Hopkins School - History - The Fallow Years

The Fallow Years

"The Fallow Years" is a term coined by Thomas B. Davis in his history Chronicles of Hopkins Grammar School to describe the period from 1696 to 1853. During this time the school had difficulty finding qualified schoolmasters, and the Fund often fell short in paying them. This forced the school to take up collections to meet its payroll. Consequently, there was great turnover in Hopkins schoolmasters, some staying for no more than a year. Also contributing to the problem was the establishment of the Collegiate School in New Haven in 1701, which later became Yale University. The Collegiate School drew many local academics away from Hopkins.

Public opinion of Hopkins and academia in general weakened the school. During this time parents wanted children who could read and write English and understand basic arithmetics, but Hopkins continued to focus on subjects that parents deemed irrelevant, such as Latin. Parents were also displeased with schoolmasters who paid little attention to struggling students instead focusing only on the scholars. On January 12, 1713, the committee which managed the Hopkins Fund began releasing £12–£15 annually to run elementary English schools in East Haven and West Haven. The town of New Haven stopped donating money to the Fund in 1719, which made hiring schoolmasters nearly impossible. Though the trustees of the Hopkins Fund constituted an independent body, the town was known to control them with financial pressures. Richard Mansfield served as schoolmaster from 1742 to 1747, and was the last headmaster until 1839 to serve for more than three years.

Although Hopkins School was still somewhat unpopular with the locals, the school moved to a new larger brick building on the Green, due to the growth of New Haven. Hopkins School was somewhat rare among American schools in that it remained open during the American Revolutionary War. Former schoolmaster John Hotchkiss was killed by the British in July 1779 during their invasion of New Haven, and former schoolmaster Noah Williston was captured. Although the school remained open, records seem to indicate that it was frequently closed between September 1780 – October 1781 "for vacation". Shortly after the Revolution, Hopkins hired Jared Mansfield for two terms (first from 1786 to 1790, then 1790 to 1795) to the unique position "Master of the Grammar School" to try to stabilize the school for the future. In between Mansfield's two terms, Abraham Bishop held a six-month term as headmaster during which he proposed radical reform, including making Hopkins coeducational, most of which never came to fruition. After the end of Mansfield's second term, the school returned to the pattern of short tenures for schoolmasters.

Hopkins moved buildings again in 1803 to an even larger facility near the Green that took up nearly an entire block. Teachers were offered two-year contracts to teach at Hopkins, but rarely kept them. Hopkins boys grew "unruly and malicious", some roaming New Haven streets at night. In 1838 the school moved once again, as the trustees believed that moving the school away from the town center would allow its students to focus more on their studies. Throughout August and September that year, they rushed through the necessary transactions to buy the new plot of land, currently the site of the Yale Law School. Following this move the trustees released an announcement to New Haven's three newspapers summarizing their hope that this new location would provide sufficient space for the boys to learn and be separate enough that they could do so in peace.

Hawley Olmstead became headmaster in 1839 and ended the line of short-termed schoolmasters as he held the position for ten years. Although Olmstead thought much like Hopkins' early masters, namely that the school existed to prepare boys for college, he also modernized the curriculum in several ways. Most notably, English was finally added to the curriculum, and he began keeping accurate school rolls which solidified his final legacy, increasing the size of Hopkins student body. By the time Olmstead resigned due to poor health on July 28, 1849, school attendance had risen to 63 students.

As soon as Hawley Olmstead left, the school began to deteriorate once again, with attendance dropping to 45 students in 1850 and farther down to 20 by 1853. In addition, the recently founded debate society disbanded, with seven young members forming the secret society known as "The Club". Though this club grew no larger and tried to remain quiet, parents grew so annoyed with this supposedly "rough-housing" club that it was forced to disband in 1851. After the debate society and "The Club" were gone, many students sought out new ways to express their literary interests, including founding the school newspaper "The Critic." Hawley's successor, Edward Olmstead, was seen by the trustees as a major failure and a cause of the school's rapid decline and was quickly replaced by James Whiton, who had just recently graduated from Yale. He further revised the curriculum by adding more English to it, and school attendance saw a rapid increase once again. Whiton taught for ten years and is regarded as the last of the "Fallow Years" headmasters.

Read more about this topic:  Hopkins School, History

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