William Van Duzer Lawrence
Sarah Lawrence College was established by real-estate mogul William Van Duzer Lawrence (1842-1927) on the grounds of his estate in Westchester County and was named in honor of his wife, Sarah Bates Lawrence (1846-1926). The College was originally intended to provide instruction in the arts and humanities for women. A major component of the College's early curriculum was "productive leisure," wherein students were required to work for eight hours weekly in such fields as modeling, shorthand, typewriting, applying makeup, and gardening. Its pedagogy, modeled on the tutorial system of Oxford University, combined independent research projects, individually supervised by the teaching faculty, and seminars with low student-to-faculty ratio—a pattern it retains to the present, despite its cost. Sarah Lawrence was the first liberal arts college in the United States to incorporate a rigorous approach to the arts with the principles of progressive education, focusing on the primacy of teaching and the concentration of curricular efforts on individual needs.
In addition to founding Sarah Lawrence College, William Lawrence played a critical role in the development of the neighboring community of Bronxville, New York. His name can be found on the affluent Lawrence Park and Lawrence Park West neighborhoods, the Houlihan Lawrence Real Estate Corporation, and on Lawrence Hospital in downtown Bronxville, an institution that was created when Lawrence’s son, Dudley, nearly died en route to a hospital in neighboring New York City. Lawrence embodied ideas from the Progressivist movement of the 1890s, especially his view that the arts were a crucial element in the social evolution of individuals and families, in developing both private and public sensibilities, and in creating equal relations between men and women.
Harold Taylor, President of Sarah Lawrence College from 1945 to 1959, greatly influenced the college. Taylor, elected president at age 30, maintained a friendship with educational philosopher John Dewey, and worked to employ the Dewey method at Sarah Lawrence. Taylor spent much of his career calling for educational reform in the United States, using the success of his own College as an example of the possibilities of a personalized, modern, and rigorous approach to higher education. Sarah Lawrence became a coeducational institution in 1968. Prior to this transition, there were discussions about relocating the school and merging it with Princeton University, but the administration opted to remain independent.