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The Wheeler School is a coeducational independent day school located on the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island, U. S. The school serves students from the nursery level through twelfth-grade.[4]

Wheeler School
216 Hope Street


Coordinates41°49′44″N 71°23′52″W / 41.828954°N 71.397875°W / 41.828954; -71.397875Coordinates: 41°49′44″N 71°23′52″W / 41.828954°N 71.397875°W / 41.828954; -71.397875
MottoThe Spirit Giveth Life
Established1889 (1889)
CEEB code400170
NCES School IDWheeler: 01258081[1]
Hamilton: A9300828[2]
Head of SchoolAllison Gaines Pell
FacultyWheeler: 123[1]
Hamilton 16.3[2]
EnrollmentWheeler: 788[1]
Hamilton: 72[2]
Student to teacher ratio6.2:1
Campus typeUrban, 12 acres (4.9 ha)
Farm, 120 acres (49 ha)
Color(s)     Purple
AthleticsSENE and Rhode Island Interscholastic League
MascotThe Warrior



Mary C. WheelerEdit

School founder, Mary Colman Wheeler was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on May 15, 1846. She graduated from Concord High School and Abbot Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. She began her educational career teaching mathematics and Latin in the Concord school system. In 1868, she moved to Providence, Rhode Island to teach at Miss Shaw's, a finishing school for young ladies. In the 1870s, Wheeler twice traveled to Europe to study art and painting, and between her trips enrolled in a variety of art history courses taught by Brown University professors. In 1882, she opened an art studio in the Waterman Building on North Main Street in Providence. Two years later, she moved into a house and studio she built at 24 Cabot Street and began to offer painting classes for young women three days a week, and for children on Saturdays. In addition, she held an evening lecture series on Greek literature and early American history.[4]

In 1887, Wheeler took a group of young women to Giverny, France for a summer of painting, art history and French. These trips were repeated many times through the next two decades and link Wheeler to a number of American Impressionist artists as well as French Impressionist Claude Monet.[4]

Early historyEdit

In 1900, adding an academic college preparatory curriculum to her art instruction, Mary Wheeler accepted ten female students as boarders and officially founded The Mary C. Wheeler School. A building on Brook Street was purchased, in 1898, to house girls enrolled in the preparatory program for her Cabot Street School.[4]

In 1910, Hope Building was constructed to provide living and dining facilities required by a growing student body and faculty. In 1912, the original Fresh Air Building was completed, though it was later rebuilt. The Mary C. Wheeler School thus became one of the first American schools to use the principles of Maria Montessori in its kindergarten instruction. Wheeler also purchased the Froebel Kindergarten School which admitted boys into its pre-primary grades until the 1950s.[4]

The daughter of a farmer, Wheeler acquired a 78-acre (32 ha) farm and house in Seekonk, Massachusetts in 1912–13. She subsequently purchased an adjoining farm and buildings, bringing the total land holdings to slightly more than 120 acres (49 ha). At one point, she advertised her school in Vogue as the Mary C. Wheeler Town & Country School.[4]

Mary Helena Dey was hired in 1914 to reorder the school’s curriculum. As a result, the school became a pioneer in the educational theories of John Dewey. Through Dey’s contacts, such notables as Carl Sandburg came to campus to meet with students or, in Sandburg’s case, deliver the graduation address.[4]

The first Wheeler Field Day was celebrated in 1915, and is the oldest continuously-celebrated tradition at the school.[4]

Middle years: 1920-1980Edit

Wheeler died in 1920 at the age of 73. In her will she established a board of trustees to oversee the school. Mary Helena Dey, who had studied under educational theorist John Dewey at the University of Chicago, was named headmistress. In the mid-20s, the farm facilities were expanded at a cost of $4,400 to include a field hockey field and two tennis courts. The “swimming hole” was enlarged and deepened. Later an arboretum, featuring several hundred unusual plants and trees, was established at the farm in Dey's name, but has been lost to time.[4]

In 1940, Mabel Van Norman was appointed the third headmistress on the retirement of Dey, Van Norman continued the school through the years of World War II and spent time visiting war-torn schools in the Netherlands and Belgium which Wheeler students helped to support with food and supplies. In 1950, she was succeeded by S. Rowland “Rowly” Morgan, Jr.[4]

Morgan became the first male to lead the school and a residence was purchased, at 211 Hope Street, to provide a home outside of the girls' dormitory for his family. In 1952, the Wheeler Annual Fund was established to support the school through donations by alumni, family and friends.[4]

In 1968, Hugh A. Madden was named headmaster. Coeducation was approved for the lower grades in 1973, and expanded to include the entire school in 1975. The name of the school officially changed to The Wheeler School. The boarding program was phased out in 1979.


A typical graduation ring from the Wheeler School

William C. Prescott, Jr. succeeded Hugh Madden as headmaster in 1980.[4]

The Hamilton School at Wheeler opened in 1988 to its first group of 35 students in grades 1-6.[4] In 1990, a new library was constructed. The building was designed by Schwartz/Silver Architects of Boston. A large division of the library is named in memory of third headmistress Mabel Van Norman.[4]

Wheeler was the Providence site of the Summerbridge National program in 1992.[4]

WELH-FM (Wheeler's radio station at FM 88.1) went on the air in 1994 at the end of a 10-year process begun as an Aerie[clarification needed] student project. As of 2006, the station broadcasts Spanish-language programming in the morning and a golden oldies format in the afternoon, and the station streams via the internet. Students also use the facilities to record news programs and interviews.[4] Since October 8, 2011, WELH has broadcast programming from Rhode Island Public Radio.[5]

The school today[when?] has nearly 800 students[6] with 200 faculty and staff. In addition to its main campus in Providence, the school has a 120-acre (49 ha) farm facility for athletics, the Sixth Grade Farm Program, summer camp, ropes course, sports programs and environmental research.

Notable alumniEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "Search for Private Schools – School Detail for Wheeler School". National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved Oct 22, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c "Search for Private Schools – School Detail for Hamilton School At Wheeler". National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved Oct 22, 2014.
  3. ^ "Explore Wheeler School". Niche. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Wheeler School ~ History of the School". 28 July 2011. Archived from the original on July 28, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  5. ^ Ziner, Karen Lee (October 7, 2011). "R.I. Latino radio station going 24/7 in new place". The Providence Journal. Retrieved October 10, 2011.
  6. ^ "The Wheeler School | Head of School Dan Miller | The Wheeler School, Providence RI". Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  7. ^ [1]