The Roxbury Latin School was founded in 1645, in the reign of King Charles I, by John Eliot, a church teacher, and later renowned as Apostle to the Indians and translator of the Bible into the Algonquin language. Eliot’s vision was “to fit [students] for public service both in church and commonwealth....”
Modeled on the English grammar school, the School was dedicated to giving instruction in the classics and producing Christian citizens. The goal of Christian citizenship was to be pursued by three means: an education in [Latin] literature, training in moral character, and lessons in religious or spiritual understanding. Eliot persuaded nearly every Roxbury landowner to underwrite the School’s costs. The first year, fewer than ten students attended, including Eliot’s own nine-year-old son.
Younger boys studied preparatory subjects — reading, writing, and arithmetic — while older students moved on to Latin grammar, a prerequisite for entrance to Harvard, the Massachusetts Bay colony’s only college.
"to fit [students] for public service both in church and commonwealth...."
- John Eliot
The School was open to all who wished to attend. Subsequently, Eliot convinced those founding families to defray tuition for students whose families could not afford donations, and later, the trustees granted free admission to all applicants from Roxbury. Today financial aid is decided solely on the basis of need instead of geography.
William Coe Collar, Headmaster from 1867 to 1907 and commonly recognized as the Second Founder, quadrupled the size of the student body and maintained that the School’s greatness lay in its ideals of character training. His accomplishments include:
Hiring specialized teachers in physics, chemistry, modern history, and German (subjects then required for Harvard admission).
Advancing Roxbury Latin in the national educational spotlight through his own and his colleagues’ textbooks and through pioneering methods in teaching science.
Introducing extracurricular activities: a school newspaper, student dramatic productions, and athletic teams in football, baseball, track, and hockey.
In the mid-1920s, a 50-acre estate in West Roxbury was procured, and the School moved to its present campus in 1927.
From 1860 until 1927, Roxbury Latin resided in a small building on Kearsarge Avenue in Roxbury. In the mid-1920s, a 50-acre estate in West Roxbury was procured, and the School moved to its present campus in 1927. The eminent architect William Perry of Perry, Shaw & Hepburn designed the new school building; the firm would later—in part due to its success at Roxbury Latin—be entrusted with the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.
Thanks to the generosity of the School’s alumni and benefactors, Roxbury Latin’s physical plant has quadrupled in size over the past 20 years, and adjoining acreage for new fields was acquired.
For a comprehensive history of the School, published in 1995 on the 350th anniversary of its founding, read Schola Illustris: The Roxbury Latin School 1645-1995, by F. Washington Jarvis.