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The Student Newspaper of Hopkins School

    • In 1863, former Head of School James M. Whiton gave B. Hoppin an award for “industry and good conduct.” Credit: Thom Peters

Hopkins' Responses to Past Crises

Anjali Subramanian, '22, News Editor
The recent coronavirus outbreak is the latest crisis at Hopkins, but it is not the first. In the past, Hopkins has responded to crises over curriculum, religious division, and war.
 
When founded in 1660, Hopkins’s foremost intent was to prepare students for higher education, which required the working knowledge of Latin, Greek, and in some cases Hebrew. Assistant Head of School John Roberts elaborated: “The Hopkins academic program has always been tied to what it took to get enrolled at Harvard, and then after 1701, at Yale. So if Harvard and Yale wanted Greek and Latin, we gave it to them!”

But education in the United States began to change as greater value was placed on literacy and numeracy skills. School Archivist Thom Peters explains,
“In the nineteenth century, more and more towns began to offer other types of education in so-called ‘academies.’ These academies advertised more ‘practical’ learning that emphasized English composition and mathematics.” Peters continues, “In an attempt to better compete with these academies, Hopkins began to slowly modify its curriculum to include [English and math]. It was rough going, and Hopkins nearly merged with the New Haven Public School system [in the 1800s]. The one hold up was that the Hopkins Trustees insisted that the public schools continue to offer Latin. When no such promise was forthcoming, the Trustees pulled out of the negotiations.”

With the option of amalgamating with New Haven Public Schools gone, Hopkins decided to revamp the curriculum and continue offering classes. Under the leadership of former Head of School Hawley Olmstead in the 1840s, Hopkins added the long-coveted English class to its curriculum and instituted its first club, a debate society. Peters describes Olmstead “as a firm but fair teacher who respected his students and expected them to work hard. He served for 10 years, a remarkably long tenure at that time. It was his stability after a very long series of short-tenured [Heads of Schools] that may have saved Hopkins in the face of the very popular and growing academies.” 

After Olmstead’s resignation, Hopkins deteriorated once again. The attendance dropped from 63 students in 1849 to 20 in 1853. The newly-founded debate society disbanded and a new secret society, known as “The Club,” arose. The Club soon became a hotspot for complaints from parents, who accused them of creating a ruckus, and forced The Club to dissolve. With the only student-led organization gone, students called for new ways to express themselves; their demands were not answered until a new Head of School, James Whiton, came to Hopkins. 

When Whiton began his incumbency in 1854, the enrollment was at its lowest point with five students. In less than a decade, that number would rise to be more than 100 students. Peters credits Whiton’s “innovative approach” for Hopkins’s subsequent success. He describes Whiton as someone “quite interested in education as a career, rather than as a stopover on the way to some other better-paying career.”

Peters details Whiton’s teaching methods: “
Whiton was a good teacher, popular for enlivening assignments by encouraging projects such as building models of Roman bridges and amphitheaters and playing creative games with lines that required memorization. The students began presenting essays for discussion and criticism. Topics included ‘Ought Savage Nations to Have a Right to the Soil?’ and ‘Was America’s Expansion in the 1840’s Helpful or Hurtful?’” Peters continued, “There were public declamations every six weeks that were covered by the New Haven newspaper. Topics included in 1861 were ‘The Standard of the Constitution,’ ‘Indications of a Presidential Policy: Lincoln, 1858,’ and ‘No Secession without Revolution.’”

Whiton also introduced many of the evaluative practices Hopkins continues to use to this day. Peters explains, “Whiton initiated assigning numerical grades to students’ assignments and began sending home monthly reports to parents. He introduced prizes for industry and good conduct and for excellence in various studies. He began annual final examinations that determined whether or not students would advance to the next year.” Whiton also began monitoring student behavior through a “Mark Book” which “recorded every infraction of school rules, including throwing projectiles, stuffing school door keyholes with gravel, and whittling on desks.” 

With Whiton’s newly-implemented changes came minor complaints. One grievance today’s students may recognize was over homework; Peters says that “parents complained about how much homework was required.” Whiton responded to this by “lengthening the school day so that students might get more work done at school without the distractions of home.”

Another problem that arose in the early 1700s was the religious division between Anglicans and Protestants. In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War,
New Haven saw a rise in the number of Yale students and Hopkins graduates seeking to become ordained as priests in the Church of England rather than seeking a pastorate in Congregational Churches. This trend became alarming to New Haven Puritans, who feared that religious ties to Britain would hinder American sovereignty. To calm the growing trepidations, in 1728, New Haven declared that only Congregationalists and Presbyterians would be allowed to attend Hopkins Grammar School. Roberts muses, “As the two sides moved towards insurrection, revolution, and war, it doesn't surprise me one bit that the theological and political divides in early America became ‘enrollment’ divides at Hopkins Grammar School.” Director of Equity and Community Becky Harper agrees, saying, “The choice to restrict who was allowed to attend Hopkins is evidence that Hopkins has been and will always be influenced by the culture, society, and political events of the time.” 

When the subsequent Revolutionary War came in 1775, Hopkins once again faced backlash for its response to the situation. While most
schools closed over safety concerns, Hopkins stayed open and suffered repercussions for doing so. One consequence, in particular, occurred in 1779 when British troops raided New Haven. Former Head of School Noah Williston was captured and threatened with execution for expressing revolutionary sentiments and for using the West Haven Congregational Church as an American recruiting station for war. Though Hopkins was still officially open after the raid, it frequently closed for “vacation.”

Many Hopkins graduates also contributed to the war effort as loyalists or patriots. One of the first to declare his loyalty to England was Richard Mansfield ’37. Peters recounts Mansfield’s involvement during the Revolutionary War: “
He wrote a letter to Governor Tryon of New York with advice about how best to subdue Connecticut during the revolt. His letter was intercepted by patriots, and for a time, Mansfield was forced to flee to Long Island. At the end of the war, he returned to [his town of] Derby and served his community ably.”

Other Hopkins graduates supported the American cause for autonomy. According to Peters, “Nathan Beers ’67 became the paymaster for Connecticut troops under the command of George Washington” after “his father had been killed by the Redcoats in the invasion of New Haven in 1779.” Zebulon Ely, who became a Hopkins teacher in 1780, “led sniper fire against the British invasion” and “narrowly escaped capture.”

After the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, Hopkins reopened from “vacation.” Though issues over the war were resolved, religion continued to play a part at Hopkins before simmering down during the twentieth century. Peters elaborates, “Attendance at Sunday services was still expected of students into the nineteenth century, but by the 1920s, religion had begun to decline in its importance. Hymns from the Episcopal hymnal were still sung at Assembly and the Head of School or a member of the faculty would still give a chapel talk at Assembly. At Day Prospect Hill School, classes in the Bible were taught. When the schools merged in 1972-73, religion was no longer a regular part of assembly.”

Peters reflects on Hopkins’s resolutions to past problems, describing them as
“quite contentious” because they “represented significant change in how things had always been done.” But he also expresses gratitude for them, crediting them for “enabling the school to grow and thrive in the end.”
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