In 1912, Tower’s first students—just four kindergartners—attended class on the second floor of a house at One South Pine Street in Salem, Massachusetts. When Tower School’s founder, Adeline Tower, left the School in 1917, Helen Runnette took the helm and continued her predecessor’s tradition of forward-thinking education. “Progressive education was the catchword at the time,” wrote Runnette, “and although Tower was always progressive in attitude and its teachers continually kept abreast of new developments in education, it never was the unruled kind of institution which made people decry that label. Discipline of one’s self was the keynote, plus freedom to advance one’s own ideas and create new patterns of understanding in the subjects of the curriculum.”
Tower flourished during Runnette’s forty-year tenure. She believed in educating each child to his or her greatest potential, and the Tower curriculum included science, English, and the other disciplines crucial to a comprehensive education. But Runnette also stressed the importance of art and drama, and students often took field trips to farms, museums, and factories. Runnette explained: “More than saying twelve times three, more than learning to spell, more than learning ‘amo, amas, amat,’ are the fundamentals of learning how to think, how to apply one’s knowledge, how to live with one’s fellows, [and] how to develop one’s self into an efficient member of society.”
Tower relocated to its current home in Marblehead in 1941. Since then, the school building has gone through a remarkable series of changes, modifications, and expansions. The former performing arts center was added in the 1960s and the Phillips Library and science rooms were built in 1985. Interestingly, the library houses a fireplace that is graced by the original mantelpiece from Tower School’s Salem location. In 1990, the current Upper School wing was added, and in 1996, the Lower and Middle School wings and the Lynch Gymnasium were built. Tower's latest building project, completed in January 2007, added a new performing arts center, state-of-the-art science labs, improved music classrooms, and an Upper School academic wing.
Since Helen Runnette’s retirement, five Heads of School have served Tower: Carolyn Michel (1956-1965), Gerard P. McGrath (1965-1980), James G. (Gil) Leaf (1980-1985), James K. Bonney (1985-2000), and Peter S. Philip (2000-present).
While the School’s enrollment has grown dramatically over the years, Tower has made a conscious decision to remain a school of 300 to 315 students. Class size, one of Tower’s distinctive features, remains between 16 to 18 students, just as it was in the 1960’s.