The vibrant and diverse Groton School of the 21st century took root in the inspired mind of the young Endicott Peabody.
Before founding Groton in 1884, at the age of 27, Peabody's life had taken many turns. Educated in England at Cheltenham and Cambridge, he pursued a banking career but abruptly turned away from finance and toward the Episcopal Church. Only months after the famed gunfight at the OK Corral, Peabody arrived in Tombstone, Arizona. In “the town too tough to die,” the Anglophilic Yankee won over the miners, cowboys, and townspeople and built the first Episcopal church in the state.
But Peabody did not feel drawn to pastoral work and headed back East to complete his seminary studies. A brief stint as a schoolteacher provided the young man with his calling. He would start his own institution—a church school which explicitly sought to instill high-minded principles in the offspring of the most successful American entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age. The campus would sit on rich farmland along the Nashua River, with marvelous vistas of the distant mountains of Wachusett and Monadnock.
In the beginning, 24 students, Rev. Peabody, and two colleagues, Rev. Sherrard Billings and Amory Gardner, formed the entire school family. As Billings wrote years later, in 1930, the men shared “the conviction … that there could be a school where boys and men could live together, work together, and play together in friendly fashion with friction rare.”
Groton School was an immediate success and by 1920 had grown to about 180 students and 22 faculty members. Peabody, having found his calling, ran the school for 56 years. Rev. John Crocker, a Groton graduate from the Form of 1918, succeeded him.
Crocker led Groton School for 25 more years, from 1940-1965, adapting the school to changing times. Since the 1920s, the School had broadened its student base, attracting boys from beyond the eastern United States and boys of limited financial means. In 1952, the first African-American student was admitted. About 20 years later, the school was studying the prospect of coeducation, and in the fall of 1975 welcomed the first female students to campus. Today, the Groton family includes 370 students—about half of them girls—and 87 faculty members. Groton has deliberately remained relatively small, believing, as Rev. Peabody did, that a School embodying the best characteristics of a family creates the optimal environment for learning and living.
As the School diversified, it also broadened its religious offerings. While the School continues to emphasize the need for spiritual awareness, it meets the needs of a culturally varied family that practices a wide range of religions. Today, attendance at services is still required, but the services once purely Episcopalian are now offered in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and other traditions.
After Rev. Crocker, Rev. Bertrand Honea, Jr. led the School from 1965-1969; Paul Wright from 1969-1974; Rev. Rowland Cox from 1974-1977; and William Polk from 1978-2003. Richard Commons, our current headmaster, joined the Groton family in 2003. More than a century after the School’s founding, Mr. Commons continues the ideals of Rev. Peabody—to lead a school that offers the highest quality academic education, instills good character, builds leaders, and inspires lives.