BFS
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BFS “head” count. Heads of school, that is…

Stuart Smith, 1968 to 1978

Since 1867, BFS has had 19 heads of school, not including interim heads. Over the years, the title of our school’s highest administrative role has evolved from principal to headmaster to today’s head of school. The history of each administration is unique, fascinating and lengthy, so today I’ll only give the list of BFS heads of school and a few facts I find interesting, including the fact that only nine of the nineteen BFS heads of school were Quakers. 

BFS Heads of School 
Years of service followed by names. Q indicates Quaker.
Information taken now-gone deteriorated plaque first presented by the Alumni Association in 1960.
Some years of service on plaque are slightly at odds with information found in Seventy Five Year of Brooklyn Friends School.
  • 1867-1874, Mary Haviland, Q
  • 1874-1884, Clara Lockwood, Q
  • 1884-1902, Susan Peckham
  • 1902-1907, S. Elizabeth Stover, Q
  • 1907-1913, Edward B. Rawson, Q
  • 1908-1913, Nancy J. Adams
  • 1913-1917, John L. Carver, Q
  • 1917-1931, Guy W. Chipman
    Guy W. Chipman, 1917-1931
  • 1931-1934, Wayne Douglas
  • 1934-1937, S. Archibald Smith, Q    
  • 1937-1942, Douglas G. Grafflin, Q
  • 1942-1953, Warren B. Cochran
  • 1953-1968, William J. Meeneghan
  • 1968-1969, Interim Head Arthur Gregor, Q
  • 1968-1978, Stuart P. Smith, Q
  • 1978-1979, Interim Head Francena Palmer
  • 1978-1986, Kay M. Edstene, Q
  • 1986-1990, Ralph E. Gillette
  • 1990-1999, James P. Handlin
  • 1999-2010, Michael Nill [Interim Head 1999 to 2001]
  • 2010-present, Lawrence Weiss

Nine of our 19 heads were Quakers, and one of our three interim heads was a Quaker. BFS has not been led by a member of the Religious Society of Friends, a Quaker, since 1986.

Francena Palmer, 1978-1979 (interim)

Women led BFS for the first 40 years of its existence, and a fifth woman co-led BFS from 1908 to 1913. No known photographs exist of our first five women principals. It would 65 years later, in 1978, when Francena Palmer became interim head for Kay Edstene, our last woman principal. BFS has always had women in leadership roles, of course, but BFS has not had a woman head of school since Kay Edstene departure in1986.

Our first and youngest principal Mary Haviland was engaged as “teacher” and was not known as “principal” until her second year leading Brooklyn Friends School. If my recollection of my 19th Century research is correct, the other school of New York Monthly Meeting, Friends Seminary, simultaneously engaged a man who was titled “headmaster”or “principal.” 

Our longest serving principal was Susan P. Peckham, whose 18 years at the helm of our school included the school’s first expansion. Her very successful leadership came to an unexpected, bitter and public end in 1902. Miss Peckham’s opposition to establishing a kindergarten at BFS seemingly put her at odds with the “progressives” among the school’s Board of Trustees which later denied her request for the higher salary she felt was warranted by the school’s second expansion with the 1902 building and its expected increase in student population.  

S. Archibald Smith, 1934-1937

Edward B. Rawson simultaneously led both BFS and Friends Seminary, which necessitated the appointment of Primary Division Head Nancy J. Adams as BFS assistant principal during his first year. The duties of leading two schools in different NYC boroughs were, unsurprisingly, too much for one person. Miss Adams and Mr. Rawson were co-principals from 1908 until 1913. While no known photo exists of Nancy J. Adams, a photo of her co-principal Edward B. Rawson does in Children of the Light, 1986’s history of Friends Seminary.

S. Archibald Smith was “pressed” into leading BFS in 1934, just as he was on the verge of retiring as head of Friends Academy at Locust Valley. Alumni memory indicates that his BFS predecessor Wayne Douglas had proven unsatisfactory as head of school at BFS and Douglas subsequently left education entirely. After leaving BFS, S. Archibald Smith became the last of our three principals to later become heads of school at Friends Seminary after BFS: the other two are Edward Rawson and John Carver.  

The Middle States Association’s accreditations from 1941 to 1965, especially its later ones, played an important role in our school’s board of trustees’ decisions which led to BFS’s 1973 move to Pearl Street and to BFS becoming an ultra-progressive school under interim head Arthur Gregor and head of school Stuart Smith. 

Michael Nill, 1999-2010

For a little over a year, Michael Nill was interim head of BFS, beginning in 1999. In 2001, Dr. Nill was chosen as our 18th head of school after a lengthy search. Dr. Nill’s leadership may have been the most fiscally prudent in our school’s history. Nill’s stewardship of BFS both designed the plan and enabled much of the funding for our school’s recent and presently planned expansion, including the upper school’s coming move to MetroTech, announced just last fall.