Round Hill School at Northampton, Mass

George Bancroft (October 3, 1800 – January 17, 1891)

The Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, stands as a noteworthy chapter in the history of American education. Established in 1823 by George Bancroft and Joseph Cogswell, it was an ambitious endeavor that sought to revolutionize secondary education in the United States. Inspired by their experiences and observations of the German educational system, Bancroft and Cogswell aimed to implement a holistic approach to education that was quite progressive for its time. (READ A DETAILED VIEW HERE)

George Bancroft, fresh from his studies at the University of Göttingen, was keen to share the rich academic inspiration he had garnered abroad. Despite a setback from Harvard University, which declined his offer to lecture on history, Bancroft’s resolve to influence American education remained unshaken. Together with Joseph Cogswell, he embarked on the creation of the Round Hill School, drawing upon their collective experiences in Europe. Their mission was clear: to offer an education that prioritized the comprehensive development of its students, integrating both academic rigor and physical education in a manner that was largely unprecedented in the U.S.

Joseph Cogswell c. 1870

In its formative years, the Round Hill School became a melting pot for students from across 19 states and four countries, boasting an enrollment of 293 pupils. This diversity underscored the school’s appeal and the progressive nature of its curriculum, which was deeply influenced by the educational philosophies of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Philipp Emanuel von Fellenberg. Cogswell, particularly moved by his observations in Switzerland, was determined to transplant these ideals to American soil. The curriculum emphasized the harmonious development of the mind and body, eschewing traditional methods of discipline in favor of nurturing a genuine enthusiasm for learning. The introduction of modern languages, outdoor activities, and a pioneering gymnasium under the guidance of Charles Beck further distinguished the institution as a beacon of innovative education.

Despite its pioneering spirit and the dedication of its founders, the Round Hill School faced insurmountable challenges that led to its closure in 1834. The personal and professional rift between Bancroft and Cogswell, coupled with financial difficulties and Cogswell’s eventual overextension, spelled the end for the institution. However, the legacy of Round Hill was far from forgotten. Its principles influenced the formation of several subsequent educational institutions, echoing Bancroft and Cogswell’s holistic approach to learning.

The school also left an indelible mark on its alumni, producing notable figures such as Edward Clifford Anderson, a Confederate general during the American Civil War, and Thomas Gold Appleton, a distinguished Boston wit and literary figure. Other alumni include Henry W. Bellows, a Unitarian clergyman and reformer, and John Murray Forbes, a philanthropist and founder of the modern Milton Academy. These individuals, among others, reflect the broad impact of Round Hill’s educational philosophy, underscoring the school’s importance in the broader narrative of American education.

While the Round Hill School may have been a short-lived experiment, its aspirations and achievements continue to resonate. The school’s innovative blend of academic and physical education, its commitment to the development of the whole person, and its influence on subsequent educational endeavors position it as a pioneering force in the evolution of schooling in the United States. The spirit of Round Hill lives on, reminding us of the enduring value of holistic education and the transformative power of visionary educators.


Excerpt taken from:

“Harvard Students, the Boston Elite, and the New England Preparatory System, 1800-1876”


“More important yet were the Round Hill School in Northampton and the Wells School in Cambridge, each of which sent almost 50 boys to Harvard between the mid-1820s and the mid-1830s. Round Hill, the most famous American school of its time, was conducted by a group of men who had attended Exeter and Harvard, traveled in Europe, and obtained a loan from no less than Harvard itself to establish an institution for the sons of “the best families” of Boston, New York, and the South. Modeled in part after the German gymnasium, Round Hill offered an excellent but very expensive education and at the same time provided an elegant lifestyle with servants, stables, and tours of the estates of prominent Bostonians. Its rolls bore the names of dozens of Boston’s elite families. (30) The school of Williams Wells, a former Boston publisher and bookseller, operated according to the traditional English rules of strict discipline and plain living. But Wells too offered sound training, utilizing Harvard graduates as instructors. His school “had a wide-spread influence and reputation.” (31) By 1830 it was “regarded as being-with the possible exception of the Boston Latin School- the best place in which to fit for Harvard College, and was therefore much sought by the best Boston families.” (32) Wells likewise attracted the sons of Harvard faculty members and other Cambridge literati, some of whom were day students. The Wells and Round Hill Schools both disbanded in the 1830s, but while they lasted they were the most exclusive preparatory establishments in the country, prefiguring by a quarter of a century the Episcopalian boarding schools of St. Paul’s and St. Mark’s which eventually succeeded them-a far cry from the parlor of the rural ministers.”


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