In 1878, The Ethical Culture Society, a non‐secular organization, under its founder and leader Felix Adler, established a free kindergarten called the Workingman’s School. Two years later, from its initial enrollment of eight students, the school had two grades, 51 students and a small teacher‐training unit.
Compelled by charity, idealism and pedagogy, Adler emphasized moral education, psychological development and integration of the creative and manual arts with academics. The school, coeducational and integrated from the start, continues to serve a diverse population and strives to have that intentional diversity reflected in all programs.
In 1895, the Workingman’s School became the Ethical Culture School, and its management passed to a governing board of the Ethical Culture Society. In 1899, the school established a secondary program.
In 1904 the Ethical Culture School constructed a new building at 33 Central Park West which currently houses the Ethical Culture division, one of its two elementary programs. By the mid‐1920s, the school had outgrown its quarters and wanted to expand its vision for both primary and secondary education. In 1928, the Fieldston School, housing a secondary program in several buildings on a green and wooded campus, opened at its
current location in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
The Fieldston Lower School, the second elementary division, was established in 1933.
In 1995, the New York Society for Ethical Culture voted to approve a legal separation of the School from the Society, defining a new affiliation as independent entities.
The Fieldston Middle School, comprised of grades 6‐8, opened in the fall of 2007 to serve the distinct developmental, social and intellectual needs of students in this demographic.