History & Traditions
Lux per Scientiam. Light through Knowledge.
The Kinkaid School, established 1906, is the oldest non-sectarian, co-educational day school in Houston, Texas. For more than a century, it has heeded to the mission of its founder Margaret Kinkaid, who believed strongly in educating the “whole child.”
Mrs. Kinkaid’s reputation for excellence in childhood education meant that parents well outside of the neighborhood sought her out. As her former students fondly recalled “the luckiest of Houston’s children walked across the wooden plank streets or tethered their horses at Margaret Kinkaid’s back steps.” From its inception, The Kinkaid School has raced to keep up with a rapidly increasing student body.
To learn more about our campus history and headmasters, please see below.
Margaret Kinkaid began to accept students at her house on Elgin and San Felipe in 1904. Classes were put on hold with the birth of her son William in 1906, and resumed again in 1908. However, Mrs. Kinkaid claimed 1906 as the year the Kinkaid School was founded, and that is the date that is celebrated today. By 1910 the school had outgrown the Kinkaid’s one story house, so they added a second floor.
By 1920, Kinkaid had 125 students and eight full-time teachers. Margaret Kinkaid continued to maintain the founding values of “concern for others,” and insisted that her students participate in community service, a legacy that prevails today in the form of the Community Service program and the four core values of honesty, responsibility, respect and kindness. The growing student body and the need for expanded management of school affairs led Mrs. Kinkaid to appoint the first board of trustees in 1924. It was a small but distinguished group of Houston’s leading citizens. The new board was charged with securing a new building site for the growing student body, eventually settling on a location in Montrose, at the corner of Richmond and Graustark. The beautiful Spanish-Style building, made of hand-worked white stone and red tiles, became the site of the school for the next 33 years. Alumni of the Richmond Campus, who are fondly known as the “Richmond Guard” recall modest classrooms, grand windows, and pathways of white gardenia trees, with large green spaces to accommodate the many outdoor activities encouraged by Margaret Kinkaid. Moving to the new campus allowed for an expanded clubs system as well as athletics program for both boys and girls. It also provided the infrastructure for an Upper School curriculum, with the first high school graduating class matriculating in 1938.
The 1950s brought numerous changes to the school and its administration. After more than 45 years of service as an educator, Margaret Kinkaid announced her intention to retire. She carefully selected John Cooper to succeed her. By 1956, the board of trustees had several new members, and once again found itself in charge of locating a larger site for the school’s campus. The idea for the present-day location in Piney Point Village came from one such board member, H.M. Crosswell. Though now centrally located between the West Loop and the Beltway, the tract was considered a rural, outlying area at the time. San Felipe drive had yet to be built! Still, the ample acreage and forested backdrop made for a perfect campus. The location permitted for further expansion in the years to come.
Kinkaid’s programs and facilities have continued to grow in the last 50 years. Most recently, the Tomorrow’s Promise campaign has helped secure the purchase of 24.6 acres of neighboring land, with current plans to expand the campus and its facilities by more than 60 percent. Through the generous support of the Kinkaid Community, the school continues to grow and foster the remarkable traditions and core values of its founder.
Margaret Bell Culbertson Hunter was born on April 29, 1874, in Houston, Texas, to a well-established Texas family. Her grandfather, Johnson Calhoun Hunter, was one of the “Old 300,” the group of settlers who received land grants in Stephen F. Austin’s first colony in Mexico. Ms. Hunter attended the Clopper Institute in Houston, a school for teachers that promoted “child science” (the predecessor to developmental psychology) and encouraged its teachers to focus on teaching the whole child. After completing her education, she taught for several years at the Hawthorne School, a public elementary school on Hawthorne Street in Houston. After her marriage to William J. Kinkaid on Christmas Day, 1899, she retired from Hawthorne in 1900, because public schools at that time would not employ married women as teachers. The Kinkaid family soon grew to include two sons: Hunter, born in 1901, and William, born in 1906. Unfortunately, Hunter contracted leukemia and only lived to be nine years old. William, however, would later teach at the Kinkaid School and serve as Principal for the Upper School.
Mrs. Kinkaid was headmistress of the School until 1951, when John Cooper succeeded her. Within the first weeks of the 1951 school year, the community found itself grieving the untimely death of Margaret Kinkaid, resulting from a tragic car accident. Lynn Cummings, a writer for the Falcon in 1951, wrote the following of Mrs. Kinkaid: “She was very modest in her manner, yet more than efficient. She had the dignity of a queen, the energy of a leader, the outlook of an optimist, and the patience and understanding of a mother. She took an individual interest in each one of Kinkaid’s boys and girls… No child could present a problem too big for her to cope with; and no matter how bad he was, she could always find some good about him.”
Alumni recall the strength and leadership John Cooper provided in those early days. He inspired students to work hard and persevere, as Mrs. Kinkaid would have wanted. She had been the one to select him as her successor, with unanimous support from the Board of Trustees. Cooper was educated at Yale University, and brought with him the rigor of the “academic east,” which Mrs. Kinkaid admired. Cooper went on to organize and expand many programs, both at Kinkaid and in the larger Houston community. He led the negotiations with the City of Piney Point to build a new 40-acre site, now the location of the Memorial Campus. He broadened Kinkaid with a diverse enrollment, financial aid, an innovative curriculum and established The Kinkaid School Endowment Fund. He recruited many legendary faculty members and established both the Book Fair and a full-fledged Drama program. Cooper and his wife Dorothy, who taught Latin at Kinkaid, retired in the Woodlands in 1979. It was not long before a group of parents persuaded him to lend his name and knowledge to the establishment of The John Cooper School.
When Glenn Ballard took over the School’s leadership in 1979, he was only the third headmaster in Kinkaid’s 75-year history. Ballard prioritized the “sense of place” at Kinkaid, something for which he expressed a keen interest. He initiated several facilities projects, including the new Middle School and the Kayem Library. Under his leadership, the faculty benefited from a newly established continuing education program, which sponsored numerous professional development activities. Academics remained a top priority, with not only the establishment of an Honor Code, but also new programs in art, dance, and music. To sustain all of these new programs, Ballard reached out to the school community, helping to grow the Endowment from $5 million to $50 million. Over his 17-year tenure, he rarely missed a sports event, theatre production or concert. After his retirement in 1996, he remained part of the community, eventually seeing two of his grandchildren graduate from the School.
Don North was the only Kinkaid headmaster also to serve as Upper School Principal (1983-1988). His excellent reputation in this capacity led to an invitation from the Durham Academy where he served as headmaster for six years. When Glenn Ballard retired, the School invited Mr. North to return, this time as headmaster. Charged with bringing the School into a new century of technology and innovation, North took to task. He initiated the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the history of the school, raising $47 million toward the construction of three new buildings (The Friedkin Family Lower School, the Center for Student Life and the Lenny C. Katz Performing Arts Center.) One of his major accomplishments was assisting with the purchase of 24.6 acres of neighboring land. The acquisition is an unprecedented opportunity for a school Kinkaid’s size, age, and location (in the fourth largest area in the country) to increase the size of its campus by over 60%. Under his leadership, the School’s athletics and arts programs continued to grow, playing a central role in students’ lives. In addition to his duties as headmaster, North taught English in the Upper School and served as President of the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest. He retired in 2013 and continues to make his home in Houston with his wife Mary.
In 2013, after an extensive national search, Dr. Andrew Martire was selected by the Board of Trustees to become Kinkaid’s fifth headmaster. He was formerly the Headmaster of the Calvert School in Baltimore. Dr. Martire looks forward to continuing the commitment to excellence that has long defined Kinkaid and strengthening the School’s position as one of the leading preparatory schools in the country.
The Kinkaid School was 14 years old when its identity began to develop. In 1920, football was still relatively new to the School and when the team needed uniforms, Joe Hudson’s father, suggested orange and blue as the team colors, the colors of his alma mater, the University of Virginia.
However, a debate arose when the Kinkaid girls voiced their distaste for those colors. Purple and gold were chosen as a compromise.
Although Mrs. Kinkaid was not fond of the combination, she supported the students’ choice. However, the boys had to play their early games in khaki pants and blue shirts since purple and gold were hard to find in those days.
Graduation is one of Kinkaid’s most cherished traditions, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new adventure. The ceremony has always been held outdoors, with it moving inside due to weather only three times. Many believe that Mrs. Kinkaid could even control the weather on that day.
Over the years many traditions have been expanded upon and added to the ceremony. Originally just for junior girls, now the entire junior class processes with the ivy arches and daisy chain in order to welcome and congratulate the senior class.
Additionally, each class now creates a class flag that is hung in the student center at the end of the seniors’ time at Kinkaid. A flag ceremony, narrated by the president of the senior class at the end of the graduation ceremony, results in the lowering of the senior flag and the raising of the junior flag. Symbolically, the School recognizes that while the graduation of our seniors ends one era, the presence of our juniors assures the continued excellence that marks Kinkaid.
The first Field Day was held in 1911 at the Elgin campus. It was expanded at the Richmond campus to include a bazaar as well as various athletic contests and exhibitions. In 1937, a new gymnasium was built and Field Day became larger than ever, uniting what Mrs. Kinkaid referred to as “The Kinkaid Family.” Charlie Sanders recalls, “This tradition originally included Purple vs. Gold competitions, folk dances, father-son softball games, a mother-daughter dance and even a Middle and Upper School dance. Also, it was customary for the seniors to walk out with the kindergarten students.” It is a tradition that continues today with the Upper School and their Lower School buddies.
Thanks to the amazing efforts of a large team of parent volunteers, Field Day continues to bring the Kinkaid Family together. The Day has become a significant fundraising event for the School with proceeds going toward special items needed to support academics, arts and athletics.
The Kinkaid Book Fair was one of the many programs that Headmaster John Cooper initiated and expanded. This tradition began in 1951 and has flourished tremendously over the years. It was originally hosted in the School lobby, later in the library, and today because of its size and popularity, it takes place in the Melcher Gymnasium.
The event would not be possible without the dedication of so many Parents’ Association volunteers. The parents work with the Schools’ librarians to select the greatest variety of books for all age levels. Prominent visiting authors are invited each year, often signing books and meeting with students and faculty. A highlight is Family Night, a dinner and shopping night for the Kinkaid community.
Interim Term, perhaps one of Kinkaid’s most unique traditions, was co-founded by former teacher and Upper School Principal Barry Moss and former Business Manager Bill McKinley in 1971. Interim Term offers Upper School students the opportunity to study in areas and situations that involve subjects not offered elsewhere in the curriculum, and it allows faculty to present special topics in which they have particular interest and expertise. Currently under the direction of Tom Wey, the program runs through the first three school weeks in January (it originally lasted the entire month).
Interim Term also offers special international travel opportunities, usually two touring trips and one home stay program. The academic focus of each trip varies from year to year depending on the destination and the activities planned by the faculty supervisors.
During senior year, many students explore the career development program, which is currently directed by Judy Muir. Seniors have the opportunity, through an individually structured three-week internship, to explore potential career interests. While most seniors stay in Houston for their internships, some choose interesting national or international opportunities.
“Interim Term is very popular at our School.” says Mr. Wey. “I feel that it has been so successful because Mr. Moss organized it so well, and we provide a rare combination of classes and trips that give students the opportunity to learn something new every year."
This legendary rivalry traces back to the series of events that founded St. John’s School. After World War II, a group of parents approached Mrs. Kinkaid about making the School more like an East Coast prep school. Mrs. Kinkaid rejected the idea, but the same group of parents moved on to found St. John’s School in fall of 1946. Not until Headmaster John Cooper took over the reins did the relationship warm and St. John’s became the “friendliest enemy.” Students and alumni on both sides enjoy the rivalry through athletics and the arts.
A large part of the athletic rivalry is the annual Kinkaid vs. St. John’s football game that began in 1951. The two teams have played at Rice Stadium since 1979.
Established in 2009, the Falcon Family Feast is the newest of the Kinkaid traditions, bringing together parents, students, alumni, faculty and staff for a pre-game celebration.