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Ethical Culture Fieldston School records

Call Number

MS 3042


1879-2017, inclusive


Ethical Culture Fieldston School


470.14 Linear feet in 396 containers and 25 flat files, of various sizes.
168.9 Gigabytes (24,395 files in 1,389 folders)

Language of Materials

The documents in the collection are in English.


The records are the archives of the Ethical Cultural Fieldston School, documenting its history from the late 1870s to the early twenty-first century. The records relate to school governance and administration, academics, student life, extracurricular activities, special programming such as camps, parent-teacher association, buildings and facilities, publications, alumni relations, and more.

Administrative History Note

The Ethical Culture Fieldston School is a private independent K-12 school with locations in Manhattan and the Bronx. The school has its origins in the Free Kindergarten, founded in Manhattan by Felix Adler in 1878. Soon after, the school expanded its grade levels and became the Workingman's School in an effort to provide education to the city's underprivileged children. In the 1890s, the school changed its name again to the Ethical Culture School (in reflection of its relationship to the Society for Ethical Culture, also founded by Adler) and began charging tuition.

In 1904, the school moved to a newly constructed building at 33 Central Park West, adjacent to the Society for Ethical Culture. This building housed all grade levels until the opening of a high school at the Fieldston campus in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx in 1928. A second lower school also opened in Fieldston in 1932. In 2007, a new middle school was opened on the Riverdale campus.

For some early years of the school, classes were also conducted at a secondary location called the Branch School. An elementary education department called the Normal School or the Teacher Training Department operated from the 1890s to 1939. At various points in its history, the school has offered several summer and extracurricular programs, including a summer camp in Cooperstown, New York.

The schools have been guided by a Board of Governors, later renamed the Board of Trustees, as well as an overarching administrative department. For much of the twentieth century, this department was called the 3-School Administration, in reference to the Ethical Culture School, Fieldston Lower and Fieldston Upper. Administratively, the school was led by a rector from 1878 to 1942, as well as an educational director (later renamed head of school) from 1928 onward. Individual schools have each been led by a principal.

Founder Felix Adler served as rector from 1878-1933. He was succeeded by John L. Elliott, founder of the Hudson Guild, who served from 1933-1942. For many years, prominent members of the Society for Ethical Culture could be found acting as chairman of the Board of Governors or the educational director. Financial and administrative ties to the Society for Ethical Culture were formally dissolved in the 1990s.

Long-serving administrators include Educational Directors V.T. Thayer (1928-1948), Victoria Wagner (1954-1968), and Howard Radest (1979-1991); and Fieldston Upper Principal Luther Tate (1941-1966), the namesake of Tate Library.


The collection is arranged in eighteen record groups:

Record Group 1. Governance, administration, and 3-School affairs
Record Group 2. Early and defunct schools
Record Group 3. Fieldston School
Record Group 4. Midtown Ethical Culture School
Record Group 5. Fieldston Lower
Record Group 6. Camps and programs
Record Group 7. Parent and Teacher Association
Record Group 8. Alumni and alumni-relations
Record Group 9. Development and communications
Record Group 10. Buildings and grounds
Record Group 11. Print matter
Record Group 12. History of the Ethical Culture Schools
Record Group 13. Ethics Department and the Society for Ethical Culture
Record Group 14. Photographs
Record Group 15. Audiovisual (Restricted. See note at series level)
Record Group 16. Artifacts
Record Group 17. Digital formats (Restricted. See note at series level)
Record group 18. Student records (Restricted. See note at series level)

Scope and Contents

The Ethical Culture Fieldston School records provide information on the administrative and academic affairs of the school from the 1880s into the twenty-first century. Themes seen throughout include progressive education, independent school administration, curriculum creation, fundraising, and budgeting. The role of ethics, arts, or sports programs in the curriculum, and the school's response to greater societal issues such as wars, racism, poverty, and environmental concerns, are often addressed.

Pre-1940 materials in the collection strongly reflect the school's early interest in "manual training" through graphic arts, mechanics, and practical skills curriculum. Later records tend to reflect the school's interest in social progressivism and move toward a college preparatory focus. In addition, the collection contains materials related to extracurricular and summer programs in several record groups, but particularly in "RG 6: Camps and Programs." In addition, "RG 2: Early and Defunct Schools" contains records of the Normal Teacher Training Department.

Themes also seen throughout the collection include: changes in standardization of education and college admissions process (see especially the records of the Eight Year Study in "RG 3: Fieldston School"), the challenges of serving underprivileged communities in an elite institution, and the rise of student activism and a changing adolescent culture beginning in the late 1960s. This last is documented in particular through the protests of the Black and Latino Students Club in 1970, which are discussed in several record groups.

Materials relating to constituent management, particularly parental involvement in school and the maintenance of alumni relations, can be found in several record groups, but especially in "RG 8: Alumni and Alumni Relations" and in "RG 9: Development and Communications."

Information about physical locations at 33 Central Park West and the Fieldston campus in the Bronx can be found in "RG 10: Buildings and Grounds," as well as in "RG 14: Photographs" and in the Board of Governors and administration records in "RG 1: Governance, Administration, and 3-School Affairs." This includes images, architectural plans, and discussion of maintenance, budgets, and space usage.

While the philosophical influence of the Society for Ethical Culture can be seen in administrative and curriculum materials throughout the collection, directly related items consist of Society-produced ephemera, discussion of shared spaces at the Central Park West location, and the financial and legal documents detailing the dissolution of financial ties formalized in 1996.

Correspondence, meeting materials, and administrative documents make up much of the collection, along with ephemera, curriculum materials, student work, and a significant number of photographs. Most materials were created by the 3-School administration, or by the administration of individual schools, with some materials created or collected by teachers or students. Beginning in the 1980s, the Alumni Affairs department played a large role in growing the archival collection by saving contemporary items and collecting donations of older items from alumni and their descendants.

A very small amount of records relate to photographer Lewis Hine, who taught photography at the Ethical Culture School in the early twentieth century. "RG 14: Photographs" contains copy photographs and copy negatives, along with two photographs marked as possible Hine images. Other mentions of Hine in the collection are later correspondence related to archival inquiries or publicity efforts. Also, while there are very few items directly related to the school's many notable alumni, possible sources of information on individual students include class lists and student rosters from 1891 onward, as well as Fieldston yearbooks and the Fieldston News student newspaper after 1928 found in "RG 11: Print Matter."

More detailed information can be found in the description for each individual Record Group and Series. Researchers should be aware that Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds the papers of founder Felix Adler (The Felix Adler papers, 1830-1933), as well as records relating to Adler's successor as rector, John Lovejoy Elliott, in the Hudson Guild records, 1896-1990s.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to qualified researchers. Access to certain materials are restricted; these restrictions are noted at the series level. Digital media restricted from use. Patrons may use the digital files. A full file manifest is available upon request.

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Conditions Governing Use

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

The collection should be cited as: Ethical Culture Fieldston School records, MS 3042, New-York Historical Society.

Location of Materials

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of The Ethical Culture Fieldston School, August 2017. Ethical Culture Fieldston also generously provided the funding to support the processing of the archive.

Collection processed by

Alexanne Levengood

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-09-05 10:55:10 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English

Processing Information

Archivist Alexanne Levengood arranged and described this collection in January 2018-June 2019. Digital archivist Margo Padilla processed the digital files in May 2022. Files were moved off the disks to permanent storage using IsoBuster and TeraCopy. A virus scan was run using ClamWin and Malwarebytes with no results. Duplicate files were removed from the collection (24 GB/9,973 duplicate files). Digital files were not retrieved from damaged, duplicate, and commercially available CDs. Audiovisual media and 5.25-inch floppy disks were not processed due to the lack of necessary hardware.


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024