Preparing Boys for Life

The Haverford School History 1891

If These Walls Could Talk: A Look at Haverford's History

By Joseph T. Cox, Ph.D., former Headmaster (1998-2013)

On March 7, 2001, Headmaster Joseph Cox gave the keynote speech at the Newcomen Society dinner honoring The Haverford School. Each year, local chapters of the non-profit group select a business or organization that exemplifies the goals of the Society, which include preserving, protecting, and promoting the American free enterprise system. As part of the honor, Newcomen published a history of The Haverford School written by James Zug '87, upon which this excerpt from Dr. Cox's speech was based.

When the Pennsylvania Railroad finished 15 miles of track from Broad Street to Paoli, many of its families moved to the fresh air and country west of the city. Among them were Alexander Cassatt, brother of painter Mary, and his wife Lois Buchanan Cassatt, niece of our 15th president, James Buchanan. They occupied the Cheswold estate right next to where we sit tonight.

Their idea and ideal was a superior education for their boys, as well as the sons of others who had moved to The Main Line. To see their dream to reality, they enlisted the help of the young Quaker Dean of Haverford College, Isaac Sharpless. The College, founded in 1833, was a struggling institution. Swarthmore, a rival Quaker college, had its own grammar school, but there was no school for the sons of the Haverford professors. When Alexander and Lois Cassatt, presented their idea, Dean Sharpless acted.

Charles Sumner Crosman, 1884–1912

On the 23rd of September 1884, under Dean Sharpless' direction, four men and one woman began teaching 25 boys at The Haverford College Grammar School. In the spring of 1885, the School graduated its first young man, Walter E. Smith. His pressing duties as Dean forced Sharpless to turn control of the School over to its first headmaster, 26-year-old Charles S. Crosman.

Today, when you enter the main entrance of The Haverford School, the portraits of past headmasters greet you. They gaze down upon us to remind us that we are part of a long tradition; we measure the life of this School by the years of their service; and we define our future by the ideas and ideals they embodied.

Immediately on your right, in an immaculate suit, behind his rimless glasses, is Charles S. Crosman, Headmaster for 28 years from 1884 to 1912. In 1897, Crosman bought the Austin estate, where the School now resides, and began construction of Wilson Hall in 1901. The Crosman years were marked by an emphasis on a fundamental education that included an athletics program that produced national champions in hockey and tennis, and on an arts course that graduated Maxfield Parrish in 1888. Charles Crosman was dedicated to developing the full intellectual, athletic, and artistic potential of the boys he taught. It is a curricular ideal that continues to this day.

When Haverford moved to the Austin Estate, cut its ties to Haverford College, and became The Haverford School, it was a corporation owned by Crosman and supported by bonds that ultimately he couldn't repay. His successor, Edwin M. Wilson, inherited the leadership challenge and the accumulated debt.

Edwin Mood Wilson, 1912–1937

When Haverford moved to the Austin Estate, cut its ties to Haverford College, and became The Haverford School, it was a corporation owned by Crosman and supported by bonds that ultimately he couldn't repay. His successor, Edwin M. Wilson, inherited the leadership challenge and the accumulated debt.

Wilson's portrait is that of an imposing and serious man. It hung in my office for a short period when I arrived here, but I couldn't stand the scrutiny. I replaced him with a picture of Abraham Lincoln getting advice from his cabinet. In real life, "The Buck," as Wilson came to be called, stood 6-foot-3, and the moral and intellectual authority you sense from his stern gaze was a force in the formation of the Haverford we know today.

Wilson ignored his Board of Trustees' advice to close the School, and reshaped the institution into a non-profit corporation, donating, in the process, his substantial personal equity. Wilson ran the School with the force of his personality; he willed his ideas into reality. There was never a written contract between him and his staff. Following his unfailing intuition, "The Buck" hired great teachers and prided himself on having the top faculty in the area. Among them were English master Robert U. Jameson, head of Lower School Cheyney Smith, chairman of the Latin department Samuel H. Newhall, and Joe McQuillen, who added a national swimming championship to Haverford's list of athletic accomplishments.

Wilson put Haverford's financial house in order, formed our alumni association, raised over $750,000 during the height of the Depression, built a new gym, and groomed his hand-picked successor, Cornelius Boocock. After 43 years, "The Buck" left a thriving school with a solid reputation for superior academics and athletics. His emphasis on moral education and ideals continues today in our Upper School reflections, our Middle School House system, and in the letters of our Lower School Head.

From Charles Crosman we have our emphasis on the education of the whole boy, and we owe our academic, athletic, and moral prominence, not to mention our very survival during difficult economic times, to "Buck" Wilson's total dedication to The Haverford School. On a personal note, I wrote my Master's thesis in the graduate library named for his brother, Dr. Louis Round Wilson, of The University of North Carolina. I am honored to follow in the footsteps of one of Carolina's most respected sons.

Haverford School men were not ones to shirk their duty to country. During Mr. Wilson's tenure, Smedley D. Butler, Class of '98, rose to the rank of Major General in the Marine Corps and was the only officer in history to win two Congressional Medals of Honor. A disproportionate 25 Haverford graduates died in the "war to end all wars."

Cornelius B. Boocock, 1937–1942

A World War I veteran, Cornelius B. Boocock assumed leadership of Haverford in 1937, only to have his tenure cut short by World War II and his entry into active duty in the navy. Boocock came from a family of distinguished teachers, and he peers down at us with a half-smile and calm, intelligent eyes. Because he was so well prepared to lead a school and so highly sought after, his five years at Haverford are a testament to the School's reputation as one of the nation's premier schools for boys. His legacy of patriotism and subsequent appointment as Dean of his alma mater, Rutgers University, remind us of the strong service component that has always been part of The Haverford School experience.

Leslie R. Severinghaus, 1942–1965

Opposite Cornelius Boocock's portrait is a picture of a proud man with clear blue eyes and movie star looks, gazing out to a distant horizon. Leslie R. Severinghaus had taught English at Union Medical College in China, and when he returned to Columbia University to study for his master's degree, "Buck" Wilson, once again proving his intuitive ability to recognize good people, hired him. Severinghaus and his young wife, the former Emmavail Luce, came to The Main Line in 1929 and would not leave until 36 years later.

The vision that is so apparent in his portrait was that of a man who had experienced a larger world and saw that it was the role of education to introduce young men to experiences outside the confines of The Main Line. Severinghaus championed the presence of exchange students and expanded the traditional curriculum to include college courses. Confronted with the destruction by fire of the School's boarding residence in 1943, he concentrated on Haverford's original mission to provide the best possible education to local day students. Under his leadership, enrollment grew to over 800, faculty and staff developed a sense of family at functions hosted by the Severinghauses, and he tackled the great burden of deferred maintenance on campus at the same time he balanced the budget.

Haverford is the school it is today because of the wise and broad vision of Dr. Leslie R. Severinghaus. In the recent past, we had the Deputy Secretary-General of NATO speak to our boys about his year as a German exchange student at Haverford. We have hosted a young man from Bhutan and will provide a scholarship to a Russian student next year. Our boys have sung around the world, participated in and presented papers at a science conference in Russia, and spoke Chinese, which they learned at Haverford, in Leslie Severinghaus' beloved China. If he could see the campus renovation, experience the teaching of our faculty, and talk to our boys today, Dr. Severinghaus would be very proud of how his ideas and ideals have flourished. Of course, he would be too modest to take credit for the part he played in our current vision and success.

He would certainly give much of the credit to his successor, another man larger than life who looked as if he had been ordered from central casting to fill the role of a boys' school headmaster, Mr. Davis R. Parker.

Davis R. Parker, 1966–1987

One of the graduates from Mr. Davis R. Parker's tenure commented on the authenticity of his portrait by saying that his eyes were following him everywhere he went, just as when he was a student. Davis Parker kept a watchful eye during a period of great social turbulence when traditional educational values were challenged and changed. His hand held firm, and Mr. Parker maintained the School's original charter to employ the best teachers in order to draw the best students.

Under Mr. Parker's leadership, The Haverford School maintained its academic standards, built on its spectacular athletic reputation (most notably in wrestling under coach Neil Buckley, who with 646 victories was the most successful high-school coach in the nation), and dedicated itself to a renaissance in the arts with the construction of the Centennial Hall auditorium, stage, and classrooms.

When Davis R. Parker suffered a heart attack, his nurses approached Mrs. Parker and explained that they would continue to talk to him as though he could understand everything that they said. They asked if it would make him feel more comfortable if they called him "Davis" or "Dave." To which Mrs. Parker replied, "He would be most comfortable if you called him Mr. Parker."

William Boulton Dixon '61, 1987–1992

Mr. Parker's strong austerity was followed by Bo Dixon's easygoing leadership style. W. Boulton Dixon was the first Haverford School graduate to assume headmaster duties, and the first headmaster to pose for his portrait in a sports coat. Key Man of the class of 1961, Bo attended Princeton University where he roomed with Bill Bradley, later Senator of New Jersey. He returned to his alma mater to teach English and coach baseball, and his portrait reflects his love of Haverford, its boys, and athletics. Bo Dixon hired women teachers in the Middle and Upper Schools, encouraged more socio-economic and racial diversity in the student body, and placed renewed emphasis on the School's athletic traditions. Compared to his predecessors, Bo's tenure at Haverford was short, but his vision of needed change and his humanity left a lasting effect on the School. He has successfully led the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Md., since leaving Haverford.

Joseph P. Healey, 1992–1998

Another agent of change, Dr. Joseph P. Healey, came to Haverford from over a decade of responsibility as Dean of Hobart and William Smith College. Dr. Healey brought with him years of administrative expertise and a willingness to examine every educational premise. He is seen in his portrait sans jacket, ready to engage in the business of running a school. His leadership reversed declining enrollment and increased giving.

Under his direction, the School's "On Behalf of Boys" program offered insights into the best ways to teach boys and confirmed many of the virtues of single sex education. Joe Healey left a kinder and gentler Haverford School with a sound plan for the future and now leads the Ethical Culture Fieldstone School in New York City.

Joseph T. Cox, 1998–2013

The eighth Headmaster in the School’s history, Joseph T. Cox led The Haverford School from 1998-2013. A 30-year career Army officer, he retired with the rank of Colonel. When in the Army, he served in Vietnam, commanded a battalion in the 101st Airborne Division, and finished his military career as a tenured English professor at West Point. Cox earned a bachelor’s degree from Lafayette College and a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Joe is the author of The Written Wars, an anthology of early American war prose and a volume of poetry, Gardens Close. He has has published poetry in numerous journals and is a frequently published essayist.

He has served as president of the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools (PAIS), secretary of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC), and as chairman of the Lafayette College Board of Trustee’s Academic Affairs Committee. He has served on the board of Philadelphia City Year and has been a University Mentor in Penn’s Graduate School of Education.

John A. Nagl, 2013-Present

Dr. John Nagl is the Ninth Headmaster of The Haverford School. Dr. Nagl is also a Visiting Professor in the War Studies Department at Kings College of London and a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a Senior Fellow and member of the Board of Advisors at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

Dr. Nagl was the inaugural Minerva Research Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. Dr. Nagl also taught national security studies at West Point’s Department of Social Sciences, earning the Earnest Bevin Fellowship, and in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program. He earned his Master of the Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, where he received the George C. Marshall Award as the top graduate, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He was selected as the Alumnus of the Year of Creighton Preparatory High School in Omaha, Nebraska in 2012 and as a Klingenstein Fellow at the Teacher's College of Columbia University in 2016.

We continue to strive to realize the ideals and ideas of our founders. We aspire to be the premier boys' school in the country, one that develops the intellectual, artistic, and athletic potential of our students, and which does not forget Buck Wilson's moral admonitions. We teach Cornelius Boocock's sense of service and Leslie Severinghaus' global vision. Mr. Parker's stalwart dedication to the tradition of the liberal arts, Bo Dixon's optimism, Joe Healey's faith in the future, all combine to make the idea of a premier school for boys a reality based on the ideals of academic and moral excellence, embodied in the many fine young men who have graduated from The Haverford School.

The Haverford School Archives

The Haverford School Archives is designed to create and maintain a historical record of institutional development and community life. The Archives collects and preserves artifacts relevant to the School’s history.

The chronological scope of materials ranges from Haverford’s founding in 1884 to the present. The Archive houses institutional records, documents, publications, photographs, film, video, and audiotape.

For more information, please contact:

Meg Yeaton
610-642-3020, ext. 1264