Architecture magazine, April 4, 1913 (copyright expired)
Samuel A. Brearley was educated in England and at Harvard University. In 1884 he established the Brearley School for Girls "for the purpose of providing a more substantial school for girls and more thorough preparation for college than the schools of the time offered," according to A Handbook of the Best Private Schools of the United States in 1915. Upon his death in 1886, the eminent scholar James G. Croswell took over as head master.
The Brearley School was a day school, its 200 students coming from "New York upper class families," according to the 1915 handbook. It deemed the institution, "perhaps foremost among the college preparatory schools of New York, both in thoroughness and in the number of girls prepared for college."
In 1911 the school was located at 17 West 44th Street within a once-residential neighborhood that was increasingly being engulfed by commerce. On April 18, The Evening World reported, "At a meeting of graduates and other friends of the Brearley School for Girls yesterday afternoon in the home of Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt a movement was started to raise $100,000 for the construction of a new building at the southwest corner of Park avenue and Sixty-first street, which the school just bought."
Three months later, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that McKim, Mead & White "are preparing plans for the 7-1/2 story fire-proof brick, marble and stone Brearley school." The structure would cost $125,000 to construct--or about $3.68 million in 2023.
Completed in 1912, the building's tripartite, Renaissance Revival style design featured a two-story base trimmed in white marble (the first floor was, in fact, double-height). An arcade of multi-paned windows faced Park Avenue. An ornamental iron balcony introduced the mid-section, the decoration of which relied on marble keystones and two iron balconies--one on either elevation. The top section took the form of a double-height open recreation area protected by iron railings. A pierced marble parapet crowned the structure.
Parents paid $450 tuition in 1915, a significant $12,500 per year in 2023 terms.
The young heiresses enrolled at the Brearley School learned more than fundamentals. They were not only groomed for college, but for lives within polite society. The girls' mothers worked for relief during World War I, hosting benefit teas and joining committees for benefits, for instance. And the students followed suit. On December 1, 1922, the New-York Tribune reported on the outpouring of aid for the city's poor, imprisoned and hospitalized on Thanksgiving. It noted, "Bellevue Hospital's celebration included a holiday dinner for 3,000 patients, and entertainments in several wards...A number of girl pupils from the Brearley School, at 60 East Sixty-first Street, distributed candy and toys in the children's ward."
Typical of the students was Edith Thomson. Following her graduation she studied in France and Belgium. The New York Herald wrote on April 23, 1922, that when she was 18 years old, she and her mother "went to Japan with the American Ambassador and his sister, where she first saw diplomatic life and began to go about in cosmopolitan society."
In April 1922 Thomson published her novel Afterglow, the plot of which, given the author's privileged upbringing, was surprising and, perhaps, a bit shocking. On December 30, 1922, The Publishers' Circular and Booksellers' Record noted, "though the treatment is American, the theme has a wider interest." The critic went on to say:
It tells the tragedy of a woman who married a man nearly twenty years her junior. Moreover, she had a past and, indeed, discreditable, but capable of misinterpretation. When time and malevolence brought inevitable troubles, she met them with courage, if not with wisdom; and the bright "afterglow" soon died away.
In 1924 tobacco mogul James Buchanan Duke and his wife Nanaline enrolled their 12-year-old daughter Doris in the Brearley School. In her 2020 biography, The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke, Sallie Bingham writes, "Her 1924-25 report card from Class 111 at the Brearley School records A's and B's in English, history, French, science, drawing, and writing. Her teachers added that she was a diligent student."
On July 13, 1928, only 16 years after the East 61st Street building was opened, The New York Times titled an article, "Brearley School for Girls to Move / New Building Will Be Erected at 83d Street and East River." Architect Benjamin Winter Morris had been commissioned to design the new school, which opened the following year.
McKim, Mead & White's Brearley School for Girls was demolished in 1939, to be replaced by the George F. Pelham Jr. designed apartment building, 530 Park Avenue, that survives.
many thanks to reader Doug Wheeler for prompting this post.
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