Lyndon B. Johnson entered his second term as president. The war in Vietnam was escalating. The march on Selma led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, while race riots erupted in Watts, California. Malcolm X was assassinated.
As these history-shaping events were unfolding across the globe in 1965, in New York City Gus and Marty Trowbridge were planting the seeds of an idea that would grow to become Manhattan Country School. Both were moved by the state of current affairs and captivated by the call for equality set forth by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech.
In his early years, Gus attended Chestnut Hill Academy, an all-boys pre-K through eighth-grade prep school in Northwest Philadelphia. During Gus’ time there, in the 1940s and early 1950s, the student population was overwhelmingly Episcopalian; there were no blacks, Jews or Roman Catholics.
As adolescence approached and his time at Chestnut Hill came to an end, Gus selected The Putney School, a progressive boarding school in Putney, Vermont, for his high school years. Putney existed in stark contrast to Chestnut Hill. It was co-ed, students called teachers by their first names, effort marks were given instead of letter grades, there was no formal dress code and it had its own dairy farm.
After Putney, Gus went on to attend Brown University, a decision influenced by his desire “to put my newly acquired liberalism to the test in a more traditional setting.” While completing the requisite courses for an English degree, he was also active in Students for Democratic Action and the civil rights committee of the Brown Christian Association. He also tutored children in a segregated black neighborhood of Providence and worked in an orphanage.
Gus married Marty in 1956 and the couple moved to New York City the next year, after Marty’s graduation. Gus took a teaching job at The Dalton School, on the advice of Peter Buttenwieser, a fellow Putney graduate, marking the beginning of his professional commitment to progressive education.
After eight years of teaching, Gus became disenchanted with the exclusive environment of New York City independent schools. This, combined with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and the model of youthful leadership set by President John F. Kennedy, fostered a desire within Gus to become a head of school. Several schools in the city sought Gus to fill their top position, but Gus and Marty ultimately decided their goals would be best accomplished by starting their own school. Looking at Manhattan Country School today, the influence of Gus and Marty’s time at Putney and Marty’s years at City and Country is clear.
“Given Marty’s and my politics and our shared experience at the Putney School, it is no surprise that when we founded Manhattan Country School, New York City’s first fully integrated private school, in 1966, we would adopt the progressive model of education, seeking nothing less than to change the world.”