History of Greenwich Academy
Greenwich Academy’s tradition of excellence is long and rich. Founded in 1827, we are the oldest girls’ day school in Connecticut—the sixth oldest in the nation. Over the course of three sites and as many distinct eras, GA has strived to live up to our motto, Toward the Building of Character. We are and have always been committed to notions of leadership, responsibility, and community, both on campus and in the world. As we peer ahead to our next milestone—200!—we also celebrate a history that continues to inform life at GA. As “The Academy Song” notes, We link the strength of all thy past / To glorious future days.
Like many institutions in post-Revolutionary New England, Greenwich Academy had ecclesiastical beginnings. On May 1, 1827, minister and local elder Dr. Darius Mead filed a charter for “a suitable house for the continuance and permanent establishment of an Academical School.” Located in a three-story wooden schoolhouse on the grounds of Greenwich’s Second Congregational Church, GA would offer boys and girls an education that included Latin, astronomy, sciences, botany, arts, and a Shakespeare club.
Mead’s son-in-law, Philander Button, took over in 1839, and served for more than two decades, building the school from a student body of six to around 40. GA continued to thrive until the early 20th century, when competition from newly opened all-girls boarding schools, the public Greenwich High School, and the all-boys Brunswick School (founded by a GA teacher) would force the school to redefine its mission. In 1914, led by local philanthropist Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, GA officially became an all-girls school, and began construction on a new Maple Avenue campus.
GA’s 20th-century era is largely defined by the two long-serving headmistresses Ruth West Campbell and Katherine Zierleyn, but the comparatively brief tenure of Alice Adelaide Knox was significant. Her years of 1920-25 saw the introduction of a school uniform, the physical education program, the school song, and the parents association—all of which continue to be integral parts of GA today.
Knox was succeeded by Campbell, who would go on to become the longest-tenured head of school. Her 30 years produced a focus on academic rigor, appreciation of arts, and athletic excellence that have become part of our DNA. Under her guidance, the school grew in students and property, with the significant acquisitions of the Ridgeview Avenue and 200 North Maple Avenue campuses. She also oversaw the establishment of the Alumnae Association.
Zierleyn, who would be headmistress for two decades, hit the ground running with a building boom. Under her leadership, GA sold its original campus to Brunswick and moved the entire school to new facilities at 200 North Maple Ave. (which included the newly christened Ruth West Campbell Hall) and nearly doubled the student body to 400. She also expanded GA’s footprint of excellence by embarking on a path of community outreach and engagement, a legacy we proudly continue. Finally, Zierleyn was the architect of Coordination, our partnership with Brunswick that allows Upper School girls and boys to take classes together, on both campuses, affording both cohorts the best elements of coed and single-sex schools.
Our modern era is characterized by more continuity, more growth, more excellence. Alexander Uhle took over from Zierleyn and during the next 20 years continued to expand the possibilities for GA girls, successfully steering the school through a precarious period for all-girls education. In 1979, GA had its first ever career day, which included lawyers, journalists, accountants, and architects, setting the forward-looking standards that reverberate today.
Patsy Howard oversaw GA’s transition to a 21st-century girls school, and during her 15 years she spearheaded a true modernization, of the campus (a new Upper School, library, and performing arts center), of the curriculum (computer labs!), and of the school’s mission. Howard brought a new focus on diversity and inclusion, and professionalized the development office to ensure the GA experience would long be available to a growing pool of girls.
Today, GA approaches its bicentennial under the leadership of Molly King. Since 2004, she has tapped, harnessed, and unleashed incredible reserves to catapult GA to the top of its class. Under her watch, GA has become a community with the resources for and expectations of excellence, where girls can take risks and learn from each other and a corps of talented educators. Under her watch, GA has doubled down on its original mission: to develop girls and young women of exceptional character and achievement who demonstrate independence, resilience, courage, integrity, and compassion.
GA’s own holiday celebrates our founding, on May 1, 1827. Today we celebrate Charter Day with middle and upper school elections, a maypole dance from Group IV, and a carnival organized by the junior class.
Our motto, Toward the Building of Character, runs through everything we do—in class, on the field, in the community. Ingathering, our annual Thanksgiving assembly, is a unique, cherished distillation of that reality.