6-7s Building Study: Progressive Education

Manhattan Country School Mourns the Passing of Founder Gus Trowbridge

Manhattan Country School Mourns the Passing of Founder Gus Trowbridge

Monday, July 10, 2017

Manhattan Country School Founder Gus Trowbridge

It is with great sadness that we share the news that Gus Trowbridge, Manhattan Country School’s founder, founding director and lifetime trustee passed away Sunday, July 9, 2017, after a long struggle with vascular dementia and cancer.

Gus was a visionary who was deeply affected by the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. In 1965, at 31 years old and disenchanted with the exclusiveness of independent schools, Gus left his job teaching English at The Dalton School to create a school where children from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds could learn together. Gus gathered some of the foremost advocates for racially integrated schools as sponsors and founding board members: Rev. Dr. Carl E. Flemister, Rev. Bill Webber, Dr. Kenneth Clark, Zero Mostel, Peggy Penn, Erik Erikson, Peter Buttenwieser, among many others. They were East Harlem religious leaders, researchers in psychology and education, family friends and foundation representatives. Together with 66 intrepid families and some gifted progressive educators, the work of turning Gus’ dream into reality took root and Manhattan Country School opened in September 1966.

Determined to extend his original vision to a wider realm, Gus considered MCS “a private school with a public mission.” His belief in economic diversity (without perpetuating inequality through the stigma of scholarships), led Gus to initiate a tuition reform project with MCS parents and trustees, including Hugh Southern and Franklin Delano Roosevelt III. The result was MCS’ sliding-scale tuition model, which many other schools have replicated. Another example of Gus’ visionary leadership was a 1985 conference he developed to urge independent schools to divest their endowments from investments supporting apartheid in South Africa.

Gus was a gifted teacher and writer. Thirty years of alumni learned to diagram sentences in his grammar class. As a graduate of The Putney School, Gus prized the Farm as a place where differences disappeared as an interdependent community emerged through meaningful work. His speeches to parents and on graduation night are legendary. His memoir, Begin with a Dream: How a Private School with a Public Mission Changed the Politics of Race, Class, and Gender in American Education, records Manhattan Country School’s first 30 years.

For three decades Gus worked side by side with his wife, Marty Trowbridge. They both retired from MCS in 1997. Their three children—Katharine Trowbridge Carroll ’72, Stephen Trowbridge ’74 and Mary Trowbridge ’76—are MCS graduates. Three of their grandchildren (Sophie Rodenbush ’09, Caroline Rodenbush ’13 and Jack Trowbridge ’17) are MCS alumni, too. Mary is currently MCS’ Lower School director. Stephen is an elected alumni representative on the MCS Board of Trustees.

Gus Trowbridge had a lifelong impact on MCS alumni, teachers he mentored, and educators and policymakers at the forefront of making schools accessible, equitable and high quality. Gus gave us the courage to be bold and to take our responsibility for a more just and sustainable world seriously. MCS has served as an influential example of what can be accomplished within a diverse learning environment for schools and educators, many who have replicated the school’s inclusive approach to curriculum.

In the months to come, the Trowbridge family will host a celebration in New York City commemorating Gus' life. Details will be announced at a later date. If you are considering a contribution, it was Gus' wish that any gifts be directed to: The Gus & Marty Trowbridge Forum - a community dialogue on diversity and equity in education. The purpose of the Forum is to perpetuate the model of education that Gus and Marty established when they founded Manhattan Country School. Providing a forum that engages the public on topics of diversity and equity will help to fulfill an MCS founding principle to be a private school with a public mission. Checks may be made payable to MCS - Trowbridge Forum and mailed to Manhattan Country School, 150 West 85th Street, New York, NY 10024, Attn: Mary Trowbridge.

We extend our deepest sympathy to the entire Trowbridge family. The family has established the following Legacy.com site and welcomes the community to visit and post memories of Gus.

Remembering Gus Trowbridge

When school resumes in the fall, we will share information about how MCS will celebrate Gus’ legacy.