Take my hand and we will rise.
In the autumn of 1972, the Southborough School for girls opened its doors, as a partner in coordinate education with the then still all male St. Mark’s. It was the led by the vision of its founder, Pierson F. Melcher, who for five years had been headmaster of St. Margaret’s School in Waterbury, Connecticut. When the St. Margaret’s Board of Trustees was considering a coordinated arrangement with a boys’ school, St. Mark’s became part of those negotiations. When St. Margaret’s instead decided to simply eliminate its boarding department, Mr. Melcher along with several St. Margaret’s boarders came to Southborough to establish their own school, roughly a mile from the St. Mark’s campus, just off Sears Road. Its symbol would be the Phoenix, and its Latin motto would be In Fine Mea Origo Est—“In my end is my beginning.”
Headmaster Melcher worked with Boston architect Earl Flansburgh to create a new campus for a new school. The result was a trio of four story dormitories all connected by a boardwalk, facing an old Southborough mansion housing classroom, library, and dining facilities. “The boardwalk became our lifeline to each other,” one Southborough School alumna would write. “Students and faculty would pass each other several times a day on this boardwalk.” The Southborough School facility would go on to receive an award for excellence in design from the Boston Society of Architects.
Southborough School was something very different—more progressive, even radical—when compared to the more traditional St. Mark’s. It brought a refreshingly innovative approach to school governance and community responsibility. It was run by an open Town Meeting form of government. All voices in the school community—students, faculty, staff, trustees, parents, and alumnae—had an equal vote in the weekly assemblies, where many different campus issues were discussed. Topics ranged from meal menus and homework loads, disciplinary issues and activities planning, to curriculum development and educational aims. Decisions were made by democratic consensus, in “a spirit of sharing”, according to an early Southborough School prospectus. In addition, students were directly involved in meal preparation, dishwashing, cleaning, trash pickup, firewood splitting, leaf raking, and maintaining both outdoor and indoor spaces.
The Southborough School saw as an important part of its mission to give its students a sense of social awareness and responsibility, and to encourage and empower in young women both independence and leadership. It was a community, working together collaboratively and cooperatively, to foster maturity and confidence among its members. “Take my hand and we will rise,” says the chorus of the student-written Southborough School song.
In an interesting conjunction with his progressive communal philosophy, Headmaster Pierson Melcher was also committed to a solid academic grounding in traditional scholarship, to prepare Southborough School graduates for college and the world beyond. Academically, Southborough School students took numerous science and language classes at St. Mark’s, while a number of St. Markers travelled to the Southborough campus for English and history courses. The very first Drama program at St. Mark’s, forerunner of today’s Theater Department, came about through its relationship with its coordinate partner, and was under the direction of Southborough School faculty. For five years, from 1972-73 through 1976-77, the Southborough School and St. Mark’s School coordinated academically, artistically, and socially. During that time, over 130 young women matriculated at the Southborough School. More than ninety would earn Southborough diplomas, while most of the rest would graduate from St. Mark’s.
In 1977, Southborough Schools closed its doors and was absorbed into the newly coed St. Mark’s. Indeed, the end of the Southborough School heralded the beginning of full coeducation for its coordinate neighbor. In Fine Mea Origo Est.
Southborough School alumnae have gone on to successful careers in education, business, the military, and the arts, just to name a few areas in which they have prospered and excelled. Today, on the St. Mark’s campus, Southborough School is remembered and honored in several ways. English teacher Andy Harris, who began at the Southborough School in 1974, is currently Senior Master at St. Mark’s. St. Mark’s receptionist Sandy Campbell, retiring in 2013 after 39 years, got her St. Mark’s/Southborough School start driving the van between the two campuses. Then there are the graduation plaques outside the Center, as well as the Southborough School Room in Choate House, and the Southborough School Garden just beyond, where each year bloom five rose bushes, representing each of the five Southborough graduating classes. -- “We Will Rise!”