Chapin School was founded in Princeton in 1931 by Frances Jordan Chapin. Mrs. Chapin believed that self-esteem is essential to a student's learning, and she created an environment to foster each child's sense of self-worth. Over the next twenty years, the school grew to encompass a faculty of six and a student body of forty, all housed in Mrs. Chapin's cramped apartment in "downtown" Princeton. (See the Home of Mrs. Frances Chapin and location of the school from 1938 to 1951 at 13 Chambers Street to the right.)
Remembered as "a white-haired Southern lady with a heart-shaped face, fine nose, nice eyes and a manner of beetling her eyebrows to command attention," Mrs. Chapin would enter a noisy school room and "quiet would descend." Fellow educator Mary Mason, founder of Miss Mason's School and the Mason Early Education Foundation, recalled the classroom atmosphere at her friend's school. Mason states, "They broke practically all the rules of education, but they had a dedication and feel for children which went far beyond anything one can describe in words." When Mrs. Chapin died in March of 1951, the parents of her students committed themselves to continuing her educational vision by establishing a corporation to operate the school. (See one of the earliest photos of a class at Chapin, ca. 1931. to the right.)
The first decade of the "new" Chapin, incorporated in April of 1951, saw a growing student body, administrative stability and the acquisition of a permanent site for the school. Following Mrs. Chapin's death, classes were held for three years in a rented house at 11 Mercer Street. In 1954, the school moved to "Snowden," which it leased from Bernard Kilgore, publisher of The Wall Street Journal and The Princeton Packet. In 1958, Chapin moved to its present location in northern Lawrence Township, having purchased the five-acre Edgar S. Smith estate, the centerpiece of which was the Pre-Revolutionary War Henry D. Phillips House. (See 11 Mercer Street. Chapin's temporary housing from 1951-1954 to the right.)
By the school's 30th anniversary in 1961, with an enrollment of more than 100, Chapin was
sufficiently well-established to complete a capital campaign that resulted in the addition to the original farmhouse of two classrooms, an office, a kitchen and a multi-purpose auditorium/gymnasium. Subsequent property acquisitions and facilities improvements expanded the campus to its present 14.5 acres, comprising three buildings and three playing fields. As the school "grew up," the curriculum and the institution matured in wonderful ways. (See Chapin moved to it's current location in the pre-Revolutionary War Henry D. Philips House in 1958 to the right.)
In 1991 Chapin received accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, and in 2002, the school achieved dual accreditation from Middle States and the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools. In 2012, Chapin was re-accredited for ten years by both accrediting agencies.
Chapin remains in an enviable position of strength. Enrollment is over 225 students in prekindergarten through grade eight, a large increase over just a decade ago. Our educational program is comprehensive, age-appropriate and rigorous. Our graduates are well prepared, and they are successful at their secondary schools. Our teachers are highly qualified, committed to Chapin's philosophy, and, like their predecessors of so long ago, have "a dedication and feel for children ... beyond anything one can describe in words."
Chapin School has completed $13.2 million of new and renovated spaces which include:
- A 13,000 s.f. Lower School addition with classrooms, library, technology center and a large commons area
- A 14,000 s.f. Upper School addition with six new classrooms, technology center and learning commons.
These facility improvements significantly enhance our ability to provide a rich and deep educational experience for our students but, Chapin is so much more than its facilities. Chapin remains a warm, caring place where students grow and develop in marvelous ways as strong students and morally grounded people.
* On the occasion of the school's 50th anniversary, an institutional history was written by E. Parker Hayden, Jr. P'74,'76,'77 and Herbert O. Hagens '60. Much of this article is adapted from this book, Chapin School: An Idea In Search of an Image 1931 - 1981