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History of Lausanne

Our School's Mission is...
“to prepare each of its students for college and for life in a global environment.”

Lausanne Collegiate School has a vibrant and dynamic history. It has evolved from a select girls’ school to become the most culturally diverse, co-ed, process and technology-oriented, globally conscious collegiate prep school in the Mid-South. Its history has been a truly unique mixture of dramatic innovation and strong tradition.

 

Founding

In 1926, Mrs. Emma DeSaussure Jett, Miss Bessie Statler and two other veteran teachers left St. Mary’s Episcopal School and founded their own small, K-12, private girls’ school in a spacious residence at 1649 Central Avenue in Memphis. The school was named after the Swiss city of Lausanne, a recognized center of educational excellence, and the area from which Mrs. Jett’s DeSaussure ancestors had migrated to America. Lausanne emphasized small classes, a nurturing environment, inspiring teachers and highly individualized instruction. The stock market crashed just three years after Lausanne’s founding and yet the fledging school managed to survive the Great Depression.

Move to Union

Even with the return of prosperity following World War II, Lausanne’s viability remained tenuous. Mrs. Jett and Miss Statler had grown old and were in uncertain health. If Lausanne were to survive, it needed significant growth in enrollment and significant economies of scale not feasible at the Central campus. Fortuitously, the physical plant of recently dissolved Pentecost-Garrison School at Union Extended and Hollywood became available in 1952, and Lausanne secured a favorable lease on the property. To facilitate the school’s continuation, Principals Statler and Jett converted what had been their proprietary school to a not-for-profit educational foundation.

During the early years on Union, there were problems with the school’s management, its enrollment declined, and it again seemed in danger of becoming defunct. Lausanne families, however, fought back. They held fund raisers like carnivals and spaghetti suppers to help generate revenue. More productively, Mrs. Nelse R. Thompson, a long time patron of the school and a member of the educational foundation’s board, determined to make the school financially secure. Working in tandem with Headmistress Myrtle Cobb, whom the board had hired away from a tenured position at Memphis State College, Mrs. Thompson pulled off a near miracle. Her personal donations and astute solicitations insured the raising of sufficient funds for a new beginning. Within two years, Lausanne had purchased a twenty-acre campus site on Massey Road and had also acquired the funds necessary to build an impressive physical plant. Part of Mrs. Thompson’s plan for the school was to provide a prestigious boarding environment, which for a number of years brought in significantly more income than its operations cost.

Boarding School

Shortly after the school moved to Massey Road, Mrs. Cobb resigned as headmistress, and the board hired Walter R. Coppedge as Headmaster and the only male member of the faculty. Although he had no administrative training or experience, Coppedge proved a strong choice. He was generally popular with the school’s board, faculty and staff, students, and parents. A cultured child of the Mississippi’s Delta, he was also a well-traveled former Rhodes Scholar. His innovations included: marvelous open letters to the school’s various constituencies, a high profile lecture series that brought in international caliber visiting lecturers, annual traveling summer courses held in Europe and Mexico and other major educational travel experiences. Coppedge’s five-year tenure took Lausanne to new levels of intellectual openness, community exposure and general excellence.

Montessori & Co-Ed

Thomas Eppley, a Lausanne history teacher with excellent academic credentials, became headmaster in 1965 and his 21-year tenure brought many additional changes. Notable among these were: racial integration, a strong Montessori program, the school’s gradual conversion to coeducational status and eventual dropping of the Montessori Method.

As early as the 1930s, boys had been enrolled in Lausanne’s kindergarten program. As the Montessori Method expanded up through the grades of Lausanne’s Lower School, boys were enrolled in all grades PK through six. Extensive investigation led faculty, administration and board members to conclude that coeducation was preferable to single-sex education in many respects.

The Upper School became gender integrated in the late-1970s, and Lausanne graduated its first co-ed class in 1981. The boarding school brought ethnically and regionally diverse students into the Lausanne community enriching its informal learning and its athletic and arts programs. Flags hanging in the Tully Dining Hall recognize 65 different countries represented by Lausanne students over the decades.

Despite achievements and milestones during Eppley’s administration, in his last few years the school faced declining enrollments and financial stresses. Eppley stepped down, replaced by Charles Henderson, who had been successful as headmaster at two other schools. Problems persisted, however, to the point that Lausanne strongly considered a merger with Hutchison School.

Campus Expansion

In 1992, the board hired George Elder to run Lausanne. Using stringent measures, a rapid expansion of the enrollment and superb, community-wide salesmanship, Elder turned Lausanne’s precarious financial situation around. The school was then able to add Tanner Hall, Shockey Hall and the Elder Performing Arts Center. He also expanded the arts, athletic and academic programs, especially strengthening the areas of technology, mathematics and science.

International Baccalaureate World School

After an interim headmaster, current Headmaster, Stuart McCathie, took Lausanne’s helm in 2005. He has continued to expand the school’s enrollment and financial viability, its physical plant (the Upper Middle School Building, the 60,000 square-foot library and indoor sports complex, a centralized technology center, the Blue Heron Café, outdoor sports complex renovation and Tully Dining Hall expansion.), its athletic programs and the quality and sophistication of its curriculum.

Symbolic of the latter, in 2010 Lausanne became Tennessee’s first and only independent school designated as an International Baccalaureate World School (IB). We are currently seeking accreditation for both the primary and middle years programme to support giving Lausanne graduates a competitive edge in the college application process.

Stuart McCathie’s leadership has also contributed to the school’s resounding support of mission: to prepare each of its students for college and for life in a global environment. The mission is strengthened by the core values stated in The Lausanne Way.

Though there have been enormous changes in and at Lausanne over eight-and-one-half decades, the underlying principles upon which the school was founded remain much the same. These include academic rigor, openness to intellectual inquiry, inspired and nurturing teachers, individualized instruction, acceptance of differences, and respect for the rights of others.

Archives

The Lausanne Collegiate School Archives document the school's history from 1926 to the present.

Thanks to hard work from archivist Cissi Loftis and Julia Whitehorn '19, the archives are now online. 

The Archives are located on the lower floor of the library. It is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m .Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and 8 a.m. to noon on Fridays during the school year.