Cate School

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Cate School
Cate School Logo.jpg
1960 Cate Mesa Rd

Coordinates34°24′18″N 119°28′39″W / 34.405005°N 119.4773809°W / 34.405005; -119.4773809Coordinates: 34°24′18″N 119°28′39″W / 34.405005°N 119.4773809°W / 34.405005; -119.4773809
TypeIndependent, Day & Boarding
(Let Us Serve)
Head teacherBenjamin D. Williams IV
AthleticsTri-County Athletic Association

Cate School is a selective, coeducational independent school for boarding and day students in the 9th through 12th grade located in Carpinteria, California, eleven miles from Santa Barbara. The school has a current enrollment of 270 students from 31 different states and 18 foreign countries.[1][2]

According to Niche, Cate School is ranked 31st on the 2019 list of Best Private High Schools in America. Cate is also ranked as the 11th best boarding school in the United States.[3]


Cate School founder Curtis Wolsey Cate with his first class in 1910 at what he initially called "The Miramar School" (Gane House).


Cate School was founded in 1910 by Curtis Wolsey Cate, a 25-year-old graduate of Roxbury Latin School and Harvard University. Originally established in 1910 as the Miramar School, then changed a year later in 1911 to the Santa Barbara School (or SBS),[4] the school opened as a prep school for boys in grades 7 to 12, with its first academic year enrolling 12 students in total. In its early years, the school did not include amenities such as heat, hot water, or electricity, with Mr. Cate continuing to develop the 150 acres of natural landscape he had originally purchased. Despite these initial challenges, SBS celebrated its first graduate, Dohrmann Pischel, in 1914.[5]

Campus Development[edit]

The school's central campus, referred to by alumni as “the Mesa,” has moved four times since its inception. As the Miramar School, the campus was located in Santa Barbara's Mission Canyon in a leased private residence known as the Gane House. The school's first academic building, the Gane House was destroyed in the Jesusita Fire in 2009.[6] Mr. Cate moved the school to the Stewart Walcott Ranch in the Carpinteria Valley the next year under its new name, the extra space of which allowed him to pursue a program he had admired in his year of teaching English at the nearby Thacher School. Each one of Cate's boys was given a horse to care for, and much of the school's early campus and activities were dependent on horseback riding.[7] In 1914, Walcott offered to sell Mr. Cate his 150-acre “mesa property”, a former ostrich farm, which was accepted.[8] The school relocated immediately to the southwest mesa slopes, and then again in 1929 to its current location atop a hill within the property near the Santa Ynez Mountains. Architect Reginald Davis Johnson, son of the school's first president of the board of trustees, Episcopal bishop Joseph Horsfall Johnson, designed the first permanent campus buildings on the Cate Mesa between 1928 and 1929.[9] Campus buildings have continued to be designed in keeping with Johnson's original Monterey Colonial style to the present day.[10]

Cate-Thacher Rivalry[edit]

Cate School competes against Thacher in the annual Gymkhana, February, 1936

Cate's total enrollment had increased to 40 in 1919,[11] and the school finally had enough boys to field athletic teams to compete with other private schools in the area. The first and most obvious of these was the Thacher School, which would become the traditional arch-rivalry of both schools. Cate and Thacher actually competed in baseball in Cate's first academic year despite the former's meager enrollment, and Cate consequently lost the game 60-4. Cate recorded its first win in baseball over Thacher in 1921 thanks to the surge of enrollment following World War I.[11] Perhaps the most important competitive event between the two schools, however, was gymkhana. Gymkhana, an equestrian event, involved a multitude of events such as picking up an orange or a sack on a turn at a dead run, tilting at rings, sprints, and relays. In contrast to their shortcomings on the baseball field, Cate posted an all-time winning record of 15-9 over Thacher in the 24 gymkhana competitions held.[8] The geographic locations of Cate and Thacher, their eventual status as the two premier boarding schools of the west,[12] and the competitiveness of their early baseball and equestrian competitions likely contributed to the rivalry as it stands today over 100 years later.


World War II proved a difficult time for the school. With declining enrollment and economic hardship from a not yet recovered Great Depression, Mr. Cate was forced to cut costs in the school any way he could. The school's official colors changed from purple and silver to blue and white due to dye shortages. Much more drastically, the school's horse program ended in 1942,[4] a foundational aspect of Cate's distinctive experience. Of the program, Mr. Cate wrote, “The horse was as much a part of our lives as the book. Afternoons, mounted for a canter before baseball or for practice on the gymkhana field; Saturdays and Sunday, off for long rides or camping…learning from nature and the care of an animal larger than one’s self, lessons not taught in the classrooms.”[13] In order to replace the hard work and responsibility the horse program was meant to provide, Mr. Cate initiated the “Work Program”, which required each boy to contribute six hours of labor to the school's community each week, which alumnus Barnaby Conrad ‘40 stated could be “everything from road building and bricklaying to plumbing, gardening and the raising of farm animals.”[8] Daily chores remain a responsibility for all Cate students, with only seniors being exempt.

Legacy of “The King”[edit]

Curtis Wolsey Cate

Despite the hardships and alterations to his original vision, the Santa Barbara School was renamed the Cate School to honor the headmaster upon his retirement in 1950.[5] As headmaster, Curtis Wolsey Cate was popularly referred to as “The King” by his students. Deeply involved in the school's daily life, he read to his boys every night after dinner and subsequently shook hands with each.[8] The tradition has since manifested itself in the Sunset Ceremony that marks the beginning of each academic year, in which the old school bell is rung and the school's current headmaster reads a passage from Cate's book School Days in California to the student body. After, each member of the senior class shakes the headmaster's hand, followed by the rest of the faculty and underclassmen in procession as the sun sets. In May, after graduation, faculty bid farewell to the senior class in the same location once they have received diplomas.[14] Of Cate, Stanley Woodworth, a distinguished former faculty member who served during his tenure, wrote: "Yes, he was imperious and regal - but that's what kings are supposed to be. You should not infer from this that he was not revered, respected and loved by the boys and teachers for the 40 years he was its headmaster. He had principles he would not compromise, and he had a genuine interest in each boy, which did not come to an end when the boy left the Mesa, but followed him wherever he went."[15] Cate died on January 3, 1976, aged 91. He is buried beneath Katherine Thayer Cate Memorial Chapel (named in honor of his wife), at the center of the Cate School campus.[citation needed]


The academic curriculum features 101 course offerings with more than 40 advanced and honors courses. The average class size is 11 with a 5:1 student-faculty ratio.[16] The school also provides the opportunity for independent study projects through the directed studies program and science research courses.[17]

Freshmen and sophomores are required to take courses in English, History, Art, Mathematics, Science, and Human Development, as well as a foreign language with which the student is not already familiar. Juniors and seniors can choose from over 35 elective courses such as Oceanography, Comparative Government, and Film Studies.

The most popular college selections of Cate graduates over the past 5 years are the University of Southern California, New York University, University of Chicago, Columbia University, Stanford University, Colorado College, and the University of Pennsylvania.[18]

In 2016, Niche ranked Cate School the twelfth best private school in the nation,[19] Business Insider ranked it sixteenth (and fourth most selective),[20] and ranked it thirteenth.[21]


All students are involved in an extracurricular program that includes athletics, drama, music, dance, community service and an extensive outdoor program which allows students to engage in many activities such as taking students surfing, kayaking, rock climbing, backpacking, mountain biking, and rafting.

Interscholastic athletic teams compete in soccer, cross country, volleyball, water polo, football, basketball, lacrosse, squash, tennis, track, baseball, and softball. Intramurals include surfing, ultimate frisbee, weight training, Tae Kwan Do, dance and others. Cate School has outdoor programs that include sea kayaking, hiking etc.

In addition to the usual clubs and activities, Cate includes a 24-page newspaper, El Batidor, a drama society that produces several productions each year, a literary magazine, The Cate Review, and numerous musical groups that perform in concert and in what are known as "coffee house" presentations. Other sample clubs include: Mock Trial, the Pirate Club (ARRR), the Fencing Club, the Martial Arts Club, Blue Crew, the Black Student Union (BSU), Friends of Lesbians and Gays (FLAG), and the Film Society.

Cate School is home to a Student-Faculty Senate. The only legislative body on campus, the Student-Faculty Senate is composed of both elected senators and appointed officials and deals with legislation concerning all aspects of community life. The senate is chaired by the Student Body President, the only official elected by a community-wide vote. Student senators are elected by their respective classes. Two others systems the school has in place are the Prefect and Teaching Assistant (T.A.) programs. Prefects are elected at the end of their junior year by students and faculty to serve as leaders, role-models, and "big brothers and sisters" in the dorms. T.A.s work with the Human Development department in their Sophomore and Freshman Seminars.

Students are also involved in service projects in the community. Students help tutor local schoolchildren, visit with the elderly and disabled, and work on local environmental improvement projects. Faculty and students also travel regularly to northern Mexico to work on community construction projects and help with children and their families in the Los Niños program, a Cate tradition for more than 30 years. Through Round Square students also have an opportunity to travel abroad for community service, work projects and exchange programs.[22]

Notable alumni[edit]


  • Barnaby Conrad, author, artist, and bullfighter. Later became Cate art teacher.



Television & Music

Business & Politics


Specific references
  1. ^ "Information for International Students". Cate School.
  2. ^ "Admission". Cate School.
  3. ^ "2019 Cate School Rankings". Niche.
  4. ^ a b Redmon, Michael. "Q: 'How old is Cate School?'". Santa Barbara Independent.
  5. ^ a b "History - More Than A Century of Tradition". Cate School.
  6. ^ "A Moving History: Historical buildings at Cate School". Edhat - Santa Barbara.
  7. ^ "Some Thoughts on a Great Thacher Teacher And on Schools Old and New, East and West". The Thacher School.
  8. ^ a b c d Conrad, Barnaby. "The Olympian Mr. Cate". Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ Mr. Cate's School: A Seventy-Five Year History, 1910-1985. (1984). Carpinteria, CA:Cate School Historical Society
  10. ^ "Campus and Facilities". Cate School.
  11. ^ a b "Cate's Early Days". Cate School.
  12. ^ "The 50 Most Elite Boarding Schools In The US". Business Insider.
  13. ^ Conviser, Josh. "Prep 101". Santa Barbara Magazine.
  14. ^ "Sunset Ceremony". Cate School.
  15. ^ Stanley D. Woodworth, Glad to Remember, Cate School, 1960-1985
  16. ^ Cate School Quick Facts. Cate School. Retrieved August 2, 2013
  17. ^ "Independent Study". Cate School. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
  18. ^ "College Matriculation & School Profile". Cate School. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  19. ^ "Best Private High Schools In America"
  20. ^ "The 50 most elite boarding schools in America". Business Insider. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  21. ^ "Best Boarding School Rankings". Top Test Prep. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  22. ^ "Life at Cate." Cate School. Retrieved from on August 2, 2013.
Other sources

External links[edit]