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The Lawrenceville School is a historic American boarding school for grades nine through twelve, and is considered by many to be one of the most prestigious secondary schools in the United States. Most of its graduates go on to the Ivy League and other "elite" colleges and universities, although earlier in Lawrenceville's history it was considered a "feeder" school for Princeton University, an Ivy League institution in the nearby town of Princeton, New Jersey.
The Lawrenceville School was founded in 1810 in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, which was then called Maidenhead. It was originally called the Maidenhead Academy, and went by several subsequent names, including the Lawrenceville Classical and Commercial High School, the Lawrenceville Academy, and the Lawrenceville Classical Academy. The school's current name, "The Lawrenceville School," was set during the School's refounding in 1883.
The School's residences are modeled after the house system common to British boarding schools. The residential system is broken into three distinct portions - the Lower School, the Circle and Crescent years, and the Upper School, and dorms are referred to as houses. All students, boarding and day, are assigned a house affilliation, with allowances made for relatives of alumni to be in the same house. Freshmen, or IInd formers (the School stopped accepting Ist formers in 1997), in two dorms, one for boys and one for girls. At the start of their sophomore year, students are placed either into the Circle (for boys) or the Crescent (for girls) Houses. The "Circle Houses" are named for their location on a landscaped circle designed by the 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who is most famous for designing New York City's Central Park. The Circle is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The "Crescent Houses" are similarly named after the layout of the buildings. Students develop strong ties with their Circle/Crescent houses, which field intramural sports teams, have their own traditions, and generally participate in friendly, though intense, competition. The Circle House football league is the oldest American Football league in the United States. Seniors (the Vth Form) live in separate dormitories off the Circle and Crescent, or with underclassmen as prefects.
Like some other elite boarding schools, Lawrenceville uses "Harkness Tables" as a central part of its education. These are large, wooden oval tables that take the place of individual desks in most classrooms, and whose communal nature is said to enhance the learning experience.
The Lawrenceville School was featured in a number of novels by Owen Johnson, class of 1895, notably The Prodigious Hickey, The Tennessee Shad, and The Varmint (1910). The Varmint, which recounts the school years of the fictional character Dink Stover, was made into the 1950 motion picture The Happy Years which starred Leo G. Carroll and Dean Stockwell and was filmed on the Lawrenceville campus. A 1992 PBS miniseries was based on his Lawrenceville tales.
Lawrenceville was all-male until 1987, when then-Headmaster Josiah Bunting III successfully implemented the gender integration of the School. (Ironically, Bunting vigorously – and unsuccessfully – opposed coeducation at the state-funded Virginia Military Institute, which he had become superintendent of in 1995.) The School overcame the tensions accompanying this institutional change relatively quickly, and in 2003 Elizabeth Duffy became the School's first female headmaster.
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