The vibrant and diverse Groton School of the twenty-first century took root in the inspired mind of the young Endicott Peabody.
Before founding Groton in 1884, at age twenty-seven, Mr. 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, Mr. 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 Mr. Peabody did not feel drawn to pastoral work and headed back East to complete his seminary studies. A brief stint as a schoolteacher provided his calling. He would start a school that 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 vistas of the distant mountains of Wachusett and Monadnock.

In the beginning, twenty-four students, the Reverend Peabody, and two colleagues, the Reverends Sherrard Billings and Amory Gardner, formed the school family. As Mr. 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.”

As Groton has changed with the times, both its core and its outward appearance have remained constant. A deliberately small school, Groton today rests upon the foundation set forth long ago by the Reverend Endicott Peabody: the belief that a school embodying the best characteristics of a family will create the optimal environment in which students can learn and grow. Today’s headmaster, Temba Maqubela, continues the ideals of Mr. Peabody—to lead a school that offers the highest quality academic education, instills strong character, builds leaders, and inspires lives.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Groton

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

February 4, 1963

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent two days at Groton School in February 1963—a visit that opened students’ minds and inspired several to pursue civil rights advocacy on their own.

Over a two-day visit, Dr. King preached in the Chapel, gave an evening lecture, and met with students for informal discussion. Six weeks later, he would be arrested in Alabama and pen his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Six months later, during the March on Washington, he would deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. Themes and a few key phrases overlap between the Groton speech and the “I Have a Dream” speech.

The Reverend John Crocker, Groton headmaster from 1940–65 and a staunch advocate for civil rights and social justice, had extended the invitation to Dr. King.

Former students, who wish to remain anonymous, recorded Dr. King’s evening lecture and gave the recording to the school. Thanks to their generosity, and the kind permission granted by the Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Groton School is honored to share this speech—an important moment in the annals of Groton history and, more important, of United States history.

Read the story in the Quarterly.

The following recording begins with an introduction by former Headmaster Jack Crocker and ends with a question-and-answer session that followed the speech.

List of 29 items.

  • Endicott Peabody, founder of Groton School


    Endicott Peabody founded Groton School.
  • 1899

    Headmaster Peabody invited Booker T. Washington, a freed slave, to speak on campus. Mr. Washington spoke at Groton again in 1905.
  • 1899-1903

    The school was a success and the campus we know today was already taking shape: the Schoolhouse, still the hub of Groton’s Circle, was built in 1899. In 1900, the workers pictured completed St. John’s Chapel. The gym (now the Dining Hall) opened in 1903.
  • 1904

    President Theodore Roosevelt, a close friend and relative by marriage of Endicott Peabody’s, spoke at Groton’s commencement. His four sons went on to attend Groton.
  • 1917

    Mr. Peabody shepherded the school through World War I: the Groton boys conducted military drills, and wheat was grown right on the Circle to help with the war effort. Many graduates went on to fight in WWI, and several gave their lives.
  • 1920

    By 1920, Groton School had grown to about twenty-two faculty members and 180 students.
  • 1929

    During the Depression, Groton School, thanks to a recent bequest, was able to offer aid to families who no longer could afford the tuition.
  • 1931

    When Frankin Delano Roosevelt was governor of New York, he delivered Groton’s Prize Day speech.
  • 1933

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a graduate of Groton’s Form of 1900, became president. Mr. Peabody, who had officiated at Franklin’s wedding to Eleanor, was invited to all four of FDR’s inaugurations and attended all but the last.
  • 1940

    Endicott Peabody retired after leading Groton School for fifty-six years. The next headmaster, the Reverend John Crocker (Groton Form of 1918), remained at the helm for twenty-five years.
  • 1941

    World War II led to austerity measures; with workers headed to war, the Groton boys picked up jobs around campus, such as cleaning, waiting tables, and shoveling coal.
  • 1952

    Known for doing what simply was moral and right, Headmaster Crocker oversaw the admission of the first black student to Groton.
  • 1963

    Mr. Crocker invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at Groton; the civil rights leader spent two days on campus.

  • 1965

    Mr. Crocker took Groton boys to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Boston. Graduates today recall a headmaster who instilled a deep understanding of civil rights and social justice through his sermons and his actions. That year also marked Mr. Crocker’s retirement.
  • 1965

    Reverend Bertrand N. Honea, Jr. led the school from 1965 to 1969.
  • 1969

    Paul Wright became headmaster and served until 1974; he was the first headmaster who was not a clergyman.
  • 1970

    The board designated a coeducation committee, and its proposal was approved by the trustees a year later. The decision was so controversial that the proposal was given a second review, but ultimately reaffirmed.
  • 1974

    The Reverend Rowland Cox became headmaster as the school was about to become coeducational. He served until his death in 1977. From 1977–78, Peter Camp was acting headmaster.
  • 1975

    The school welcomed the first female students to campus. Among the many changes accompanying coeducation was the hiring of full-time female faculty. Today, approximately half of the faculty are women and half of Groton students are girls.
  • 1978

    William Polk ’58 became headmaster and served until 2003.
  • 2002

    The Dillon Art Center, designed by Perry Dean Rogers & Partners, opened.
  • 2003

    Richard Commons became headmaster and served until 2013.
  • 2005

    The Campbell Performing Arts Center, designed by architect Graham Gund, opened.
  • 2008

    The school initiated a policy waiving tuition for families earning less than $75,000/year (now $80,000).
  • 2013

    The current headmaster, Temba Maqubela, joined Groton. From day one, he has stressed the ideal, and reality, of inclusion.
  • 2014

    The Board of Trustees embraced the GRoton Affordability and INclusion (GRAIN) initiative, naming it the school’s number-one strategic priority. GRAIN ensured that the school would meet each applicant’s full financial need and froze tuition for three years.
  • 2015

    The newly renovated and expanded Schoolhouse opened. The project integrated the stately original structure—which was virtually unchanged—with a significant expansion that includes state-of-the-art science classrooms and laboratories, communal gathering places, a Fabrications Lab, and the the fifty-foot-high Sackett Forum, dedicated by former students to longtime Classics teacher Hugh Sackett. This was the sixth renovation to the 1899 Schoolhouse.

  • 2017

    On Christmas Eve, GRoton Affordability and INclusion (GRAIN) hit its $50 million milestone. It went on to raise more than $54 million.
  • 2018

    Architectural Digest named Groton School’s Circle the most beautiful independent school campus in Massachusetts. Designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (Central Park, Boston Public Garden), the Circle today looks largely as it did more than one hundred years ago.