St. Mark's School (Massachusetts)

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St Mark's School
Southborough, Massachusetts,
Coordinates Coordinates: 42°19′N 71°32′W / 42.31°N 71.53°W / 42.31; -71.53
Type Private high school, boarding
Motto Age Quod Agis
literal translation: "Do What You Do",
figurative translation: "Drive because you are driven".
Established 1865
Enrollment 331 (2008–09)
Campus Suburban
Color(s) Blue & White         
Mascot Winged Lion
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, who developed and marketed the world-famous Burnett Vanilla Extract.[1] Girls have attended since 1978. 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 369 boarding and day students through a rigorous curriculum and a full program of co-curricular activities. Class size averages 12, with a student-faculty ratio of 5:1.[2] 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. Henry Coit of St. Paul's School of Concord, New Hampshire, reportedly told Burnett that with six sons to educate, Burnett would do well to found a school, instead of sending them north to St. Paul's. Soon Edward Burnett, a son of Joseph Burnett, served a term as a United States Congressman.

Episcopalian St. Mark's is 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 comprised members of prominent Boston families, as well as eminent Episcopal churchmen. From the first the school attracted many members of Boston Brahmin and New York Knickerbocker families. St. Mark's great headmaster William Greenough Thayer admitted Jewish boys as well. St. Mark's enrolled students of color whose fathers were clergy within the Episcopal Church. The first unaffiliated African-American student did not enroll until 1964.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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.

W. H. Auden and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's[edit]

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.”[7] 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.

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.

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. Four Star General William A. Knowlton, who graduated from St. Mark's in 1938, commanded the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

In 1948, Headmaster William Wyatt Barber, Jr. assumed leadership of St. Mark's. Teaching Ancient Greek and coaching hockey, Headmaster Barber emphasized character building. Under Mr. Barber, the school offered scholarships to students from military or moderate income families. A series of St. Markers who studied under Headmaster Barber went on to excel as national leaders. By leading a major newspaper, Bill Bradlee, as Executive Director of the Washington Post from 1968 to 1991, influenced American society, particularly through the period of the Watergate crisis. Tom Kean, from 1982 - 1990, served as Governor of New Jersey. Governor Kean later headed the 9/11 Commission. C. Boyden Gray, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, and served as Counsel to President George H. W. Bush.

Challenge of modernization[edit]

In 1968, Edward T. "Ned" Hall became Headmaster of a St. Mark's steeped in tradition. The sixties presented traditional boarding schools with many challenges—including how to be relevant in a changing world. Today considerably fewer St. Markers attend Harvard, Yale, and Princeton than was once the case.[8]

The administration, faculty and trustees struggled to bringing St. Mark's out of its Victorian origins and into the 20th century. Beginning in the early 1970s, St. Mark's relaxed many traditional, formal requirements of school life. St. Mark's reduced the number of required chapel services from six days per week to five. St. Mark's reduced the number of sit down meals. The School introduced a "December Week" of alternative course offerings, and experiments in co-education. Such changes unsettled faculty and students alike. Headmaster Hall announced his resignation at the beginning of the 1973-74 school year, effective the following July.

In 1974, the trustees of St. Mark's brought in Rev. Robert R. "Red" Hansel, a former chaplain at St. George's School, 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. Changes under Rev. Hansel, like coeducation, influence St. Mark's today. In 1972 girls initially attended the newly established Southborough School, funded largely by St. Mark's itself. In 1977 the Southborough girls' school was dissolved. St. Mark's absorbed many of its students and faculty.

St. Mark's today[edit]

St. Mark's alumni today excel as business leaders. Examples include Walter Robb, the co-CEO of Whole Foods; John Sculley, the former CEO of Pepsi and Apple. Alumni also include the astronaut Story Musgrave, the artist Ingolv Helland, David Gardner, co-creator of the Motley Fool, a popular business website; and the photo software entrepreneur Lars Perkins, who was co-founder of Picasa.[9] From 1982-1988 St. Marker Mark Albion taught as a professor at Harvard Business School.

Astronaut Story Musgrave

Among leading preparatory schools of the United States, St. Mark's stands out for its classical education. For students who enjoy the classics, St. Mark's even maintains a “Classics Diploma”.

Human knowledge is expanding exponentially. Some find study of the ancients provides a valuable perspective. To Latin and Greek, St. Mark's has added Chinese.

With the goal to learn to write, St. Markers traditionally study English literature intensively. Study of literature stimulates students to judge values. In small classes St. Mark's teachers engage students actively. Many graduates find the most useful skill St. Mark's taught them is their ability to write.

St. Mark's formed a Math Institute to focus upon the mathematical reasoning useful particularly in science, technology, medicine, investments and business.

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.


Age Quod Agis

Between 2010 and 2014, the most popular college destinations were Northeastern (12), Georgetown (11), Hamilton (11), Boston College (10), and Lehigh (10).[10]

St. Mark's has an average SAT score of 1980 and has 32 Advanced Placement classes available.[11]


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

Gray Colloquium


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.

Belmont Field

The school touts the "school under one roof" concept as a unique strength, though more recent buildings no longer fit that criteria.

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. 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.


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 historically been strong at ice hockey, and a number of its alumni have gone on to careers in the National Hockey League. 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 has played the Groton School since 1886, making it one of the oldest athletic rivalries in the United States. (See the List of high school football rivalries for more information.)

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.

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 Girls' Field Hockey Team has a history of winning the New England Championships. Teams have won in 1992, 2012 and 2013.[12]

Notable and famous alumni[edit]

Although perhaps best known for educating generations of businessmen, St. Mark's also educated Robert Lowell and Lost Generation literary figure Harry Crosby, both of whom wrote for the school literary magazine as students. 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. Former CBS news chief and the Nation editor Blair Clark, Washington Post editor Benjamin Bradlee, Harvard professor and Net Impact faculty founder Mark Albion, 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. Joseph Pulitzer III, credited St. Mark's with awakening his appreciation of the arts.

Story Musgrave is a St. Marker who is now a retired astronaut.

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

John Sculley former President and Vice-President of Pepsi-Cola and former CEO of Apple Inc. also attended the high school.


  1. ^
  2. ^ "St. Mark's School". Boarding School Review. Retrieved 2016-05-28. 
  3. ^ St. Mark's School, A Centennial History (Hall, Stinehour Press, Lunenberg, VT, 1967
  4. ^ Time Magazine, "Twill" December 2, 1929
  5. ^ F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, (New York, Scribners, 1920)
  6. ^ Reported in "St. Mark's School - A Centennial History, page 178
  7. ^ The Newsletter of the W. H. Auden Society, September 1993, Newsletter No 10-11 (
  8. ^ for more on this subject, see op cited, St. Mark's School - A Centennial History
  9. ^ List of St. Mark's School alumni
  10. ^
  11. ^ "St. Mark's School in Southborough Town, MA - Niche". K-12 School Rankings and Reviews at Retrieved 2016-05-30. 
  12. ^ for previous years see former coach Anderson and Indoor Ice Hockey Coach Bellivue

External links[edit]