Founded in 1911 in Lakewood, New Jersey, The Ethel Walker School's first student body consisted of just ten girls. Ethel Walker was a Bryn Mawr graduate whose vision of a changing world for women inspired her to create a school where young women would receive a rigorous preparation for college and create the foundation for lifelong learning and intellectual curiosity. She scorned the prevailing idea of "finishing schools," designed only to prepare girls for elegant society and family life. Her conviction was so strong that for many years Walker’s seniors were required to pass the Bryn Mawr admission exam in order to receive a diploma. This commitment to a challenging academic program strongly resonates among today’s faculty and remains central to the Walker’s mission.
Ethel Walker was a great believer in the sound body/sound mind approach to learning. Walking, horseback riding and other forms of exercise held an important place in school life from the outset. She was also a great lover of dramatics, and students have been producing plays under faculty direction since the School’s earliest days.
The school quickly outgrew its first home in Lakewood, New Jersey, and was moved in 1917 to its present site on the former Phelps-Dodge estate in Simsbury, Connecticut. The school's peaceful setting, along with its proximity to the large cities and cultural wealth of the Northeast, parallels Walker’s dual emphasis on inner development and social commitment.
Ethel Walker was very active in the life of the school. She attended every Commencement since the first in 1913 until her death in 1965 at the age of 94. Bryn Mawr College awarded a citation to Ethel Walker in 1960: "A woman of wit and vigor, a great lover of the outdoors, she has always emphasized strongly the necessity of the development of character as well as of brains. She chose 'Nullas Horas Nisi Aureas' as her school's motto. Lively as always and deeply admired by all who knew her, she has made many hours golden for her alumnae and for those privileged to share in the life and the work of her school."
In 1991, Walker’s added the Middle School for grades six through eight, extending Ethel Walker's vision to benefit girls during these formative years.
Buildings on Campus
Many of the beautiful structures on the campus have a fascinating history.
This has been Walker's central building since it moved to Simsbury in 1917. Originally the Dodge estate, the existing building burned down in 1933 and was rebuilt in 1934. In 1999, the building underwent a complete renovation. The top two floors, which were dormitory rooms, were reconstructed into The Symington Science Center, as well as math, technology and visual arts facilities.
Head's Office: This elegant room, with its wood paneling, was the original library.
The Common Room: This was the original dining hall for generations of Walker's girls. Stories abound of having to line up and "pass inspection" before being allowed to enter to have your meal!
Abra's Dining Hall: At first, this space served as the school's gymnasium, then its theater and library, before it was transformed in 1991 through the generosity of Abra Prentice Wilkin '60.
Constructed in 1957, this Simsbury landmark hosts special events, school meetings, ceremonies and much more. The Chapel houses the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Opus 1349. It was built nearly 50 years ago by the same company that built some of the most famous organs throughout the nation, including those at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and Trinity Church and Symphony Hall in Boston. The organ at Walker’s is a two-manual and pedal instrument of 17 ranks. It is an example of American Classic design, and sounds with great effectiveness in the welcoming acoustical environment of the Chapel.
In 1736, the land where Phelps House currently stands adjacent to Walker's Equestrian Center was owned by the building's architect, Timothy Case. The house was built between 1736 and 1745 and typifies standard Third Period architecture. The Phelps and Dodge families were prominent in Simsbury. Known by town residents as the Alexander Phelps House, the property was purchased by the School in 1917 from David Stuart Dodge. Today, Phelps House is the site of the Development Office.