Nicholson Day: Its History, Impact, and Legacy

Investigative

It’s widely known among Kingswood Oxford students that there is no school on the second Monday of October. Amid the debate of the observation of Columbus Day or Indengious Peoples Day, KO has instead decided to celebrate Nicholson Day. Many students, however, are unaware of the history of this day or its namesake, George Nicholson, the founder of the Kingswood School. 

Mr. Kyff, KO’s resident historian, is knowledgeable about both the history of Kingswood school and the legacy of Mr. Nicholson. We had the opportunity to get an overview of the history of Nicholson Day and a biography of Mr. Nicholson. He attended the Kingswood school located in Bath, England. There, he was not only a strong academic student but also a wonderful person. He went on to study at the University of Manchester in England and then came to the United States as a tutor in 1914. 

The Kingswood School was founded by a group of respected and distinguished men who wanted to get tutoring for their sons. They looked towards Mr. Nicholson due to his strong education. This group would go on to establish the Kingswood School, which opened in 1916. 

As the headmaster of the school, Mr. Nicholson was admired and respected by the school community. He not only presented the students with exemplary characteristics but introduced various traditions to campus. One of these traditions was Nicholson Day. 

When the campus moved from its original location at the Mark Twain house to its West Hartford location in 1922, Mr. Nicholson enjoyed its “country” location. The school purchased over 3,000 acres of undeveloped land from a farmer. During this time, the town of West Hartford was only starting to develop as Hartford families migrated from the city to suburban areas. 

An outdoorsy person, Mr. Nicholson loved the idea of allowing the students time to explore areas outside of campus. He proposed that a few days in the fall should be given off to have students go on hikes, so they could explore nature. 

At the beginning of each school day, the students gathered for a brief service in the chapel. It would be during this time that Mr. Nicholson would declare “a country day.” During this “country day,” students could essentially roam free. Most of the school’s population was from the city, and they were thrilled to explore the outdoors instead of having classes.

Mr. Kyff was eager to explain the country days. He explained how in the early days, “country days” provided the ideal opportunity for the community to spend time outdoors. But, as West Hartford became more developed, country days lost their original purpose. 

“The problem was that as West Hartford Center became more developed and industrial, the boys would end up in a movie theater,” Mr. Kyff said. “The boys would just go to West Hartford Center and go to the movies or they would go shopping, or whatever other activity they might want to do.”

Thus, as the tradition of going into the country faded, the tradition was discontinued in 1934. Though it ended, it was a strong and popular activity for over 12 years. The Kingswood community was disappointed to see the country days be discontinued. 

Mr. Nicholson was headmaster until he died at the age of 62 in 1947. Later, the Kingswood School and Oxford School would merge in 1969. Mr. Nicholson’s memory and impact are still seen on campus everyday. 

 It was clear that Mr. Nicholson had a great love for the school and its community. In a KO website article honoring his memory, they explained that he wrote from his hospital bed, “I am 62 years old today, with more things to be glad for than a man could deserve or expect… My chiefest blessing is the loyalty and affection of Kingswood Boys and Masters.”

After his death, an interim head of school was appointed for the rest of the year. The next headmaster would be Mr. Hewett. The origins of Nicholson Day are still a bit of a mystery, but we know that during the time period of 1948 to 1977, Nicholson Day was established in honor of Mr. Nicholson and his country days. In the last several years, Nicholson Day has always been on the same day as Columbus Day. Having these two holidays on the same day is likely due to convenience, as other schools would already have a day off as well. 

However, with the United States recently changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, there has been debate throughout the school community about whether or not Kingswood Oxford should rename Nicholson Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in order to honor Native Americans.

Many people think that Nicholosn Day should be renamed to Indigenous Peoples Day to make the community reflect the cultural shift that many others schools have taken. Media Arts teacher and KO alumnus Greg Scranton believes that Kingswood Oxford should acknowledge Indigenous Peoples Day but should continue to honor Mr. Nicholson at the same time. “I’d love to see somebody come out and give a formal speech or presentation about the history and have a dialogue about this,” Mr. Scranton said. “I think this is something that can be really valuable at an assembly, not just for those who are here, but those who are going to be here in 10 years. So, I think it is important to continually shed light on it until it’s called Nicholson/Indigenous Peoples Day,” he said. 

Junior Ashley Buckingham agrees strongly that Nicholson Day should be renamed. She shares a similar view to many on campus who believe that Nicholson Day deflects from the harm inflicted on Native Americans. “KO should make the necessary change and put Indigenous People’s day on the calender to honor the individuals who were colonized and brutally treated,” she said. 

Furthermore, many students remain unaware of the legacy of Mr. Nicholson and his impact on the campus. Like so many other traditions on campus, it is easy for students to miss the true meaning and significance of these events. But, it additionally provides much reflection for KO students about honoring legacies. 

While KO should showcase and celebrate the legacy of its founders, does celebrating Nicholson Day mask the tragedies committed against Native Americans by Christopher Columbus and the colonists? But, is the possibility of renaming this holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day harm the legacy of Mr. Nicholson who devoted his life to the success of the school? 

For many students, the solution is simply having both co-exist. In fact, on the Daily Bulletin, the holiday is labeled as both Indigenous Peoples Day and Nicholson Day. However, on the main KO website, it is only listed as Nicholson Day. Having both names represented on the calendar provides both equal representations but does not prioritize one over the other. 

Before the establishment of Nicholson Day, this day off was devoted to the student population exploring nature and going on hikes. This would not only bring the community together, but allow the students (who at the time were predominantly from the Hartford area) to see the vibrant nature of West Hartford. So, there is a case to be made that Nicholson Day should be adjusted back into “country days.” This would not only bring more school unity, but also genuinely showcase Mr. Nicholson’s legacy. 

So, while the KO News understands that Mr. Nicholson was beloved by the school community and did his part to establish the school that the KO community loves today, it proposes interesting questions to the student body. 

At the moment, there are no plans in the works to change Nicholson Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, but it is important to consider the history and significance of both days at Kingswood Oxford.