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Update on History of Woolman School

Published: April 15, 2022


Thank-you to all who contributed funds to our KickStarter campaign last year, allowing us to begin the project of producing a history of John Woolman School.

Some of you may be asking, Why is this book project taking so long?”

My co-author Catherine Lenox and I now realize that the history of the John Woolman School is a much bigger project than we anticipated!  Catherine has interviewed dozens of people about their experiences at Woolman, she has more people to talk to, and a lot of work to distill all that material. In addition to interviewing former staff and interested parties, I have been engaged in the daunting task of digging through the archives to capture 60 years of history. We’re talking about dozens of storage boxes of documents and letters and photos and you name it, even some materials archived at the University of Nevada Reno library in someone's collection of personal letters.

As an historian my problem (it slows me down!) is that I find so many historical details fascinating. Imagine what it took to turn what had been a modest ranch into a residential high school in a couple of years. Once the decision was made to create a Quaker boarding high school in California, there was so much to do, so many issues to address, finding the property, securing the funding, developing a curriculum, recruiting staff, designing and building the buildings, and so much more. Here’s an example of one of the interesting tidbits that is part of the origin story of Woolman.

The 1962 Statement of Policies and Purposes of the John Woolman Schoolincluded a description of the Work Program in which every student would participate. It consisted of two main elements:

1) a modest farm operation designed to produce milk, eggs, beef, and perhaps other products for the school, 

2) maintenance on grounds and structures and semi-skilled work in the kitchen and office. The purpose was to help keep tuition low to make the school affordable for a wider range of families, and to show the students the value and dignity of the individual to the community. To that end, Don Smith and Malcolm Palley were grateful that “Mr. Hedricks planned to leave the chickens, geese, and turkeys” when he sold his ranch to CPFEA. They also considered keeping a young steer and heifer who could “range free as long as there was adequate water for them. They would be a good meat supply when school started and would “mow” the pasture.”

Did you know that today, 60 years and several program changes later, there is still a farming operation on the campus for the same reasons?

Thank you to all who donated to make this project possible. 

          – Lisa Frankel, John Woolman School Alum (4/9/2022)