Episcopal schools in America were charted in 1709 after William Huddleston, a New York lawyer and a city schoolmaster, successfully petitioned the London-based Society for the Propagation of the Gospel for school books and an annual salary of 10 pounds, according to the school’s present website.
The historical information found on Trinity Episcopal School’s website continues to tell us this petition, now in the archives of Lambeth Palace in London, states the reason for starting this type of school was the “want of a (public) school in the City of New York where ... poor children ... might be taught gratis on the occasion of an abundance of irreligion.”
At its founding, Trinity School was a charity school, a not uncommon origin for some of today’s oldest and most prestigious schools. Most children in the early 18th century were educated at home; only the poor needed a special institution to act in “loco parentis.”
Trinity Episcopal Church was eager to support this idea. Classrooms were set up in their bell tower and the city hall. The school’s charter charged them to “found schools everywhere” and agreed to fund Huddleston’s school, provided only that the mayor and aldermen certify to London annually the presence of 40 poor children at the school.
After the Revolution, the school underwent major changes, which transformed it into the institution it is today. Ties to England were cut by the Revolution, so the school needed a new financial benefactor. Trinity Church provided a portion of the money. Additional money came from the Common Council of the City of New York.
In the early years of the new Republic, public support shifted from the sectarian charity schools to the newly established Free School Society, with its vision of non-sectarian, universal, free public education. By 1825, New York City withdrew all financial support from church charity schools.
Lacking such assistance, Trinity School, which had fought these changes, reincorporated as a private school, redefining its purpose and taking up its role as a well established, prestigious college preparatory school.
True to the original charter, Episcopal schools have been established across America. According to the latest publication from the National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES), Texas has 121 schools and Early Childhood Centers in six dioceses, the most in the United States. Across the nation, the approximate number of Episcopal schools is 160,000. The students attending these schools are representative of significant socio-economic, racial, cultural and religious diversity.
In his welcome letter to Trinity families, Head of School John Allman writes, ‘‘Like other great schools, Trinity promises to offer a balanced educational program for body and mind, heart and soul; incorporating the arts, athletics, and community service: We are called to challenge the minds, fire the imaginations, and train the bodies of the young people who have been entrusted to us; to enlarge their spiritual lives; and to increase their capacity for mutual and self-respect. Like other schools devoted to the liberal arts, we seek to give our students the tools of rigorous and passionate intellectual inquiry and self-expression. And, like many other schools in New York City and beyond, we care passionately about the ethical as well as intellectual development of our students, seeking to develop enlightened and engaged citizens: We must lead them to distinguish between right and wrong and then do what is right so they can be persuasive and courageous citizens.”
St. Cyprian’s Episcopal School also is dedicated to this charge, being in agreement with this historical school where Episcopal education in America began.
You are invited to join us to celebrate Episcopal Schools Week during a service at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church at 10 a.m. Oct. 2. Students will participate in leading morning worship and offering special music.
You also are encouraged to use this week as a time to set up a tour to visit our school and experience the more than 300-year tradition of Episcopal education.
I agree with Trinity’s headmaster as he concludes in his letter, “the best way to get a sense of the place is to meet our students and teachers.”
About Author | Dr. Sherry Durham is Head of School for St. Cyprian’s Episcopal School. Her email address is email@example.com. The column was printed in The Lufkin Daily News on June 22, 2022.