The School’s 50th anniversary witnessed publication of Roger Duncan’s The Story of Belmont Hill School, 1923-1973, cited in a prior post. On the 75th anniversary Harold Prenatt’s Belmont Hill School 1923-1998 appeared, contributing a significant photographic component to the story. At the time of publication of their respective works, both men were senior members of the faculty each with some 30 years of prior service, authors who thus wrote from deep personal experience with their subject.
Another historical volume with similar provenance also appeared in 1998. Written by my father, Richard O. Howe ‘33, the only son of Dr. and Mrs. Howe, Memories of My Father and the First Ten Years of Belmont Hill School, originally published in booklet form, is reproduced here.
At no time prior to Mrs. Howe’s death in 1962, indeed not until after my father had turned 50, was his father ever referred to as simply the first headmaster. He was always the “founder” or “founder and first headmaster” of Belmont Hill, called that by everyone with any personal knowledge of the School’s early history.
While the legal beagles on the board of trustees who implemented the changeover, designating all the original incorporators of the School as founders, may have been technically correct as a matter of law, it was a slight that never set well with my father, who regarded it in large part as triggered by certain of his criticisms of the School, particularly as relating to selection of trustees and fundraising practices.
My father was only slightly mollified by the later substitution of “founding headmaster” in place of first headmaster. Without doubt, the change in the manner of referring to his father was a significant motivating factor in my father’s final effort to record his version of the School’s first decade. As he wrote in conclusion (p. 35):
Dad was more than simply the first headmaster of Belmont Hill School. He was also its founder, hired by the Executive Committee to establish a school for boys. Dad gave the last ten years of his life to doing just that. My father was not handed an already established institution to run. Rather, he was presented with a house and land and had absolutely outstanding Trustees who were prepared to do their part in providing support for the project.
It was Dad who set the tone and character of the school. He established the priorities for new facilities, supervised and negotiated with the architects and contractors who built the plant, hired the faculty, established the curriculum with their assistance, recruited the students, designed the school seal, and chose the school colors. It was Dad who got his friend President Elliot of Harvard to make the opening address regarding cooperative goodwill.
From 1923 until February of 1932 when he was struck down by a massive heart attack, Dad guided the school through the Great Depression building enrollment from 0 to 184 students. The plant grew from one house and no athletic facilities to an institution with three classroom buildings, two separate dormitory buildings, a large wing on the Headmaster’s house containing a dormitory, school dining room and Chapel, a Natural History Museum, the Atkins Library with a classroom underneath, and a house for the school matron and maids. Athletic facilities included a field house with locker rooms, squash court, common room, and a basketball court convertible to a theater with a good-sized stage at one end, two cages, two tennis courts, five outdoor, natural-ice rinks and two full-size football fields that also accommodated baseball diamonds.
Roger Duncan summarized the point more succinctly (Duncan, p. 7): “If, as Emerson said, an institution is the lengthened shadow of a great man, then Dr. Howe was that man at Belmont Hill.”