October 15, 2020 | Centennial
The History of Palm Beach Day Academy: Part 2 – The 1920s

Written by Hilary Mendoza ’71

In 1920, the Titanic had rested on the bottom of the ocean for eight years, the Lusitania for four, and the Great War had been over for two. The “cottage colony” of Palm Beach moved away from the hotels of Henry Flagler and Sydney Maddock to build their own homes, designed by such luminary architects as Marion Sims Wyeth, who would eventually design the Palm Beach Private School; however, the link between Palm Beach and the school has deep roots. 

Palm Beach Private School

Miss Caroline Gates had opened an open-air, coed school for children aged seven to fourteen, in which children were taught a trade, such as basket weaving. It was called the Palm Beach Private School. According to a former student, Robert Fulton Clarke, a developer, parent, and grandparent at Palm Beach Day School (PBDS), it was to give the students a “fall-back skill in case the wealth of their families evaporated, and the younger generation was forced to fend for themselves.” 

Miss Gates became a teacher at the Palm Beach School for Girls on Cocoanut Row, under the leadership of Ada E. Davis, a former teacher at Miss Gates’ school. She followed the educational philosophy that drove curriculum at that time for male students with an emphasis on a college-prep curriculum, rather than the more prominent “finishing school” curriculum for girls.   

Palm Beach School for Boys

At the same time, Willard W. Ferguson and Edward Shields founded the Palm Beach School for Boys on Chilean Avenue which enrolled the brothers of the girls at Ms. Davis’ school. The curriculums were similar, emphasizing language arts, mathematics, natural science, geography, history, hands-on projects, and especially athletics. To this end, the day began at 8:30 with a two-hour lunch break for “ocean bathing.” At that time, students could go to the Bath and Tennis Club for boxing lessons, the Everglades Club, the home of a former veteran convalescent designed by Addison Mizner for swimming, or to practice for the annual softball tournament between the Palm Beach School for Boys and the Palm Beach School for Girls. The parents who supported these schools and wanted extended tutoring for a month before and after the December to March season, and summer programs with their teachers in Switzerland and Paris, were the wealthiest, most socially prominent, and politically involved families in the United States. This made them insulated but not isolated from the endemic problems that began in Florida at the end of the decade.