The Spence School is an all-girls independent school in New York City, founded in 1892 by Clara B. Spence. Spence is regarded as one of the top private schools in New York City.
Spence has about 650 students, with K-4 representing the Lower School
, 5-8 representing the Middle School
, and 9-12 representing the Upper School
. Lower school average class sizes are 16-18 and middle and upper school averaging 13-14. The student: teacher ratio is 7:1 and students of color in all fourteen grades make up approximately 27 percent of the student body . The School is popular with elite families in New York City.
The Spence School was founded in 1892 by Clara B. Spence. The school was once boarding, and its motto
is "non scholae sed vitae discimus" (Latin
for "Not for school, but for life we learn"). The first School building was located on New York City's West 48th Street. Founder Clara created the Spence School as pioneering venture in education that she led for thirty-one years.
Clara B. Spence would describe her School as: "A place not of mechanical instruction, but a school of character where the common requisites for all have been human feeling, a sense of humor and the spirit of intellectual and moral adventure."
The Carnegie family donated their tennis court to be used as a playground for Spence. When the School wanted to expand and build on the lot in the 1990s, they built a new playground on the roof of the new building to meet the stipulations of the gift.
Spence offers a liberal arts and science curriculum, including programs in the arts and foreign languages. Computers are integrated into the curriculum in the Kindergarten class and continue through the 12th grade. In addition, history courses include Asian, African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern history. In the Upper School most students, even though not required, take four years of math and science. Beginning in 2007-08, Mandarin Chinese
was added to the teaching of French, Spanish and Latin. Foreign language requirements begin in the third grade with either French or Spanish and in the 7th grade both Latin and Mandarin Chinese become electives as the students continue their study of French or Spanish. A specialized computer/robotics course also becomes an elective in the 7th grade.
In a Worth magazine study, out of the 31,700 private and public high schools in the United States, Spence ranked the sixth most successful school in the country in placing its graduates in Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
The five most frequently attended colleges and universities for Spence graduates from 2002-2006 were: Cornell University (14), Harvard University (12), New York University (11), Princeton University (11) and Columbia University (10).
The School's chess team in April 2008 finished first in the National All-Girls Chess Championship in Dallas, Texas.
The school is located in two buildings on the Upper East Side
, the Upper School (9-12) and Middle School (5-8) are housed a half block from Central Park/5th Avenue on East 91st Street, next to the Cooper Hewitt Museum. The Lower School (K-4) is housed in a renovated landmark building on East 93rd Street between Park Avenue and Madison Avenue. On April 28, 2008, the Spence School announced the acquisition of additional space through the purchase of a townhouse at 17 East 90th Street, directly behind the Upper and Middle Schools. The new townhouse will be connected to the 91st Street building, and construction is expected to be completed within the next two years.
- Serena Altschul, MTV host
- Ellen Sparry Brush, pioneer anthropologist, first woman to become a member of the Explorers Club in NYC
- Helen Clay Frick, daughter of Henry Clay Frick
- Francine du Plessix Gray, author
- Lauren Helm, supermodel
- Nancy Hopkins, Amgen Professor of Biology at M.I.T.'s Center for Cancer Research
- Jade Jagger, daughter of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and then-wife Bianca Jagger
- Aerin Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder company.
- Rita White Matthews, scientist and explorer
- Alley Mills, actress (The Wonder Years)
- Elizabeth Montgomery, stage and screen actress (Bewitched)
- Gwyneth Paltrow, Oscar-winning actress
- Marjorie Lake Post, philanthropist
- Emmy Rossum, actress (The Phantom of the Opera)
- Kerry Washington, actress
- Lindsay van Rensselaer, van Rensselaer heir
- Sally Pressman, actress
Spence in film and television
The Spence School resides on a side street a half block from 5th Avenue and Central Park
alongside several old and gracious buildings including the Cooper-Hewitt Museum
(originally the Andrew Carnegie mansion), the Sacred Heart School
, and the Consulate General of Russia in New York. The street has been used as a backdrop in several movies and television shows including
- The Anderson Tapes (1971, starring Sean Connery) - the architectural star is Sacred Heart, but you can catch a glimpse of Spence across the street. Incidentally, this movie was directed by Sidney Lumet who later sent his eldest daughter (Amy Lumet) to Spence. She graduated from Spence in 1982.
- Marathon Man (1974, starring Dustin Hoffman) - the opening car chase end in a ball of fire that was filmed directly in front of Spence.
- Arthur (1981, starring Liza Minnelli and Dudley Moore - The Cooper-Hewitt Museum played the role of Arthur's family mansion, and there is a good view of Spence in the background.
- Working Girl (1988, starring Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford) - Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford crash a wedding filmed in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, but the view of Spence is fleeting at best.
- A Perfect Murder (1998, starring Michael Douglas and (Spence alum) Gwyneth Paltrow. Their residence is the building across the street, but Spence is visible in some shots. During filming Gwyneth visited Spence and a photo of her embracing her HS advisor was printed in the NY newspaper)
- Uptown Girls (2003, starring Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning) - the exterior serves as Dakota Fanning's character's school.
- Gossip Girl (2008) - the exterior serves as a backdrop to many episodes of the television series, and, as the producers of the show have noted, many aspects of the Spence School have been highly influential in the creation of the show, including the green plaid jumpers and blue skirts, which are the official Spence uniform styles.