Since l963, Purnell has remained true to its mission of transforming education by creating a learning community where girls discover their strengths and gain confidence to succeed in the world. It holds close the values and traditions of those early days and remembers daily the hard work and singular vision of its founders, Lyttleton B.P. Gould and Mary (Sis) Krech Gould. Purnell boasts over 1,200 alumnae in its over 40 year history. You will see in the Story of Purnell and through our Online Archives Galleries many of the lives that have been transformed by our unique learning environment.
The Purnell Story
More than 40 years ago, the Headmaster of Far Hills Country Day School, Lytt Gould, and his wife, Sis, traveled to various independent secondary schools in the mid-Atlantic and New England states, looking for a place which, in Lytt's words, was intended for the "salt of the earth girls." Not finding a school which supplied the answer to their search, the Goulds' dream of Purnell began taking shape in the summer of 1962 through a series of fortuitous events involving friends who would become very close associates in the years ahead: Hap Johnson, Carroll Boynton, and Ethel Stringfellow.
Lytt and Sis Gould and their friends, Hap and Jeanie Johnson, would remember how, after a day of cruising Long Island Sound late in the summer of 1962, they found themselves anchored in Stonington Harbor, discussing education. It was a familiar topic, as Hap's father had been a Headmaster of two schools and Hap had also been involved in starting The East Woods School on Long Island. This conversation was in earnest, about the need for a specific type of girls' school, "a school which puts the girl first, a school which values each individual."
During a luncheon with Ethel Stringfellow, friend and retired head of Chapin School in New York, Lytt recalls being "pushed over the cliff," wholeheartedly encouraged to turn their dream of a different kind of school into a reality. Knowledgeable about the educational possibilities available to young women at the time, Ethel told them their dream was desperately needed.
"I think I was the first at Far Hills to hear of Lytt's scheme," recalls Carroll Boynton, "As Headmaster of Far Hills Country Day School, Lytt had no difficulty placing all the graduating 8th grade boys, but he couldn't find the right place for Far Hills' 'salt of the earth' girls---so after discussing the options, he decided he would create it!" Over the years, Lytt and Carroll enjoyed many philosophical conversations about education, and encouraged by Carroll, then the Chairman of the Board, Lytt gave his notice effective the end of the 1962-63 school year, in order to pursue the dream of Purnell.
It was in December of 1963 that a not-for-profit corporation, Purnell, was established; and its founders were named: Lytt Gould, President, Sis Gould, Secretary, Hap Johnson, Treasurer, and Ethel Stringfellow as the corporation's original Vice President.
It was Carroll who had contacts within the Bernardsville community which led to the purchase of the 83-acre Bassett Farm in Pottersville. Though the farm was not for sale, Carroll managed to convince Mr. Bassett that it was the ideal spot for the new school.
After renovations, which were done primarily by the Gould family, all five Founders, and their various friends, began recruiting the first students to Purnell. Ethel Stringfellow knew of girls who would be better placed at Purnell than at Chapin; Lytt had made many contacts as a Head; and numerous "teas" were hosted in the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut area at which prospective students and parents could learn of Purnell and its unique mission in education. The new Headmaster had hired eight teachers who possessed the imagination to look beyond traditional methods of instruction, and who had an ability to work compassionately with students in a caring, yet firm, manner. The components were in place.
In September of 1965, Headmaster Lytt Gould and Associate Head Sis Gould greeted the first entering class of 18 students. The following year, a second class was added, and again a third, so that in June, 1968, Purnell celebrated its first graduation. With a strong, carefully researched foundation, and an educational niche to fill, Purnell has developed from its inauspicious start to an unequalled independent girls' school, respected and admired from a distance, and loved from within.
Today Purnell has over 1,300 alumnae around the world.