The Spirit Giveth Life
|216 Hope St.
Providence, RI, 02906
|Head of School||Dan Miller|
|Average class size||11 students|
|Student to teacher ratio||7:1|
|Campus||Urban, 12 acres (4.9 ha)
Farm, 120 acres (49 ha)
|Athletics||SENE and Rhode Island Interscholastic League|
|Average SAT scores||630 critical reading
640 math (2010)
The Wheeler School is a coeducational independent day school located on the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island, United States. The school serves students from the nursery level through twelfth-grade.
Mary C. Wheeler
School founder, Mary Colman Wheeler was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on May 15, 1846. She graduated from Concord High School and Abbot Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. She began her educational career teaching Mathematics and Latin in the Concord school system In 1868, she moved to Providence, Rhode Island to teach at Miss Shaw’s, a “finishing” school for young ladies. In the 1870s, Wheeler twice traveled to Europe to study art and painting and between her trips enrolled in a variety of art history courses taught by Brown University professors. In 1882, she opened an art studio in the Waterman Building on North Main Street in Providence. Two years later she moved into a house and studio she built at 24 Cabot Street and began to offer painting classes for young women three days a week, and for children on Saturdays. In addition she held an evening lecture series on Greek literature and early American history.
In 1887, Wheeler took a group of young women to Giverny, France for a summer of painting, art history and French. These trips were repeated many times through the next two decades and link Wheeler to a number of American Impressionist artists as well as French Impressionist Claude Monet.
In 1900, adding an academic college preparatory curriculum to her art instruction, Mary Wheeler accepted ten female students as boarders and officially founded The Mary C. Wheeler School. A building on Brook Street was purchased in 1898 to house girls enrolled in the preparatory program for her Cabot Street School.
In 1910, Hope Building was constructed to provide living and dining facilities required by a growing student body and faculty. In 1912 the original Fresh Air Building was completed, though it was later rebuilt. The Mary C. Wheeler School thus became one of the first American schools to use the principles of Dr. Montessori in its kindergarten instruction. Wheeler also purchased the Froebel Kindergarten School and the School admitted boys into its pre-primary grades until the 1950s.
The daughter of a farmer, Wheeler continued on to acquire a 78-acre (32 ha) farm and house in Seekonk, Massachusetts in 1912-13. She subsequently purchased an adjoining farm and buildings, bringing the total land holdings to slightly more than 120 acres (49 ha). At one point, she advertised her school in Vogue as The Mary C. Wheeler Town & Country School.
Mary Helena Dey was hired in 1914 to reorder the school’s curriculum. As a result, the school became a pioneer in the educational theories of John Dewey. Through Dey’s contacts, such notables as Carl Sandburg came to campus to meet with students or in Sandburg’s case, deliver the graduation address.
The first Wheeler Field Day was celebrated in 1915 and is the oldest continuously-celebrated tradition at the School.
Middle Years: 1920-1980
Wheeler died in 1920 at the age of 73. In her will she established a Board of Trustees to oversee her school. Mary Helena Dey, who had studied under educational theorist John Dewey at the University of Chicago, was named headmistress. In the mid-20s, the Farm facilities were expanded at a cost of $4,400 to include a field hockey field and two tennis courts. The “swimming hole” was enlarged and deepened. Later an arboretum featuring several hundred unusual plants and trees was established at the Farm in Dey's name, but has been lost to time.
In 1940 Mabel Van Norman was appointed the third headmistress on the retirement of Dey, Van Norman continued the school through the years of World War II and spent time visiting war-torn schools in the Netherlands and Belgium which Wheeler students helped to support with food and supplies. In 1950 she was succeeded by S. Rowland “Rowly” Morgan, Jr. upon her retirement.
Morgan became the first male to lead the School and a Head’s residence was purchased at 211 Hope Street to provide a home outside of the girls' dormitory for his family. In 1952, the Wheeler Annual Fund was established to support the School through donations by alumni, family and friends.
In 1968 Hugh A. Madden was named headmaster on the retirement of Rowly Morgan. Coeducation was approved for the lower grades in 1973 and expanded to include the entire school in 1975. The name of the school officially changed to The Wheeler School. The boarding program phased out in 1979.
William C. Prescott, Jr. succeeded Hugh Madden in 1980, and the Madden Field House opened from funds raised during a capital campaign. The Aerie Program was formally established to expand enrichment opportunities for students and celebrated its official 25th anniversary in the 2005-2006 school year.
In 1986 an exterior renovation of the Columbine Hill House at the Farm began. Six new tennis courts and three new playing fields were added to the property as a resurgence of use began. Students in the Upper School's Environmental Science program, used the Farm property to study the headwaters of the Runnins River, and the School created an award-winning Rivers Program from the curriculum.
The Hamilton School at Wheeler opened in 1988 to its first group of 35 students in grades 1-6. In 2006, the National Association of Independent Schools awarded Hamilton its Leading Edge Award for Curriculum Innovation. Schools from Thailand to Tennessee have visited the model “school-within-a-school.” 
In 1990, from the proceeds of a $3 million centennial campaign, a new library was constructed. The building design, by Schwartz/Silver Architects of Boston, has won architectural acclaim and a large division of the Library is named in memory of third headmistress Mabel Van Norman.
Wheeler became the Providence site of the National Summerbridge program in 1992, thus turning its campus over each summer to educate urban youth from public middle school grades and to encourage the profession of teaching among college and high school students. Wheeler and Summerbridge earned the prestigious Klingenstein Award in 2006.
WELH- FM (Wheeler’s radio station at FM 88.1) went on the air in 1994 at the end of a 10-year quest begun as an Aerie student project and at present broadcasts Spanish-language programming in the morning and “golden oldies” in the afternoons. Students use the facilities to record news programs and interviews and the station now streams via the internet.
In 1997-98, the first class of students in the Wheeler-Brown Master of Arts in Teaching program for elementary education enrolled. Included in the first class was a Wheeler alumnus. The Wheeler Alumni Association boasts a membership of 3,500 members. As a result of a $6 million Vision for Wheeler: Tradition & Change Capital Campaign, Hope Building was extensively renovated to create a new Middle School and new Student Union. As part of the expansion, Hamilton added a Middle School division. Other features of the campaign included an addition to the Madden Field House to create a new Health & Physical Education Center.
Also in 1997, the School began a summer program at the Farm. Due to the generosity of a number of Wheeler friends and family, an outdoor pool and pavilion were dedicated to the memory of former Wheeler student Eliza Mauran Blackwell ‘78.
In 1999, ground was broken at The Wheeler Farm for the construction of a new athletic complex which opened in 2001 and was subsequently named for third headmistress Mabel Van Norman (who had suggested the building in a list of goals in 1940). Also in 1999, a restored and renovated Columbine Hill House at the Farm opened as a conference center. Both facilities are available for rental to off-campus groups.
In recognition of his 20th anniversary as Head of the School, the Wheeler Library was renamed the William C. Prescott Jr. Library by a resolution of the Board of Trustees in 2000. Prescott officially retired in June, 2002 and has been succeeded by Dan Miller, the seventh head of The Wheeler School.
With the beginning of the 2004 school year, a new Farm Program began for sixth graders, which incorporates experiential learning during seven-week periods on the Farm campus of the School. In the summer of 2004, Wheeler purchased the historic Lyman Klapp House at 217 Hope Street, a previously-private residence built during the same year Miss Wheeler officially founded the School. The building is home to the current Head of School Dan Miller and his family and is used for school functions. It was named Baker House in honor of longtime Wheeler trustee Ben Baker in 2008.
In 2006, Wheeler announced receipt of its largest individual donation in the history of the School, a $2 million gift for capital projects and financial aid directed to The Hamilton School at Wheeler. This gift was the catalyst for an increase in philanthropic support of the School. As of June, 2008, the School had raised more than $21 million — the largest amount of a capital campaign in its history — for student financial aid, faculty salary endowment and capital building projects in its Campaign for Wheeler: Be Exceptional.
The Providence campus has been relandscaped with new outdoor and indoor areas added as a result of the campaign. The Nulman Lewis Student Center ribbon-cutting was held March 31, 2009. The new building by Ann Beha Architects connects the historic Clark Alumni House to Hope Building and features a green roof, two new science classrooms and an expanded dining area in the Pelson Student Union. New play spaces and courtyards on the East and Main campus provide improved gathering and recreation areas for students and adults alike. A new addition to The Hamilton School, the Wharton P. Whitaker Building, is under construction and set to open in September 2010.
A campus-wide Green Initiative begun in 2008 brought environmental awareness to the forefront and resulted in a 2009 Narragansett Bay Commission award for water runoff conservation, the vegetative roof on the Nulman Lewis Student Center, and a solar panel array at the Farm's Van Norman Field House, which at the time of its installation in late 2009 was the largest such array in Southeastern Massachusetts.
The school today has nearly 800 students with 200 faculty and staff. In addition to its main campus in Providence, the School has a 120-acre (49 ha) Farm facility for athletics, its Sixth Grade Farm Program, summer camp, ropes course, sports programs and environmental research.
- Devere Allen (1891-1955) - Pacifist journalist and political activist, editor of The World Tomorrow magazine.
- Paul Corrigan and Brad Walsh, writers/co-executive producers of ABC-TV's "Modern Family."
- Trudy Coxe - CEO of the Preservation Society of Newport County, Former Environmental Secretary of Massachusetts and CEO of Save the Bay.
- Nico Muhly - Noted contemporary Western classical music composer.
- Josh Schwartz - Creator, Producer, Writer of FOX's television series The O.C., Chuck, and Gossip Girl
- Gloria Vanderbilt - Heiress, member of the Vanderbilt family of New York.
- Flynn, Laurie, comp. "History of the School." The Wheeler School. The Wheeler School, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2010. <http://www.wheelerschool.org/podium/default.aspx?t=112097&rc=0>.
- Miller, Dan. "Head of School's Welcome." The Wheeler School. The Wheeler School, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2010. <https://www.wheelerschool.org/podium/default.aspx?t=112096&rc=1>.