A Short History of the School
Choate Rosemary Hall’s more than 450 acres encompass a blend of architectural styles from Colonial homes and Georgian buildings to dramatic modern structures.
The school seal melds elements from The Choate School seal (1896–1981) and the Rosemary Hall seal (1890–1981). The broken sword means “tested in battle.” The three unbroken swords represent service to the king, for which an early Choate ancestor was awarded a knighthood by King Henry III. The wild boar was in effect the Rosemary seal. The motto, Fidelitas et Integritas, (fidelity and integrity) was the first motto of The Choate School. The colors of the seal are Rosemary blue and Choate blue and gold.
But what appears to be the result of a clear design in fact developed quite gradually. In 1890 the crossroads of Christian and Elm Streets, now the main arteries through campus, were quiet, unpaved roads. That year, Mary Atwater Choate hired a young scholar from England, Caroline Ruutz-Rees, to be headmistress of a new school for girls. Named Rosemary Hall after the Atwater family farm, the school's main building was the old Atwater house, one of the family's several residences.
Ten years later, Caroline Ruutz-Rees would move Rosemary Hall to Greenwich, where it would develop independently for 71 years and attain a national reputation, with Miss Ruutz-Rees herself teaching Latin, Greek, French literature, history, and “feminism by indirection.”
In the meantime, Mary Atwater Choate and her husband, Judge William G. Choate, had founded a second school in 1896, this time for boys. Mark Pitman was The Choate School's first headmaster.
Growing A School
By 1904, Choate had grown from four boys to 40. After Mark Pitman's death the following year and the short tenure of an interim headmaster, Judge Choate appointed George St. John as headmaster in 1908. St. John recalls his first impressions of the campus: “There was no way to know [Choate] was a school, except for an athletic field in front. Its wooden houses were separated by private houses.” In sum, “there was little that . . . bespoke a school.”
During his 40 years as headmaster, St. John would change all that. As the school grew to 550 students in 1948, he moved more than a dozen houses around the campus, purchased two dozen more along with hundreds of acres of land, and erected the eight brick Georgian buildings that indeed, in his words, “bespeak a school.”
Bricks and Mortar
In 1947, Seymour St. John ’31 succeeded his father, leading the school for 26 years. He focused on broadening and deepening the curriculum, and solidified Choate’s national reputation. His efforts led to additions to the Andrew Mellon Library, the Chapel, and three existing dormitories; and the construction of seven new dormitories. An administration building and the classroom building named for his parents were also added.
Seymour St. John’s tenure culminated in a period of rapid expansion that began with the construction of the modern buildings that would house Rosemary Hall upon its return to Wallingford in 1971. The Paul Mellon Arts Center, dedicated in 1972, formed the link between the two schools that would soon become Choate Rosemary Hall.
Changing of the Guard
In 1973, Charles Dey, then an associate dean at Dartmouth College, was hired to make Choate and Rosemary Hall a united school.
The Carl C. Icahn Center for Science, dedicated in 1989, ushered in the school’s second century. A year later, the old Science Hall was rededicated as the Paul Mellon Humanities Center, and now houses the English and the History, Philosophy, Religion, and Social Sciences Departments.
Into the 21st Century
After an 18–month search, current headmaster Dr. Alex D. Curtis took office in July 2011, succeeding Dr. Edward J. Shanahan, who for two decades, from 1991–2011, significantly shaped the curriculum and campus for the 21st century. Under Dr. Shanahan’s direction, The Plan for Choate Rosemary Hall, a campus master plan for renovations and other improvements to the physical plant was developed. He implemented the Board of Trustees’ decision in 1994 to reduce the size of the student body to 850. He oversaw two capital campaigns—A Shared Commitment which raised $135 million in the mid–1990s, and the recently concluded An Opportunity to Lead , the largest capital campaign in the School’s history, which raised $220 million for strategic priorities.
The success of An Opportunity to Lead has allowed the School: to construct two new 40–student dormitories and 11 new faculty residences; to fully fund Choate’s premiere Kohler Environmental Center (scheduled to open in 2012); to create six new endowed faculty chairs for a total of $11 million in faculty support; and to add 52 new financial aid funds, totaling over $34 million in total support, enabling the School to award $9.4 million per year in financial assistance.
Dr. Curtis’s appointment brings us full circle to Mary Atwater Choate’s appointment of 19th century British scholar Caroline Ruutz-Rees to lead Rosemary Hall in 1890. An accomplished scholar, with language training in Latin, French, Italian, German and Ancient Greek, Dr. Curtis attended boarding school in London at St. Paul's School, and is a graduate of Swarthmore College and holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University’s Department of Art and Archaeology. Former Headmaster of the Morristown–Beard School in New Jersey, Dr. Curtis is looking forward to continuing on the path of accomplishment established by his predecessors, and bringing Choate Rosemary Hall to new levels of success, achievement and recognition as a global leader in secondary education.