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Spring Hill School collection


Identifier: 1951-30-0

Scope and Contents

The Spring Hill School collection (1951-30-0, .83 linear feet) documents a private school modelled on a philosophy of progressive education. Founded by Dorothy Bull and Mabel Foster Spinney in Litchfield, Conn., the school operated from 1926 to 1939. The collection includes correspondence, financial records, minutes, institutional records, brochures, and published editions of student work. The collection also contains tributes to co-founders Bull from 1934 and Spinney from 1951 and a compilation of Spring Hill School remembrances collected in 1999. Brochures and pamphlets promoting the Spring Hill School provide an excellent overview of the philosophy of the founders and describe in detail the programs of study, recreation, and home life. They also provide information on faculty and staff, academic schedules, and tuition, room, and board costs. Some of these publications are illustrated with photographs and offer scenes of students at school and at play. The administrative records date from 1930, when the school was incorporated, and include incorporation and association records, minutes of trustees meetings, correspondence, and financial reports. Most of these administrative records relate to financial matters. There is no documentation regarding curricular matters. There are also two issues of the student newspaper and editions of student work, including poetry, plays, and essays illustrated with bold block prints, that span the 1930s. In some of these publications are works by a student named Peter Seeger, who would later find fame as a folk singer, song writer, and activist, better known as Pete Seeger.


  • created: 1926-1940
  • Other: Date acquired: 01/01/1951


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Biographical or Historical Information

The Spring Hill School was founded in 1926 in Litchfield, Conn., by Dorothy Bull and Mabel Foster Spinney, who served as co-principals and teachers. Both women had previously worked in New York settlement houses, and both were active in educational and progressive causes. After Bull died in 1934, Spinney continued as principal until 1939, when financial deficits forced the school’s closing and sale. Spinney moved to Vermont in 1940, where she was associated with Putney School.

Dorothy Bull (1887-1934) was born in New York City, the daughter of Dr. Charles Stedman Bull and Mary Eunice Kingsbury of Waterbury, Conn. She was educated in a small private school in Morristown, N.J. and in the Brearly School of New York. After graduation in 1906, she pursued social work and had a club of girls at Hartley House, a settlement house on New York's west side. Around 1912, she was active in an exhibition to show the bad effects of overcrowding in cities. Bull was seriously ill in 1917 and 1918 and moved permanently to Litchfield, Conn., where she had been a summer resident since 1908. In Litchfield, she was instrumental in the formation of the Girl Scouts in 1918, taught dramatics as a volunteer teacher at the high school, was the secretary and a trustee of the Connecticut Junior Republic Association from 1922 to 1926, and was an active member of the Connecticut Society of Colonial Dames. In 1926, Bull and Mabel F. Spinney organized the Spring Hill School, serving as co-principals. The school was incorporated in 1930 and Bull was elected president and trustee. She died in 1934. Mabel Foster Spinney (1885-1951) was born in Burlington, Vt., the daughter of Congressman David Johnson Foster and Mabel Allen Foster. She received her A.B. from Bryn Mawr in 1907 and in the next few years that followed, held several teaching and other positions in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. From 1911 until 1921, she worked at Greenwich House, a unit of the Co-Operative Social Settlement Society of the City of New York. In 1913, she married William Spinney, who was successively a settlement worker at Greenwich House, a salesman for book publisher Henry Holt, and an assistant manager at Guaranty Trust Co. The couple had a son and a daughter and adopted a son. In Margaret Sanger’s 1917 book "The Case for Birth Control" Spinney is on a list of “well known women who endorse birth control” (p. 40). Sanger also mentioned Spinney in her 1931 book, "My Fight for Birth Control:" While Sanger was in jail in 1917, William and Mabel Spinney provided books for the instruction of female inmates (p. 194). Mabel Spinney was on the board of directors of the New York Women’s Publishing Company and was a member of the conference committee of the First American Birth Control Conference in New York in 1921. The family moved to Litchfield in 1921, and between then and 1926, Mabel Spinney taught at Litchfield High School. William Spinney died in 1924. In 1926, Mabel Spinney organized the Spring Hill School with Dorothy Bull, and remained with it until it closed in 1939. She was then an instructor with the Putney School in Putney, Vt. At the time of her death in 1951, she had been living with her daughter and family in Redwood, Calif. Dorothy Bull and Mabel Spinney had a progressive education model in mind with the opening of the Spring Hill School in Litchfield, a boarding school for boys and girls ages four to fourteen. In an undated  brochure describing the school, they stated that “we recognize that each individual is a social being with social responsibilities, but we believe that the opportunities for social co-operation in a group of children where self-control is developed through daily experience are far greater than the old system of training and repression.” Bull purchased the former Spring Hill Sanitarium from Dr. John Buel in 1926 to serve as the school’s home. The property was located on an estate of sixty acres, and included six cottages and the house in which Henry Ward Beecher once lived. The students lived in the cottages and the program of each child was “adjusted to his or her physical needs.” The facilities offered ample opportunities for recreation, and a home life program gave the children experience in domestic activities while providing “a basic routine and order as is necessary for children.” School work included history and geography, literature, written and oral English, mathematics and science, with additional instruction in dramatics, music, and art. As the brochure noted, “All these subjects are dealt with in their relation to life as children know it, and center on some creative activity. In this way, we believe that children will see in each subject a method of approach to a better understanding of life as a whole.” In 1930, the school was incorporated, but only four years later Bull died. Spinney carried on with the school, but as yearly financial deficits began to accumulate, a decision was made to close the school in 1939. That same year, the estate of Dorothy Bull sold the property to the Forman School of Litchfield. Among the alumni of the Spring Hill School is folk singer, songwriter, and activist Pete Seeger.


0.82 Linear Feet

2 document boxes other_unmapped

Language of Materials



The collection is arranged in three series: Administrative Papers; Printed Materials; and Student Work.

Source of Acquisition

Frederick Kingsbury Bull

Method of Acquisition


Accruals and Additions

Most of the collection was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Kingsbury Bull. Litchfield Historical Society staff added other smaller gifts to the collection.

Related Materials

Related materials in the collection of the Litchfield Historical Society include the Dorothy Bull collection, 1913-1934; Spring Hill School photographs, circa 1930; Marrin Family Papers, and William Ernest Beatty Papers. The Society's artifact collection includes related artwork and artifacts including the sign and a brochure design by Austin Purves.

The Greenwich House Records TAM 139 (R-7088) held by the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University Libraries includes papers related to Margaret F. Spinney.

Other Descriptive Information

The Spring Hill School Collection finding aid was created with support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) basic processing grant by Leith Johnson. The grant allowed funds to be used for collection-level description only. The Society chose to replicate the collection for inclusion in an exhibit in 2021, necessitating a more detailed finding aid for the hands-on activity. The collection was then processed and described at folder level by Linda Hocking.

Spring Hill School collection
In Progress
Leith Johnson, Linda Hocking
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Litchfield Historical Society Repository

7 South Street
P.O. Box 385
Litchfield CT 06759
860-567-3565 (Fax)