The Browning School was founded in 1888 by John A. Browning, a distinguished scholar and gifted teacher. Today, the Browning School still operates on the basic core principles laid down by Mr. Browning more than a century ago: a school for boys, small classes, close personal attention for each student, a wide variety of extracurricular activities, a heavy emphasis on fostering initiative, and a broad course of study that focuses less on developing a student’s memory than his capacity for understanding. Mr. Browning’s students recall that he concentrated less on grinding facts into his students than on teaching values, good study habits, perspective, and a lifelong love of learning. The school was renowned for its field trips, even going as far as Pittsburgh to visit the U.S. Steel plant.
One of the first students, John D. Rockefeller Jr., recalled Mr. Browning as a remarkable teacher who “inspired interest in learning.” He said Mr. Browning “helped me to study and to concentrate... I owe a great deal to him, more than to any other teacher I ever had.” Arthur Jones succeeded Mr. Browning as headmaster in 1920 and moved the school from West 55th Street to its present location on East 62nd Street. Extracurricular activities expanded in his time. Mr. Jones retired in 1948 and Lyman B. Tobin, a Browning teacher for more than 30 years, became Browning’s third headmaster. Mr. Tobin is remembered fondly by alumni, parents, and friends for his patience, friendliness, and deep understanding of people. As noted in a Browning newsletter in 1952, Mr. Tobin favored “encouragement and understanding as a means of teaching.”
In 1952, upon Mr. Tobin’s retirement, the school named Charles W. Cook ’38, an alumnus and teacher, as its fourth headmaster. Under his leadership for thirty-six years, the Browning School expanded rapidly. After a lengthy fundraising drive, the School bought the adjoining carriage house and rebuilt it. The new building opened in 1960. The school’s expansion continued in 1967 with the building of a larger gymnasium on the roof, and in the late 1970s with the acquisition of an interest in the building next door. In addition to serving as headmaster, Mr. Cook also was a highly effective teacher. Among the most popular subjects during the 1960s were his courses on American History and sociology. Mr. Cook had that rare ability to make history come alive for his students. He taught not only history but perspective.
In 1988 Stephen M. Clement, III became Browning's fifth Headmaster. Under his leadership, the School continued to expand while maintaining its focus on fostering academic excellence and integrity. The School grew to over 400 students, more than double its size 50 years ago, but it continues its emphasis on small classes and close personal attention. Browning completed a new library, four new science laboratories, two new art studios, additional classrooms, a new lobby and a new cafeteria. In addition, Browning has increasingly taken advantage of affiliations with The Brearley School, Marymount School, The Nightingale-Bamford School and Interschool. Interschool, a consortium of eight independent schools that enhance academic, extracurricular, artistic, social and administrative sharing, consists of four schools for girls (Brearley, Chapin, Nightingale-Bamford and Spence), two schools for boys (Browning and Collegiate) and two coeducational schools (Dalton and Trinity).
After a thorough search process, John M. Botti was recently named the sixth Head of School for Browning and started his tenure on July 1, 2016.
Although the city and the world have changed enormously since John Browning met with his first four students in 1888, the Browning School today remains committed to providing rigorous academic training for boys in a structured yet warm environment, promoting a love of learning, and nurturing the growth of the student by exposure to diverse opportunities.
R. Thomas Herman ‘64
Former Special Writer at The Wall Street Journal