The Late 1880s
The Webb Schools’ tradition of honor, character building, and academic achievement has its roots in the late 19th century, when William Robert “Sawney” Webb founded Webb School of Bell Buckle, Tennessee. His school had a national reputation for academic excellence and a rigorous student honor code.
In 1922, Thompson Webb, founded Webb School of California with 14 boys, four teachers, and little else apart from the same high standards as his father’s school – plus a uniquely “unbounded spirit.” The young headmaster and his wife, Vivian, raised four sons during their 40 years of service to the institutions that bear their names. Throughout the schools’ nine decades there have been numerous physical changes, including the additions of the lovely mission-style Vivian Webb Chapel (designed and built by Thompson Webb), state-of-the-art science and media labs, and fully networked dormitories and classrooms.
Perhaps no change was greater than the founding of Vivian Webb School in 1981. There was a clear regional need for girl’s school of equal academic quality and stature, but rather than simply becoming co-ed (as other typical boys’ schools had done), Webb’s confidence in the special values of single-sex education for boys and girls led to the founding of a new school. Over the years, the ability to offer a single-sex education in a co-educational setting has become one of the unique hallmarks and strengths of The Webb Schools. Webb School of California and Vivian Webb School retain their own identities with some traditions, programs, and student leadership programs all their own.
Thompson Webb was born in 1887, the eighth child of William Robert “Sawney” Webb and Emma Clary Webb. Sawney founded Webb School of Bell Buckle, Tennessee in the late 19th century and guided it to a national reputation for academic excellence and a rigorous student honor code.
Thompson himself graduated from the Webb School of Bell Buckle in 1907 and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill before beginning a career as a farmer in Southern California’s Coachella Valley. He married Vivian Howell in 1915. With a failed onion crop in 1918, he found himself in debt and so agreed to accept an invitation to join the faculty of his father’s school. His life as a school-maker had begun.
Vivian Howell Webb
Vivian Howell, the daughter of a Methodist minister, married Thompson Webb in 1915, beginning a 56-year love affair and partnership. Thompson and Vivian were said to be evenly balanced – where Thompson was practical, Vivian might lean into a new challenge. Vivian was known as a free spirit and it has been said that in family decisions, Vivian was the boss…”a majority of one.”
Vivian was involved in all aspects of campus life from devising the original catalog to dictating the architectural style of the campus buildings. The mother of four sons, Vivian served the boys and the campus as was needed. She sometimes mended clothes, comforted homesick boys, arranged birthday parties for the students and planned dances. Campus beautification was one of her passions. Most of all, Vivian Webb made all students feel a part of the Webb family.
Raymond M. Alf
Raymond Manfred Alf’s lifetime dedication to teaching and the study of paleontology was a great influence on students of The Webb Schools. His extraordinary energy and inspirational teaching became a fundamental element of the school’s program, where he helped build a supportive learning environment that emphasized honor, leadership, service, spiritual growth and academic excellence.
Born in Canton, China, in 1905 to missionary parents, Alf relocated to the United States in 1917. He attended Doane College where he distinguished himself as a world class sprinter, almost making the U.S. Olympic team in 1928 and 1932. In 1974, he was named to the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for his running prowess.
Vivian Webb Chapel
As a place of respite and reverence, Vivian Webb Chapel serves its community well. It is a Webb rite of passage to present a senior Chapel Talk before one’s teachers and peers in the Vivian Webb Chapel. It is also a place where news of historic and monumental worldwide events are shared — as when Dr. Howard M. Fish, Jr. announced in April 1961 that the Russians had successfully sent a man into orbit and returned him safely to earth — and others with gravitas, including the days after September 11, 2001.