducational, Episcopal, preparatory school, situated on 250 acres (1.0 km2) in Southborough, Massachusetts, 25 miles (40 km) from Boston. It was founded in 1865 as an all-boys school by Joseph Burnett, a wealthy native of Southborough who developed and marketed the world-famous Burnett Vanilla Extract.[1] Girls have attended since the 1970s. St. Mark's is a member of the Independent School League, and the second-oldest of the five elite prep schools collectively termed St. Grottlesex.

The school's 65 teachers lead 325 boarding and day students through a rigorous curriculum and a full program of co-curricular activities. Class size averages 10, with a student-faculty ratio of 5:1. Each department offers honors and advanced placement sections (numbering 24 in total, more than any other school in the Independent School League).

John Warren, a 1974 St. Mark's graduate, is the current head of school.


Founding by Joseph Burnett[edit]

Joseph Burnett, a wealthy resident of Southborough, founded St. Mark's School in 1865, reportedly counseled by Henry Coit of St. Paul's School of Concord, New Hampshire, who told Burnett that with six sons to educate, he would do well to found a school, instead of sending them north to St. Paul's. Episcopalian St. Mark's is thus one of the earlier New England schools founded on the British model, as opposed to New England academies such as The Governor's Academy, Phillips Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy, both founded nearly a century earlier. St. Mark's initial board of trustees was composed of members of many prominent Boston families, as well as many eminent Episcopal churchmen, and from the first the school attracted many members of Boston Brahmin and New York Knickerbocker families, although St. Mark's great headmaster William Greenough Thayer admitted a limited number of Jewish boys as well. There were students of color whose fathers were clergy within the Episcopal Church. The first unaffiliated African-American student did not enroll until 1964.[2] St. Mark's continues to maintain close ties to the Episcopal Church.

Arrival of William Greenough Thayer[edit]

Despite the elite social standing of its early student body, the school faced initial challenges, including financial difficulties and the instability of having four different headmasters in its first seventeen years of existence, followed by the appointment of William E. Peck in 1882. Peck was a controversial headmaster, often in conflict with the trustees, until 1894, when he resigned and founded Pomfret School, taking a number of students and teachers with him. It wasn't until the appointment of Headmaster William Greenough Thayer (who had taught for five years at slightly younger rival Groton School) in 1894 that St. Mark's began to experience stability. Thayer led the school until 1930, bringing it out of its initial financial difficulties, expanding the campus infrastructure dramatically, and eventually retiring just as the school faced the challenges of the Crash of 1929 and its impact on the student body. St. Mark's – and Thayer – were national institutions by the time of his departure from the school. News of his pending retirement was reported by Time Magazine in 1929 as an event of national significance, which to the nation's social elite it then was.[3]

The Thayer period was marked throughout by growth, notably in the acreage of the school (from the original 50 acres (200,000 m2) of Burnett's time to the 250 acres (1.0 km2) the school possesses today). Additionally, new dormitories, faculty housing, school fields, and a boathouse were constructed, with all school core facilities kept “under one roof” in St. Mark's unique English-inspired cloister construction. Thayer's popularity and knack for attracting socially-well-connected families proved durable. His admissions policy, modeled on that of English Public Schools, prioritized admissions on the basis of when one's parents had “put one's name down”. In practice this led over time to a school dominated by children of alumni – and not coincidentally, heavily dominated by the sons of inherited wealth. (Girls were not admitted until 1978.) St. Mark's social standing did not pass unnoticed in wider America. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his classic 1920 novel “This Side of Paradise”, identified St. Mark's as a school which “..recruited from Boston and the Knickerbocker families of New York.” This was certainly the reputation.[4]

Thayer's academic principles were classical and conservative. Teachers – for many years almost universally bachelors, called “masters,” who lived in spartan quarters with the boys in the dorms – focused their rote instruction heavily on preparation for Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, which during this period accepted almost every single St. Marker. St. Mark's students studied Latin and Ancient Greek to the exception of virtually everything else, and modern subjects such as science, modern history, and art were virtually unknown. Indeed, St. Mark's first art teacher, who taught from 1924 to 1960, at one point simultaneously taught at St. Mark's, St. Paul's School, and Groton School, devoting one day a week at each institution. Later in his career he devoted more teaching time to St. Mark's.[5]

While the arts were largely neglected, sports were heavily emphasized. In the initial years masters played with boys on the same teams, and the traditional football rivalry with Groton was slowly expanded to include the English game of “fives”, baseball, and other sports. (fives was introduced so that hockey players would have something to play when the ice wasn't good enough to support skating). St. Mark's has laid particular emphasis on ice hockey since around 1910, and has produced a number of notable and even professional players. St. Mark's has contributed to other sports as well. School legend has it that the baseball catcher's mask was invented at St. Mark's by a St. Mark's player who was protecting his broken nose by wearing a modified fencing helmet; Harvard University student Fred Thayer saw the helmet and several years later took out a patent on it.

Parkman period[edit]

With Thayer's retirement in 1930, Headmaster Francis Parkman was chosen to lead the school, and he initiated changes which continue to resonate. Parkman faced a conservative faculty and alumni body, and found his efforts to modernize St. Mark's a challenge. Nonetheless, he made some brilliant teaching appointments that may well have had a profound impact on American letters. Parkman brought the noted poet Richard Eberhart to the school as an English teacher from 1933–1941, and W. H. Auden for a brief appointment in 1939. Auden described St. Mark's to a friend as a school that “sets out to be a sort of American Eton”; he was reportedly struck there by the “dimness of the boys and the reverence of America for the average.”[6] Eberhart briefly memorializes Auden's time at St. Mark's with his poem: “To W. H. Auden on his Fiftieth Birthday” in which he mentions the school in passing.

Auden's catty views notwithstanding, a brief perusal of an old boy list quickly demonstrates that whatever St. Mark's shortcomings during this period, it was certainly not producing mediocrities. St. Mark's alumni around this time formed a virtual “Who's Who” of American achievement in a variety of endeavors. St. Mark's during this period produced two Senators, not to mention influential Congressmen, Episcopal Bishops, senior government officials, and other national leaders. Intriguingly, two of the most influential families in twentieth-century American journalism, the Pulitzers and the Forbes, representing both ends of the political spectrum, have strong St. Mark's connections. While business, the law, and banking remained key professional arenas, literature was not neglected. Arguably the greatest American poet of the twentieth century, Robert Lowell, attended St. Mark's in the thirties and wrote his first published prose for student journals there. Richard Eberhart was an early mentor of Lowell, despite Lowell having never taken a class with him; their relationship continued during Lowell's time at Harvard University. Lowell's references to St. Mark's in his mature poetry are occasionally dark, sometimes grudgingly admiring, and at other times merely atmospheric. There is little doubt, however, that his education there had a profound impact upon his development as a writer.

Headmaster Parkman left the school in 1942 – to enlist in the army – and never returned, although he remained active in independent school policy all his life, eventually rising to the presidency of the National Association of Independent Schools in Boston, MA.

World War II[edit]

World War II brought dramatic changes. Some 500 St. Markers served in the military during the war, and twenty “old boys” died in the war. In 1942 Parkman was replaced by William Brewster, an Episcopal clergyman who remained only until 1947. Brewster's democratizing tendencies were abetted by exigencies of the war effort. During the war years, the school was forced to cope with labor shortages that forced students to work in dormitories and the dining hall. The maids and domestic help who vanished with the war's labor shortage never returned when faced with greater post-war opportunities. Perhaps more importantly, in the long run, the post-war educational benefits in the GI Bill democratized American higher education and swelled immeasurably the ranks of American men seeking and able to afford an Ivy League education. This changed post-war climate dramatically toughened the admissions prospects of St. Mark's graduates, as well as those of other elite prep schools, and has evolved continually up until the present day, when considerably fewer St. Markers attend Harvard, Yale, and Princeton than was once the case.[7]

Twentieth-century elitism[edit]

Despite the creeping democratization, St. Mark's remained socially exclusive, elitist, and traditional for some time, largely because of its intense institutional culture. Headmaster Brewster disliked the clubby atmosphere of the school, reforming admission policies during his brief tenure. Famously hearing one alumnus describe St. Mark's as the best club he had ever joined, Brewster subsequently fought to make admissions merit-based, and expanded financial assistance. His successors continued this battle. The school began to focus more on academic as opposed to social merits, and by the late fifties was admitting only about one student in five. Nonetheless, St. Mark's found it hard to shake its reputation as a finishing school for the social register set, particularly given the persistence of many alumni who fit this mold.

Challenge of modernization[edit]

Edward T. "Ned" Hall became Headmaster of the school in 1968. The sixties presented traditional boarding schools with many challenges—including how to be relevant in a changing world—and the administration, faculty and trustees struggled with bringing St. Mark's out of its Victorian origins and into the 20th century. Beginning in the early 1970s, many traditional, formal requirements of school life were relaxed—including a reduction in the number of required chapel services from six days per week to five, fewer sit down meals, a "December Week" of alternative course offerings, and experiments in co-education. Societal changes also caused the shooting range beneath the chapel to shift in use from national protection, to a closet for choir robes. For faculty and students alike, such changes were unsettling given how steeped in tradition St. Mark's was. Hall announced his resignation at the beginning of the 1973-74 school year, effective the following July.

In 1974, the Rev. Robert R. "Red" Hansel, a former chaplain at St. George's School, was brought in by the trustees to effect radical institutional change—including a more streamlined administrative structure, complete re-organization of the student living arrangements into smaller "house" units, and other initiatives which were meant to evolve the traditional and longstanding institutional culture. Hansel's four-year tenure was controversial and brief- although modern St Mark's can be traced to many of the evolutions, like coeducation, that began then. Girls were initially admitted in 1972 to the newly established Southborough School, the vehicle that facilitated coordinate co-education. Funded largely by St. Mark's itself, the Southborough girls' school was dissolved in 1977 and many of its students and faculty absorbed into the parent school.

St. Mark's today[edit]

In 1946, the young John F. Kennedy said, "I think the success of any school can be measured by the contribution the alumni make to our national life."[8] By this measure, St. Mark's stands in an elite category of academic achievement. St. Mark's alumni today continue to cut a broad swathe across American society—from CEOs such as Pepsi's and Apple's John Sculley, Whole Food's Walter Robb, to the astronaut Story Musgrave, the artist Ingolv Helland, and the Internet business publishing pioneer David Gardner, creator of the Motley Fool, a popular website. Nor has computer innovation in itself been neglected, with the photo software entrepreneur Lars Perkins—co-founder of Picasa—a relatively recent alumnus.[9]

Astronaut Story Musgrave

St. Mark's has retained its classical focus – indeed, even maintaining a “Classics Diploma” for classically-focused students – it has in recent years demonstrated initiative and agility as it seeks to modernize its curriculum. An example of this, given the heavy presence of former St. Markers in the banking professions, is what seems to have been the brilliant decision to found the St. Mark's Math Institute. Changes in banking, finance, and science have made math far more of a cornerstone of contemporary professional education than knowledge of Latin or Greek. For more than a century the Trustees of St. Mark's have battled between visions of the school as an elitist bastion and that of a center of elite education. In recent years the pendulum has swung from reinforcing elitism to one of education which seeks to develop future elites.

In June 2008, under the leadership of Bishop Clark Grew, the St. Mark' Board of Trustees developed a concise statement about the educational aspirations of the school. St. Mark's mission statement, as endorsed by the Board, declared that:


Although St. Mark's has modernized its curriculum from the early days of almost total emphasis on Latin and Greek, the school still looks to its Latin motto as an inspiration for its mission of training future leaders. "Age Quod Agis" literally translates to "Do What You Do." A more contemporary translation might be: "Whatever you choose to do, do it well."

Age Quod Agis

The scale on which this mission is carried out is considerably greater now than it was in the school’s first academic year. Initially, the school employed one faculty member and educated a dozen boys. The school now employs more than 60 faculty members and welcomes more than 330 students each fall. Students, boys and girls, come not only from New England but from around the world. Girls have been admitted since the 1970s, when the school reached an agreement for coordinated education with the nearby Southborough School, a newly founded institution for girls. In 1977 the Southborough School merged with St. Mark’s.

For the 2008 - 2009 academic year, according to Boarding School Review, St. Mark's accepted approximately one applicant in four, with a student body now evenly split between girls and boys. St. Mark's world language program is one of the nation's best, despite the school's small size, with 13 finalists in a nationwide French exam and five in German, according to St. Mark's website. For the 2007 - 2008 academic year, the school newspaper, The St. Marker won an American Scholastic Press Association award for excellence. Seventy percent of St. Mark's students taking the AP tests in 2008 earned grades of 4 or 5, according to Headmaster John Warren in a September 2008 letter to the school community. St. Mark's 2008-2009 "Fact Sheet" notes that eight students were Commended National Merit Scholars last year. St. Mark's music department is particularly strong, and the school runs a summer music program annually.

St. Mark’s remains academically focused, providing a rigorous liberal arts program stemming from a classical tradition, and prepares its students for entry to competitive colleges and universities. It is characterized by small classes, close student-teacher relationships, and a strong emphasis on the sporting life as a complement to the life of the mind. The recent completion of additional facilities for the arts and theater have greatly enhanced these possibilities on campus.


The St. Mark's curriculum follows a liberal arts tradition. An English course required every year of students. All students take the same English class their first three years, and choose from a selection of electives their final year. Mathematics is required up and until the level of Algebra II. Two years of laboratory science are required and one year of art and religion. In addition, one year of American history is required. Students take between 5 and 6 classes each year depending on the difficulty of the classes and their personal ambition.


St. Mark's offers several unique programs to its students and others affiliated with the school. The programs are as follow:


St. Mark’s has changed much in appearance since its founding. In school founder Joseph Burnett's time the school in its entirety was made up of one structure—a square, two-story house painted yellow with green blinds. That building and others from those early days, including a large schoolroom and dormitory wing built in 1866–1867, were gradually demolished during the Thayer period in the 1890s, to make way for the brick and Tudor-styled structures that now comprise the school’s 250-acre (1.0 km2) campus. Notable in the Thayer vision was the cloister-style construction of the school, with interconnected buildings forming an architectural ensemble in which the entire school, alone among elite American boarding schools, was essentially under one roof, in many cases with dorms on the upper floors of the buildings and classrooms and other academic halls in the lower floors. The school as it appeared in the early 1950s is portrayed under the name "St. Bart's" in the novel Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov, whose son Dmitri attended the school.

Belmont Field

Thayer's coherent architectural vision of Gothic academia has survived to this day, and St. Mark's main campus structure has remained remarkably well-preserved. The school itself touts the "school under one roof" concept as a unique strength. It is certainly unusual. With the exception of St. Paul's School, the other St. Grottlesex schools and schools in the Independent School League built their campuses in architectural styles that mimicked the architectural vernacular and English colonial references of the Harvard University campus and the early New England academies.

St. Mark's late twentieth and early twenty-first century construction of an athletic center, a dormitory and a large performing arts center have led to some of the campus structures no longer being under a single roof.

How this close, cohesive architectural environment impacts student relations has not been formally studied. Sadly, during the construction of the performing arts center, another beloved facility—the fives courts mentioned by Nabokov—were razed. This effectively ceded to Groton School, the only other school in the independent school league with fives courts, the permanent title of North American Fives Champions. The reconstruction of the courts is currently part of the school's master plan which is being financed by alumni and present St. Mark's parent; Daniel Howell.

Some interior shots of St. Mark's can be seen in the film School Ties (1992), which was filmed at Middlesex School and St. Mark's. Originally, the director wanted to use St. Mark's picturesque Tudor buildings as the primary film site; however, he was unable to get a permit from the local police station that would allow him to close off the street for filming. Thus he decided to use Middlesex School for exterior shots.


St. Mark's has historically been strong at ice hockey, and a number of its alumni have gone on to careers in the National Hockey League. The school fields 48 interscholastic sports teams, with 22 team sports and 7 recreational activities. In addition to a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, an enclosed hockey rink, a cage, gymnasiums, and squash and tennis courts, St. Mark's has a nine hole golf course on campus. St. Mark's has a tradition of letting as many of its students as possible play interscholastic sports.

In 2006 and 2007, St. Mark's boys cross country was the New England Division IV Champion, while the girls cross country team was the runner up in 2007. After finishing second in the New Englands in 2008, 2009, and 2010, St. Mark's boys cross country had an undefeated season in 2011 and went on to win the ISL Championships and New England Division II Championship. St. Mark's boys cross country replicated this feat in 2013, capturing the ISL and New England Championships once again.

St. Mark's Boys Basketball was the New England Prep School Class "C" Champions. Three St. Mark's wrestlers qualified for the National Prep School Tournament; Boys Crew, for the third consecutive year, won the Henry B. DuPont III cup. During the 2008-2009 winter season, St. Mark's Boys Varsity Squash put together a remarkable season, going 13-3, 4 wins better than the previous best season in school history. Finishing a disappointing 9th in New England, the squash team also placed 9th at the High School Nationals tournament at Yale, placing them in an elite group of schools.

Over the past decade St. Mark's has had a very successful basketball program. Sending many players to play at the Division 1 level. Notables include Erik Murphy (Florida University), Nate Lubick (Georgetown University), Melsahn Basabe (The University of Iowa), Alex Murphy (Duke University). Also current players have committed to play Division 1 basketball, Eric Green (Holy Cross), Kaleb Tarczewski (University of Arizona), Nik Stauskas (University of Michigan).

St. Mark's traditional athletic rival is the younger Groton School. St. Mark's high school football rivalry since 1886 with Groton School is one of the oldest athletic rivalries in the United States, following the Andover-Exeter rivalry. The two schools have met in regularly scheduled athletic contests for more than a century. (See the List of high school football rivalries for more information.) St. Mark's traditionally has a "Groton Day" celebrating this rivalry with athletic games against the Groton teams, and celebrates the night before the games as "Groton Night".

School legend has it that Baseball's catcher's mask was invented in 1875 by a St. Marks School catcher. It was originally a fencing helmet he modified so as to protect his broken nose. A Harvard baseball player Fred Thayer was playing on the opposing team that day and by 1878 Thayer had gotten a patent on it.

During the ice hockey season, St. Mark's boasts some of the best fans in the ISL. The small rink is jammed with almost the entire school body every game to cheer and root for the Lions. Visiting teams must not only face the Lions themselves on the ice, but the fans as well, as they do chirp quite severely.

From the dawn of the Twentieth Century St. Mark's has hosted a number of Olympic athletes, including Truxtun Hare in track and field, and Suzanne King, in cross country skiing.

The Girl's Field Hockey Team has a history of winning the New England Championships. Teams have won in 1992, 2012 and 2013.[10]

Notable and famous alumni[edit]

Although perhaps best known for educating generations of business titans and chief executive officers of major corporations, St. Mark's School has had numerous illustrious alumni who don't fit the mold of great wealth. The school has been particularly well represented in the arts and letters. Poet Robert Lowell wrote for the school literary magazine while a student, as did Lost Generation literary figure Harry Crosby. Artist William Congdon began painting there. Henry Demarest Lloyd, a notable nineteenth century progressive and generally considered the father of investigative journalism, studied at St. Mark's. Journalism has historically been particularly well represented at the school, with a number of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists having begun their writing careers there. 2010 National Entrepreneur, social entrepreneur and New York Times Best Selling author Mark Albion was a Harvard Business School professor when he became the faculty founder of the largest student network in the world for socially responsible business, Net Impact. Tom White, designer of the "Scoop" Tostitos attended before going on to graduate from Ithaca College. Former CBS news chief and the Nation editor Blair Clark, Washington Post editor Benjamin Bradlee, and most recently comedian Mike Birbiglia, Motley Fool financial publisher David Gardner, are alumni.

The Forbes family of the Forbes Magazine publishing empire includes a number of St. Markers. The Pulitzer publishing family also counted generations of St. Mark's graduates, including Joseph Pulitzer III, who credited St. Mark's with awakening his appreciation of the arts. St. Markers have become senior Episcopal clergy and parish priests. The school has produced senators, representatives, governors, and senior diplomats, and of course St. Markers are heavily represented in academia, education, finance, the law, business, and Medicine. Dr Gregory Ciottone is a Harvard Professor and a pioneer in the field of Disaster Medicine. 2010 National Entrepreneur of the Year, social entrepreneur and New York Times Best Selling author Dr. Mark Albion was a Harvard Business School professor when he became the faculty founder of the largest student network in the world for socially responsible business, Net Impact. Story Musgrave is a St. Marker who is now a retired astronaut. Daniel Howell who is also a St. Marker is now a successful venture capitalist and sends his daughters Riley and Christine to St. Mark's. Many former St. Mark's students and teachers have gone on to become headmasters in their own right—St. Mark's current headmaster is himself an alumnus of the school.

Dr. Walter Clair has been named among the leaders in his field by U.S. News & World Report. Currently an Assistant Professor of Medicine, Director of Arrhythmia Consultation, and Medical Director of Clinical Electrophysiology at Vanderbilt University, he is nationally recognized as a specialist in Arrhythmias, Syncope, Palpitations, Sudden Cardiac Death, and Pacemakers & Defibrillators, making significant contributions with his innovative researches in these fields.[11]

The Pomfret School was founded by a disgruntled St. Mark's headmaster William E. Peck who left Southborough after disagreement with the board of trustees of St. Mark's.


  1. ^
  2. ^ St. Mark's School, A Centennial History (Hall, Stinehour Press, Lunenberg, VT, 1967
  3. ^ Time Magazine, "Twill" December 2, 1929
  4. ^ F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, (New York, Scribners, 1920)
  5. ^ Reported in "St. Mark's School - A Centennial History, page 178
  6. ^ The Newsletter of the W. H. Auden Society, September 1993, Newsletter No 10-11 (
  7. ^ for more on this subject, see op cited, St. Mark's School - A Centennial History
  8. ^ Preparing for Power, (New York, Cookson & Persell, Basic Books, 1985) Page 13
  9. ^ List of St. Mark's School alumni
  10. ^ for previous years see former coach Anderson and Indoor Ice Hockey Coach Bellivue
  11. ^

External links[edit]

42°19′N 71°32′W / 42.31°N 71.53°W / 42.31; -71.53Coordinates: 42°19′N 71°32′W / 42.31°N 71.53°W / 42.31; -71.53