Roselle Charlock gave a talk Oct. 30, 2014 at the Lenox Library which rounded out the information from Rick Goeld on Windsor Mountain School. Rosalie’s talk provided an introduction to her new book, Windsor Mountain School, A Beloved Berkshire Institution. Roselle is professor emerita of education at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the author of several books on education and on the Holocaust.
Progressive Education at Windsor Mountain with a European Flair
Her book provided additional information on the Bondy family (the founders of Windsor Mountain School) and their educational philosophy. Max Bondy had a background with the German Youth Movement which, before it was co-opted into Hitler Youth, stressed healthy outdoor living which Max and other faculty members brought to Windsor Mountain School. Their educational philosophy also emphasized learning to control violent, destructive impulses natural to all of us by experiential learning, artistic expression, and a self-defined path. Freedom was seen as key to a self-defined life.
Heinz Bondy was often quoted as saying, “adjust to the world, but not conform.” In the early days of Windsor Mountain School (moved to Lenox in 1944), the school was also characterized by a small student body, individualized learning, counseling from Gertrude Bondy (who had studied with Freud), and a multi cultural student body. In the early days, students and faculty were often, like the Bondys, refugees from the hardships of Nazism (and later Communism) and the school had a distinctly European feel.
As noted in the earlier blog about Windsor Mountain School, this combination of tolerance, personal attention, and high-quality faculty led to a student body that included children of the famous (i.e. children of Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Roy Campanella, and Charles Schultz).
In the beautiful setting of Groton Place in the Berkshires and this loving, supportive – but stimulating – environment, Windsor Mountain School, in the early days was characterized as a “utopian Oz.” *
By the Mid 1960’s Things Had Started to Change
By the late 1960’s society was changing and so was Windsor Mountain School.
- As of 1951 (when Max Bondy died) Max and Gertrude’s son Heinz had taken over (somewhat reluctantly) as headmaster. Faculty and students characterized him as lax in imposing what few rules there were.
- The Bondys had always been generous in providing scholarships for refugees and other students who otherwise would not have had access to the kind of quality education Windsor Mountain offered (P. 154 – 15% of each class typically on scholarship.)
- By the 1970’s, the school had gotten into a vicious financial cycle brought on by both this generosity in providing tuition-free education and by the costs of new buildings. To cover these costs, the school increased the size of the student body.
- Many of the students were of the same interesting potential as the students of the early days, but some were basically juvenile delinquents sent by the state to Windsor Mountain School as a last ditch effort. The unstructured environment was, as it turned out, inappropriate for a small but impactful group that brought troubling behaviors to the school.
- Not only the nature of the students but the size of the student body changed. In 1952 the student body had reached a high of 80 students (15 faculty members). In 1974 (p. 151) there were 84 students in the graduating class (probably 4x the 1952 student body.)
- Finally, Gertrude Bondy, who had held daily counseling sessions in the early days, was less and less involved as time went on.
Sex between students (and faculty in some cases) became common as did the use of dangerous drugs such as heroin (including overdoses) vandalism and theft. The reputation of the “hippie” school was going in the wrong direction.
“In addition to the tension between Windsor Mountain and the town’s police and health departments, there were, according to Peter Whitehead and Terry Hall, ‘town/school tensions’ in general.. There were differences in class and race, and there were the drugs. They noted that several Lenox locals saw longhaired students as hippies, and Terry Hall said Windsor kids were called ‘kooks.’ ‘We looked different,’ said Peter Whitehead. ‘We stood out. You couldn’t go into town without getting into verbal confrontations. Heinz would tell us to be careful ‘Don’t be stupid.’ We didn’t feel free to go anywhere.” (P. 141)
Just as the school had more and more need for tuition-paying students, it was becoming less appropriate for intellectually oriented students.
Windsor Mountain School – And Others – Close
Windsor Mountain closed in August 1975. The bank foreclosed on the heavily mortgaged property. As noted above, some of the reasons the school closed were unique to Windsor Mountain. However, there were general social and economic factors that contributed to the closure of a number of private schools in the Lenox area at about the same time.
- Oil prices skyrocketed in 1973 with the oil embargo. Heating these huge, un-insulated houses became unaffordable.
- Society had changed.
“What had happened is that the entire market for private secondary eduction had changed by 1972. A combination of an inter-generational leveling in the distribution of wealth, i.e., younger parents didn’t have the spare money that their parents had had to afford private school, together with changes in social attitudes, limited the market for paying students. [Along with the 1960’s revolution in sex, drugs, students’ rights, civil rights and gender], there were anti-establishment, anti-elitist, attitudes that caused younger parents to disparage private schooling as ‘elitist.'” (P. 153 – Richard Neely wrote on the school’s website February 14, 2007).
The five other schools that closed in Lenox were:
- The Stockbridge School had a progressive approach similar to Windsor Mountain. Famous alumni included Arlo Guthrie and and Chevy Chase. Sometimes students from the two schools would gather at Mundy’s Bar and Restaurant (1970-1989) in the Glendale section of Stockbridge. Stockbridge School operated 1949-1976 and was replaced by the DeSisto School (1978-2004) The Stockbridge campus on West St. is currently vacant.
- The Lenox School for Boys (1926-1972) – was founded by Episcopal churchmen but was non-denominational and proud of its focus on service and diversity. Its campus is now Fairlawn, Kemble Inn and Shakespeare and Company (plus some other buildings)
- The Cranwell School (1939-1975) was established by the Jesuits and Ted Kennedy attended eighth grade there. It is now the Cranwell hotel and spa.
- Richard J. Herbert, Jr. purchased Overleigh estate on Old Stockbridge Road for the Rockwood Academy (1964-1975). Like Bondy, he had had to scramble to cover costs by taking in wards of the state. In 1980 the property was sold to Hillcrest Education Centers, a private non-profit focused on students with behavioral difficulties. It remains part of the Hillcrest Education network.
- Foxhollow School for Girls had been founded in 1898 in the Hudson River area. It moved to Lenox in 1939 with Aileen M. Farrell’s purchase of Margaret Vanderbilt’s estate (constructed on the site of the estate of George Westinghouse at the current intersection of Route 7 and Old Stockbridge Road). In the 1950’s she expanded the campus by purchasing The Mount, built for famous author Edith Wharton. Today the Vanderbilt/Westinghouse estate is condominiums and Enlighten Next. The Mount has been restored and is a major Lenox cultural attraction.
- The last Lenox private school to close during this economically challenging period was the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary (1961-1979) run by the Priests of the Sacred Heart as a school for young men interested in the priesthood. It occupied the elegant “cottage,” Bellefontaine, on Kemble Street. Since 1987, it has been operated as Canyon Ranch.
Windsor Mountain School – Afterward
In November 1975 Holliston Jr. College purchase the Windsor Mountain site for $270,000. It was to be used for the training of paramedics, medical assistants, veterinary assistants, respiratory therapists and food technologists. The holistic program failed to get accreditation. In 1976the Beatrice Macmunn, the owner of Holliston Jr. College, used the property for a Hearing Ear Dog Program. Macon ended selling several parcels on the property. From 1976- 1980 the site was rented to Pastor Carl H. Stevens of “The Bible Speaks West.” In 1980, it was sold to Boston University for the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) for gifted high school age students. During the school year, the property is used by Berkshire Country Day School.
Comments on Other Windsor Mountain School Properties
In addition to Groton Place, Windsor Mountain School occupied Beaupre, a 30 room “cottage” belonging at one time to George Turnure. It was used as a boy’s dorm until burned by students.
Heinz Brody gave Franny and Jim Hall property on which to build a house. It can be entered from 60 Hawthorne St. or 45 West. St.
*Windsor Mountain School, A Beloved Berkshire Institution, by Roselle Kline Charlock, The History Press, 2014, P. 123
In addition to the book above, please see the Lenox History You Tube channel for a video of Roselle’s talk at the Lenox Library.