About Laurel > History


Laurel School: the Early Years

In 1896, Jennie Prentiss established a school for young girls in her Cleveland home.  After several years of increasing enrollment and changes in location to accommodate that growth, the school acquired its name - first Laurel Institute, then later Laurel School - because of the ancient Greek symbol of a wreath of laurel leaves, which signified intellectual achievement.

The arrival of Sarah E. Lyman as Headmistress, just after the turn of the 20th century, initiated a new phase in the development of Laurel School. Mrs. Lyman was a strong, self-confident leader with a dynamic personality who possessed the sensitivity and business sense to carry out Jennie Prentiss’ vision. The student body continued to expand under the leadership of Sarah Lyman, and she oversaw the construction of a large brick building on Euclid Avenue, known as "Millionaire's Row."

In the late 1920’s as her students' families moved to the eastern suburbs, she secured property in Shaker Heights and built the impressive Tudor-style building that is Laurel’s current Lyman Campus. Soon after the move to Shaker Heights, Mrs. Lyman retired. She left as her legacy a secure, established, thriving and academically rigorous school for girls that possessed a national reputation for excellence.

Taking the helm in 1931, Miss Edna F. Lake guided Laurel through the dark days of the Depression, World War II and the post-World War era of the 1950’s. She added significant requirements to the curriculum, insisted that students perform community service and introduced the mandatory Senior Speech.


Changing With the Times : 1960's - 1990's

During a time of tremendous social upheaval, Daniel O. S. Jennings, who, in the 1960’s, became Laurel's only Headmaster, encouraged racial diversity, saw the end of the school’s boarding program, and transformed the old dormitory space into state-of-the-art science labs.

Under his tenure, and that of his successor, Barbara Barnes, the school contemplated coeducation but after much thoughtful discussion, the Board of Trustees reaffirmed Laurel’s dedication to educating girls and young women to become independent thinkers. It was during Barbara Barnes' tenure that Laurel became the first girls’ day school in the country to establish a faculty chair for teaching excellence.

Dramatizing the importance of single-sex education for girls, Leah Rhys became Headmistress in 1984 and brought national attention to the school with a joint research project conducted by Carol Gilligan and other Harvard University researchers. The five-year study of girls’ learning styles resulted in the 1992 publication of Meeting at the Crossroads.

Peter Hutton was named Acting Head of School for a two-year term (1990-1992), during which he tackled a variety of projects. Hutton oversaw the construction of a new Primary wing, supervised discussions surrounding the Middle School renovation, and reorganized administration.


Laurel Into 21st Century: 1990's - Today

Helen Rowland Marter, who became the ninth Head of School in 1992, was instrumental in expanding the school - both in enrollment and in physical size. Under her leadership, Laurel grew with three additions to the Lyman Circle campus and with the purchase in 1998 of the Fairmount Campus 20 minutes east of the school.

In July 2004, Laurel welcomed its tenth Head of School, Ann V. Klotz, who joined Laurel from The Chapin School in New York City.  Committed to balance among academics, arts, and athletics, she has further developed curricular initiatives at Fairmount and focused increased attention on the social and emotional lives of girls.  Initiatives include increased professional development in learning styles and a Parent to Parent Series on topics of particular interest to the parent body that allow parents of children Early Childhood through Grade 12 to come together to share experiences and build community.  Under her energetic leadership, the Conway Pavilion and the Magic Tree House have been built at Fairmount, now named the Butler Campus.

The Butler Campus: Between 1997 and 1999 Laurel School purchased 140 acres of land spanning Russell and Chester townships in Geauga County.  In August 2007, the Laurel School Board of Trustees voted to name this incredible resource The Butler Campus of Laurel School in honor of a transformational gift from John and Alice Lehmann Butler '49 of Dubuque, Iowa.

The Butler Campus includes the 12,000 square foot Alice Lehmann Butler Center for Fitness and Wellness, fifteen acres of athletic fields, eight tennis courts, a quarter mile all-weather track, 1,800 square feet of lodge space, a 3,200 covered pavilion, a 2,600 square foot residence, a fully accessible tree house and an adventure course boasting both high and low elements.  Approximately three miles of cross-country walking trails, plus ponds and streams make this campus distinct in Northeastern Ohio.