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The closing of Smith Academy by Washington University created an educational vacuum in Saint Louis at the elementary level. Urged by friends and prospective parents, two teachers, Mary B. Rossman and Helen Schwaner, decided to seize the opportunity. At 45 and 48 years old they set out to provide basic elementary education for boys and girls in the city of Saint Louis. In the fall of 1917 Rossman School opened its doors to grades three through six at 5438 Delmar Boulevard.
Miss Rossman and Miss Schwaner believed that learning took place more effectively during the morning. The school day began with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, prayers and a hymn. The children then worked in their classrooms, except for a brief recess, until they were dismissed for the day at 11 o’clock.
Grades 1 and 2 were added.
Enrollment steadily increased as Rossman’s reputation spread, climbing to a high of 224 in 1928. Meanwhile, the faculty grew from nine to 14.
In an effort to balance the budget during the Great Depression, more grades were added. Seventh grade was taught from 1932 to 1945 and eighth grade from 1935 to 1940. Kindergarten was offered beginning in 1931 and remains part of the curriculum to this day.
During the late ’30s a lunchroom was set up at the Delmar building and the era of school lunches began. The founders still clung to their belief that all academic work could and should be done during the morning hours, but added an afternoon program of enrichment at the Sebago Club. This was the forerunner of the present Afterschool Enrichment Program.
These decades rolled by with no major alterations although there were always countless minor changes. Since the end of the Sebago Club era, there had been a full day of school with afternoon classes at Rossman, except on Fridays when the school was dismissed at noon and the students went ice skating at the Winter Garden.
Helen Schwaner died in 1956 at the age of 87. For some years she had not been teaching but still came to school for a few hours each morning and was active in keeping the financial records.
The next school year, Miss Rossman resigned as head of the school and the leadership passed to Rossman teacher Pauline Marshall.
An inspection of the Delmar building in February revealed that extensive and expensive changes would be required to bring the school into compliance with a new Saint Louis fire safety ordinance. After considering various plans for the future of the school, the Board of Directors decided to move to Saint Louis County, where a number of their students’ families had already relocated. In order to accomplish this, the directors concluded that it was necessary to reorganize as a not-for-profit corporation and embark on a fund-raising drive to finance the new school building.
Once the reorganization was completed, a three-acre parcel of land on Conway Road was selected for the new school. Construction began immediately. Meanwhile parents, alumni, Saint Louis businesses and members of the community at large rallied around the school and the necessary pledges were made to build the new school entirely with private contributions.
The Conway campus opened in time for the start of school in September.
Two new classrooms were added.
One of the last achievements of Mrs. Marshall’s tenure at Rossman was building the gymnasium, which was completed in 1972 and named for Mrs. Marshall in honor of her years of effort on behalf of the school and her great devotion to it. In 1973, Mrs. Marshall resigned having served the school for 45 years.
Charles Bobbitt, the science and physical education teacher, succeeded Mrs. Marshall as head. He resigned to return to teaching in 1979.
After an intensive search, the board chose Jeffrey Thompson, a science teacher at Saint Louis Country Day School, as the new headmaster. During his three years with Rossman, Mr. Thompson enrolled the school in the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) and oversaw its first ISACS evaluation.
Fred Schue, head of the lower school at CDS, was chosen as Mr. Thompson’s successor. He resigned in 1985 after suffering a heart attack.
Rossman School Director of Admissions Katherine Betz was confirmed as the new Headmistress.
Fundraising campaigns in the late ’80s and early ‘90s allowed important remodeling and building additions to occur. The main building was connected with the gymnasium and a 13,000-square-foot addition for a Performing Arts Center and new specialty classrooms significantly expanded the facilities. In 1993, the original building was extensively remodeled. A greenhouse was added, and a courtyard in the center of the school was completed. A technology center was established in 1994. Renovations to the Junior and Senior Kindergarten classrooms and the locker rooms in the gymnasium occurred in 1997.
The largest capital campaign in the school’s history allowed the school to purchase 12 acres of property and proceed with comprehensive restructuring and remodeling of the school facility. Outdoor improvements included an Outdoor Activities Center, a four-lane track encircling an athletic field, a half-mile nature trail, a recess field, and a playground. The original school building underwent comprehensive remodeling and 8,000 square feet of space was added. A new entrance to the campus was created on the east side of the school’s 20-acre site, and the front office was relocated.
Following Mrs. Betz’s retirement and a nationwide search, Patricia A. Shipley was chosen to fill the role of head of school. Rossman continued to flourish under Mrs. Shipley’s leadership with expansion and growth particularly in the areas of curriculum, technology, professional development for faculty, and financial sustainability.
A Kindergarten playground designed especially for young children was added.
Rossman launched a major endowment campaign, which succeeded in its goal of increasing the school's endowment to over $10 million.
A complete kitchen renovation and several dining room updates expanded Rossman's lunch menu, increased comfort and safety for staff and created a more relaxed dining experience for students.
A state-of-the-art polyurethane track was installed, bringing the athletic industry’s latest technological advances to Rossman.
Elizabeth Zurlinden, Rossman’s Lower School director, was selected as head of school following Mrs. Shipley's retirement and a nationwide search. As Rossman begins its second century, the school remains dedicated to its mission to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence.
Mary B. Rossman
& Helen Schwaner
Rossman’s founders were products of the Saint Louis city school system. They received their teacher training at the normal school, which eventually became Harris Stowe College. Both were veteran teachers with experience at various Saint Louis schools by the time they began to think of opening a school of their own, and both assumed some of the teaching duties when Rossman was founded.
The Original Campus
5438 Delmar Boulevard
Built in 1905 as the residence of a St. Louis real estate developer, the original Rossman School building was chosen for it’s location. It was in an excellent neighborhood for the students the school wished to attract.
Head of School
The single most influential person in the history of Rossman School besides the founders was undoubtedly Pauline Marshall. She even exceeded Miss Rossman in the length of time in which she was with the school. She started teaching at Rossman in 1928 and remained until her resignation in 1973. Even then she continued to serve as a consultant and Board member until shortly before her death in 1977 at age 82. She loved teaching and continued to teach sixth grade full time for 11 years after she became headmistress.