Our School History
The Wheeler School was founded in 1889, the inspiration and life-work of a visionary educator, artist, and activist named Mary C. Wheeler. Miss Wheeler, as she was always called, believed her girls deserved a challenging and rigorous curriculum more substantive than the “finishing school” approach typical of the age. An innovator, even rebel, Miss Wheeler brought her students overseas to paint — living next door and becoming acquainted with Claude Monet. Wheeler developed an urban campus in the heart of Providence to benefit from the proximity to Brown University, and purchased a “Farm Campus,” 15 minutes away, to serve as a “rural counterpoint” where her growing crop of day and boarding students could study botany, biology, and astronomy in a pastoral environment. From this beginning more than 125 years ago, grew the coeducational, Nursery-12 day school of today. Photo above by Bob Martin at the 2014 celebration of our Quasquicentennial.
The genesis of The Wheeler School Motto — The Spirit Giveth Life — as described by second Headmistress Mary Helena Dey, writing in a school publication:
". . . A recognition of what underlies the school, a purely spiritual event, was the choosing of the school motto, The Spirit Giveth Life. In the classes there was continual emphasis laid on the truth that the spirit in which we seek knowledge and share our findings gives life to our learning. All the school groups, in considering the basis of our life together, had discussed the fact that the mere literal observing of rules was not a sufficient motive for conduct, that the best guide is rather a constructive spirit, one of consideration for others and a desire for the welfare of the whole school. I had used on a Christmas card the words, The Spirit Giveth Life. The upper classes, the student council, and finally the whole school discussed it and asked the trustees to make the words the official school motto. This was immediately approved and since May, 1933, has become an inspiring watchword for all of us."