Omaha’s Brownell-Talbot School will celebrate its 150th anniversary this week with celebrations starting Tuesday.
Brownell Hall, the school’s forerunner, opened Sept. 17, 1863, with 40 female students.
Joseph Cruickshank Talbot, Episcopal bishop of the Northwest Territories, opened the school to educate the pioneers’ daughters closer to home. He named the school for Thomas Church Brownell, a Connecticut bishop whose parish gave much of the money needed for the school.
Brownell Hall had Nebraska’s first high school graduating class in 1868, a year after statehood.
The school’s first location was outside Omaha in Saratoga Springs, a boom-and-bust town that’s now the Omaha area of 24th Street and Grand Avenue. The school moved twice more before 1923 when it found its current home at Underwood Avenue and Happy Hollow Boulevard.
Coeducation came in 1952 with the Talbot School for Boys, named for Bishop Talbot. The combined school was called Brownell Hall-Talbot School for Boys until 1963, when the current name, Brownell-Talbot School, was introduced.
Four years later, the school and the Episcopal Church cut their tie.
Today, Brownell-Talbot is an independent college preparatory day school serving students from preschool through grade 12.
Surnames from the school’s early years — Storz, Joslyn, Clarkson, Lauritzen, Kountze, Dundy, Cody, Metz — read like a who’s who of Omaha and Nebraska history.
That perceived exclusiveness gives outsiders a skewed view of Brownell-Talbot, said Dr. Sylvia Rodríguez Vargas, head of school.
“Brownell-Talbot throughout history is not part of that perspective in its reality,” she said. In the school’s beginning, “there were not many schools that educated young women and had that progressive perspective to serve them,” she said.
“The need for education to really achieve equity remained central. We continue to be responsibly progressive,” Rodríguez Vargas said.
“Brownell-Talbot is a highly inclusive community” that’s also very diverse, she said. Students come from other cities, many cultures, religions, and social and economic backgrounds.
She said school families share common core values — a strong dedication to education for their own child and to education overall; an appreciation of the local, national and global community; and a commitment to overall child development creatively, physically and socially.
“They all feel they are part of an extended family,” said Rodríguez Vargas. “It’s really a welcoming place.”