Founder's Day 2021: Reflecting on the Legacy of Bishop Niles

by Anne Patterson, Assistant Director of Development and Alumnae/i

Every year on May 24, The White Mountain School celebrates the birthdate of our founder, The Rt. Rev. William Woodruff Niles, third bishop of the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire.

Bishop Niles was ahead of his time in his support of education and the expansion of young minds. Just as the church at the time was involved in the pursuit of knowledge and truth, Bishop Niles wanted to create schools to provide an education for the children of clergy and other families of modest means. His goal was also to educate young women at the same level as young men. His amazing legacy endures today as we know support for education is an investment and paramount in creating a future for us all. Among his accomplishments in support of education, in 1886, Bishop Niles founded St. Mary's School, an Episcopal school for girls in Concord, New Hampshire. He was also the founder of the Holderness School for boys.

Born in 1832, Bishop Niles was an educator and professor at Trinity College in Connecticut, where he taught Greek and Latin before he became bishop. He yearned for a school where "moral training would be blended with intellectual instruction, and the refining influence of home life would make gentlewomen of the girls committed to its care." His own daughter, Mary Niles, was one of the School's first students.

A group of St. Mary's School Students

Nearly 50 years later, Headmistress Dorothy E. McLane—affectionately known as "Aunt Dot" by the community—one of our School's most inspired leaders, outlined her plan to move St. Mary's School to the White Mountains. The school found a home on the newly purchased Seven Springs Estate, formerly owned by Eman and Mary Payne Beck in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, and was renamed St. Mary's-in-the-Mountains. The School was renamed again in 1972 and became known as The White Mountain School. Today, the School continues to be a place of inquiry and engagement, preparing and inspiring students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion. Aunt Dot viewed the move to the mountains as an opportunity for students to see things greater than themselves.

Bishop A. Robert "Rob" Hirschfeld, the tenth and current bishop of Hampshire and the president of White Mountain's Board of Trustees, thinks about his predecessor's legacy and contemplates the role of Episcopal schools today. He notes that there is an increased interest in answering larger questions such as what is the meaning of life, what makes a good life, and what is essential, particularly as we transition out of the pandemic. As a result, he thinks there is now a greater sense of urgency to answer such questions. He believes that Episcopal schools can ask questions about religion and spirituality in all religions and faiths that would not be permitted in a public school. There is a need for Episcopal-affiliated schools like White Mountain that are eager to open up and address moral questions. He believes Bishop Niles would be pleased and gratified to see his legacy continuing at White Mountain and commends the school for raising questions. He thinks Bishop Niles would support the school and applaud White Mountain's faculty for asking even larger questions about what is a soul, for inspiring the expansion of the young mind, encouraging questions, and strengthening the curiosity outlined in the school's mission.

White Mountain's Chaplain, The Rev. Kathy Boss, echoes Bishop Rob. "Because White Mountain is rooted in Episcopal heritage, there is a commitment to openness, inclusion, and drawing on a multitude of resources across many faith and spiritual traditions. What it means to be human, to be ethical, to be spiritual, to worship are entered into as ongoing conversations. These conversations draw from the diverse field of humanity's interaction with the Divine, with mystery, with what is 'more than.' Episcopal and Christian traditions and prayers provide a thread, but always with the understanding that there are many threads, many ways—some explicitly religious, others more secular." She goes on, "In my short time here at White Mountain, I have already seen the fruits of this commitment to open hearts and open minds in the compassion that our students, faculty, and staff all have for one another, and in their openness to dialogue and personal growth. I feel privileged to be a part of this community."

We think Bishop Niles would have approved of the spiritual leadership and stewardship provided by Rev. Kathy and Bishop Hirschfield and of our faculty's ability to ask and answer questions, inspiring our students to do the same.

In celebration of Founder's Day, please consider a gift to The Fund for White Mountain to honor the legacy of Bishop Niles. Upholding Bishop Niles' beliefs, the Fund advances all aspects of our mission, supporting budget priorities designed around student learning and care. We also invite you to join The Bishop Niles Legacy Society that honors his vision and hard work. The Legacy Society recognizes those who provide vital resources to ensure White Mountain's future and the opportunity to celebrate his birthday for years to come.

Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.