Rick Goeld’s Condensed WMS History
Below is Rick Goeld’s overview history of Windsor Mountain School. For a more detailed history and analysis of the school, its success and demise, see “Publications” and order Rick’s book People of Windsor Mountain School.
Max and Gertrud Bondy, and their daughter Annemarie, established three unique and progressive schools. Two of these schools are still in operation. These two schools, and memories of the third, are a unique and amazing legacy.
Windsor Mountain School’s roots are in Germany. Max Bondy, born in Hamburg in 1892, was an educator. His wife, Gertrud, born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1889, was a psychiatrist who had studied under Dr. Sigmund Freud.
During World War I, Max had served as a private and was decorated for injuries he had sustained. During and after the war, although committed to German ideals and culture, Max was deeply affected by the violence, cruelty, and hyper-masculinity he observed among German youth—behaviors that would later add fuel to the terrible fires of Nazism. Max and Gertrud decided to take a small step to counter this trend by opening a school with a friendly, family-like environment that would “educate the emotions.”
In 1920, the Bondys founded a school in Bruckenau. In 1923 the school moved to Gandersheim, and moved again, in 1929, to Marienau. As the Nazis rose to power, the Bondys, Jews, came under severe pressure to sell the school. In 1937, they sold Schule Marienau and opened Les Rayons near Gland, Switzerland. But the Bondys knew that war was inevitable, and by early 1939 the entire family had emigrated—escaped—to the United States. (Note: Schule Marienau (www.marienau.com) is still in operation.
Max and Gertrud had three children: daughter Annemarie, born in 1918; daughter Ursula (Ulla), born in 1921; and son Heinz, born in 1924. In 1938, having been forced out of Germany, under pressure to sell Les Rayons, and facing the inevitable, the Bondys arranged their move to the United States.
Annemarie had been educated in the schools her parents had established, and had graduated from Les Rayons in 1938. While at Schule Marienau and Les Rayons, she had fallen in love with a student named George Roeper.
Roeper was not Jewish, and was, in 1938, 26 years old. Thus, he was able to help the family in two ways. First, he helped arrange transit papers. Second, in November, 1938, he was able to travel to the United States to find a property that could become the Bondy family’s American school. That property, in Windsor, Vermont, became the first Windsor Mountain School. It opened its doors in the fall of 1939. Annemarie and George wanted to open their own progressive school, so, in 1942, they established City and Country Day School in Detroit, Michigan. That school, now known as the Roeper School (www.Roeper.org) is still in operation.
Heinz was just 14 years old when the family arrived in the United States. In 1941, he obtained his high school diploma from Windsor Mountain, then located in Manchester, Vermont. A star soccer player, he was awarded a scholarship to Swarthmore College. However, as World War II progressed, he felt the need to serve. Having grown up in Germany, he had a deep understanding of German language and culture. In 1943, he left college and volunteered to serve in a special unit which came to be known as the Ritchie Boys. This unit infiltrated German lines, interrogated prisoners, and gathered military intelligence. Heinz participated in the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, and in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp—an event he refused to speak about.
After the war, Heinz returned to Swarthmore, where he graduated, in 1949, with a Bachelor’s degree in History. Soon after, he graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a Master’s degree in Modern European History. From 1950-51, he taught at the Roeper School. When, in April, 1951, Max Bondy died, Heinz took over as headmaster at Windsor Mountain School, then located in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Windsor Mountain School operated in Windsor, Vermont for just one year. After an interim move to Manchester, Vermont, the school found it’s permanent home, in 1944, in Lenox, Massachusetts. In 1944, Max and Gertrud purchased the Winthrop Estate, located on the south side of West Street, just a short walk from the Lenox, Massachusetts town center. The estate featured a large and imposing main house and a number of support buildings on one-hundred-fifty magnificent wooded acres. The school opened with about fifty students attending grades seven through twelve.
Max and Gertrud spent the next few years outfitting the campus and hiring staff and faculty, many of whom were, like themselves, refugees from Europe. As headmistress, Gertrud was the school’s psychiatrist-psychologist-philosopher-inresidence, and moral and intellectual center. She led small discussion groups dealing with emotions, history, mental health, literature, politics, and other subjects, and also did individual counseling. As headmaster, Max was responsible for the facilities, finances, and day-to-day operations, but still had significant philosophical and intellectual input.
In 1951, the school lost Max, who succumbed to leukemia, but gained Heinz, who joined as a teacher, soccer coach, assistant headmaster, and finally headmaster. He was just 27 years old. As Heinz took on the headmaster role, Gertrud continued as the school’s philosophical, moral, and intellectual center.
One of the first issues Heinz addressed was the school’s size. He and his mother wanted to remain true to their original vision of a school with a friendly, family-like environment, but two factors pointed to increasing the size of the student body. First, the Winthrop Estate was large, which meant relatively high expenses for things like heating and maintenance. Second, they wanted a diverse, broad-based, top quality faculty. The school needed to generate enough revenue to pay for it. Growth was necessary. In the 1953-54 school year, total enrollment was sixty-three. Just three years later, in the 1956-57 school year, total enrollment had grown to one hundred-twenty.
In those early years, Windsor gained a reputation as a top notch progressive school with a strong European flavor that was politically left-wing and socially liberal. The Bondy family supported diversity and racial integration in a way unheard of at that time. In the mid-1950s, they recruited black students from cities in the Northeast and Midwest. Five of the 27 members of the 1956 graduating class were black students. This sometimes caused clashed with local townspeople. Mixed couples strolling the sidewalks of Lenox and nearby Pittsfield were, on occasion, confronted and even threatened. In the late Fifties, faculty members organized groups of students to participate in demonstrations, sometimes as far away as Washington, D.C.
Having been headmaster for almost a decade, Heinz had matured into the position, and had significant input into the school’s philosophy, nicely complementing his mother’s skills. Some call the early sixties the Golden Age of Windsor Mountain. Total enrollment, an eclectic mix of students from many countries, had increased to 200. New dormitories had been built to accommodate this growth. The faculty, a skilled and interesting mix of teachers from many countries, had matured into an effective unit.
In the Fifties, racial integration was the major issue. In the early Sixties, the Vietnam War drove the Windsor psyche even farther left. Large groups of faculty and students traveled to, and participated in, demonstrations against both racial injustice and the war. Windsor often had leftwing-leaning speakers at assemblies. Activists Frank Donner, Frank Wilkinson, Clifford Durr, and Virginia Foster Durr, and activist celebrities Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, sent their children there.
By the late Sixties, the fabric of American Society was being torn apart. The Vietnam War was one factor; the increased usage of drugs was another. Many consider 1968, with the Vietnam TET Offensive, the My Lai Massacre, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the election of Richard Nixon, to be the turning point.
Like many boarding schools and other American institutions, Windsor took a major hit. As drug use among students increased, discipline suffered. As the American economy began to decline, fewer parents were willing to pay full tuition at schools like Windsor. Heinz was forced to begin working with state agencies to get more paying students. Agencies were happy to place “at risk” students at Windsor—the cost of boarding school was less that that of hospitalization or incarceration. But some of these students were less qualified, and more disruptive, than the Windsor norm. Heinz, Gertrud, and the faculty persisted, but the overall atmosphere at Windsor began to decline.
THE SEVENTIES AND BEYOUND
Although some students were still able to get a good—great—education, and have a positive learning and living experience, the downward spiral continued. Drug use increased. Theft became a problem, and it became necessary for students to lock, or even barricade, their doors. June, 1975, would see the last Windsor graduating class. Facing bankruptcy, the school closed for good.
Windsor was not alone in succumbing to these societal and economic effects. In the Seventies and early Eighties, many boarding schools failed. Including Windsor, seven very prominent schools in and near Lenox closed their doors.
Another factor that came into play was rising real estate valuations. Non-profit boarding schools occupied hundreds of acres of prime land that could generate much more revenue, and profit, when converted into commercial properties. Some striking examples: Cranwell (Jesuit) Academy is now the Cranwell Resort, Spa, and Golf Club; Lenox School for Boys is now the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare and Company (theatre company); and Immaculate Heart Seminary’s main building, the magnificent Bellafontaine Mansion, is now the centerpiece of the luxurious Canyon Ranch Resort and Spa in Lenox.
The Winthrop Estate, the Lenox home of Windsor Mountain, remains untouched. The Main House still stands, as do many of the surrounding buildings. The rolling landscape is still green, and the walkways are still shaded by leafy trees. Boston University now owns the estate, and uses it during the Tanglewood Music Festival every summer. Still, fond memories persist. Every now and then, a reunion is organized, and a few dozen alumni and former faculty gather at the estate to reminisce, to remember the good times, and to raise a glass and toast Max, Gertrud, Heinz, and all the others who made Windsor what it was.
Or sometimes, it is just one person, returning to take a look, to walk the grounds one more time, and remember.
There are 2 books that offer complete, detailed histories of Windsor Mountain School, the Bondy family, and many faculty members, students, and staff: “People Of Windsor Mountain” by Rick Goeld, and “Windsor Mountain School, A Beloved Berkshire Institution” by Roselle Kline Chartock