During the 1890s, the American Unitarian leadership in Boston became increasingly concerned about the lack of Unitarian presence in secondary and college preparatory education. Unitarians controlled Harvard University; its president, Charles Eliot, was the leading lay-person in the Unitarian movement, and the faculty included numerous Unitarians. This situation may have made them complacent regarding secondary schools, but in time, it became clear that Unitarians would have to send their children to schools run by other Protestant sects if they wanted quality college preparatory education.
Mrs. Caleb Brewster Hackley, a wealthy widow and leading supporter of the Unitarian movement, decided to give her summer mansion in Tarrytown to a charity. She resided in New York City, and was a member of the Church of the Messiah. Hackley was friends with the church's minister, who proposed using the mansion as a school for boys. In the winter of 1898-1899, she met with Dr. Samuel Eliot of Boston, who later became the President of the American Unitarian Association, and several other prominent Unitarians. Mrs. Hackley liked the idea of a college preparatory school to serve the Unitarian community and any families interested in a liberal religious environment and wanted to use her home for this purpose. She provided substantial funding to refurbish the mansion for school purposes and to operate the school for several years. In the spring of 1899, a Board of Trustees was formed and very shortly thereafter it selected its first headmaster. The first students arrived in the autumn of 1899 and resided in the Hackley home, today called Hackley Hall. In what became a part of Hackley tradition, generations of Hackley students will swear that Mrs. Hackley's ghost haunts the third floor of the Upper School building. Hackley School still celebrates their founding mother to this day.
The home and grounds quickly proved inadequate to support a preparatory school. In the fall of 1899, Theodore Chickering Williams and Mr. Seaver Buck, the first headmaster and the first master hired, respectively, searched for additional land. They found a large estate for sale near the grounds of what later became Marymount College, and purchased it with funds from Mrs. Hackley. The buildings on the estate were torn down immediately, and within a short period, construction began on the buildings that would eventually join to form the Hackley quadrangle. The first buildings constructed were Goodhue Hall and the Minot Savage building. They were in use for the first time in 1902-1903. The remaining buildings, including the Sarah Goodhue King Chapel and the Headmaster’s house, were completed by 1908. The architectural firm of Wheelwright and Haven designed the new school buildings and Downing Vaux provided contouring and plans for the first playing field and track.
Theodore Chickering Williams helped plan the school buildings and the curriculum and style of education. He had been a Unitarian minister in New York and was recognized as an important classical scholar. From the beginning Hackley was technically a Unitarian school, although it welcomed students from all faiths. The majority of Hackley’s early graduates went to Harvard University. A vigorous interscholastic sports program began during the first years with football already at the center of action in 1900-1901.
Hackley Hall, Mrs. Hackley's mansion, became the lower school and was eventually sold. It no longer exists, although one can find on the Marymount campus old stone gates which provided the entrance to the Hackley home. Throughout Hackley’s history there have been twelve headmasters and three acting headmasters. Inscribed above one of Hackley's doors is the phrase "Enter Here to Be and Find a Friend."
On August 4, 2007, a fire, sparked by an intense lightning storm, destroyed Goodhue Memorial Hall. The Kaskel Library and its 27,000 volumes (including over 2,000 recently purchased volumes), artwork, and non-book resources (CDs, DVDs, videos, magazines) and supplies meant to stock the new Lower School Library were lost. Both side wings of Goodhue Memorial Hall were also destroyed: the Upper School technology wing (which served as the English wing until 2000) lost over one hundred computers, four rooms, and irreplaceable artworks; the other wing housed the English department office and two classrooms. While the fire gutted the roof and interiors, the stone facade of the building remained intact.
During the rebuilding of Goodhue, the Middle/Upper School Library was located in King Memorial Chapel; the Lower School Library opened in 2007 in the Santomero Library on the second floor of the Kathleen Allen Lower School.
In September 2010, Goodhue Memorial Hall reopened, with the Sternberg Library located on the new second floor. History classrooms, a computer lab and a multi-media room occupy the first floor. In total, over 8,000 sq ft (740 m2). of space was added to the building.
To earn a high school diploma, students in Grades 9-12 must complete 4 years of English; up to the 3rd level of a language (Hackley offers French, Spanish, Chinese, or Latin, with additional elective classes in Italian, German, Russian, and Greek); 3 years of the required history sequence that includes European history: Colonization to 1900, and The Twentieth Century World; mathematics through Algebra II and Trigonometry; 3 years of science that must include Physics, Chemistry, and Biology (Hackley is part of the Physics First program); 1 year of production-based or visual arts; and 1 year of Health in sophomore year. Hackley offers classes at and beyond the AP level in many of these subjects; however, does not offer AP history or english. Their reasoning is that students who take advanced classes in those subjects will be able to pass AP exams with little to know trouble, and it keeps people on a more level playing field.
Additional courses and electives are offered, including Modernist Literature, Seminar in Creative Writing, History of Western Theater, Seminar in Moral Philosophy, Economics, History of Media & Culture, Art History, Calculus, Finite Mathematics, Statistics, Organic Chemistry, Marine Biology, Ecology, Etymology, Computer Science, Electronic Publishing, Studio Art, Three-Dimensional Sculpture and Design, Architecture and Design, Ceramics, Photography, Digital Painting and Design, Music Theory, Seminar in Music Listening, Acting, Seminar in (music) Composition, and Opera and Jazz, and Student Teaching (where high school students assist in lower school classes).
Upper School (9-12) students who are not enrolled in a sport take part in Physical Education classes offered each semester after school, twice a week. These courses take place after school and serve as a way to wind down and relax after the school day, in addition to teaching Hackley students how to live a healthy lifestyle. The Physical Education program offers varied activities in fitness, lifetime, and group sports as well as outdoor education, including Kayaking, Squash, Rock Climbing, Pilates, and Yoga.
The Music Institute at Hackley School represents a partnership between professional musicians of the area, Hackley School, and the Hackley community. The Institute offers both group and one-on-one lessons in all instruments, drama, and voice – and at all levels. Lessons are taught on Hackley’s campus and can be arranged during the school day or after school – depending upon each student’s schedule.
Hackley School is a part of the Ivy Preparatory School League. The Boys' Soccer team won the Ivy League title in 2010 after going 13-1 in league play and earned the number one seed in the 2010 NYSAISAA State Tournament. The Girls' Cross Country, Boys' Épée Fencing, Girls' Épée Fencing, and Boys' Swimming teams were all Ivy League Champions in the 2011-2012 season. In 2012, the Girls' Basketball team won the Ivy League and the NYSAISAA State Championship, going undefeated for the first time in school history. The Girls' Lacrosse team also won the Ivy League and the NYSAISAA State Championship in 2012, finishing the season with a record of 18-1 and unbeaten in Ivy League play. The Boys' Lacrosse team has equalled the success of the Girls' Lacrosse team, having reached the NYSAISAA State Championship in each of the last three seasons. The Boys' Lacrosse team won their first ever NYSAISAA State Championship in 2012, finishing the season with a record of 18-1 and as unbeaten Ivy League Champions. The Boys' Track and Field team won both the Ivy League and the NYSAISAA State Championship in 2012, making them the four-time, consecutive, defending Ivy League and NYSAISAA State Champions.
The Upper School’s five-day boarding program provides a combination of school and academic concentration during the week coupled with family and home life on the weekends. The program houses up to 30 students of both genders.
The small community of boarding students lives in separate, single-sex wings that share common lounges and study halls. Students are directly advised by six faculty members who live on the boarding corridor.Headmaster: Michael C. Wirtz
Upper School Director: Andrew King
Middle School Director: Cyndy Jean
Lower School Director: Anne Ewing Burns
Noted alumni include:Alan Seeger 1906, poet
F. O. Matthiessen, 1919, Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Professor
Philip Johnson 1923, architect
Claude Canizares, 1963, astrophysicist (Chandra X-Ray Observatory)
Joe Klein 1964, author (Primary Colors)
George Hamilton 1957, actor
Alec Wilkinson 1970 author The Happiest Man in the World
Chris Berman 1973, ESPN sportscaster
Keith Olbermann 1975, newscaster
Ken Noda 1980, pianist, vocal coach, and composer
Ilyasah Shabazz 1979, author (Growing Up X)
Andrew Jarecki 1981, documentary filmmaker, Capturing the Friedmans
Cathy Schulman 1983, producer of Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Crash
Eric Bress 1987, filmmaker, The Butterfly Effect (2004), Kyle XY (2006–2009
Eugene Jarecki 1987, documentary filmmaker, Why We Fight
Chris Pandolfi 1997, musician (banjo), Infamous Stringdusters
William Reiser 1998, producer Da Ali G Show, writer 50/50
Jordan Rapp 1998, Triathlete
Ryan Ruocco 2004, sports radio broadcaster
Samuel Israel III, financier
Noted faculty include:Charles Tomlinson Griffes, American composer
Pavel Litvinov, Russian physicist and dissident
Rockwell Kent, Painter, printmaker, illustrator, writer
Brooks Brothers and Polo Ralph Lauren have both done catalogue shoots on Hackley's campus.
Hackley's campus was featured in the movies Presumed Innocent, Admission, and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.