Ruth Emerson Cooke

06/19/2012 10:56 AM |

Ruth Emerson Cooke, whose family owned Bayside Farm on Richmond Creek in Southold from 1905 until 1993, died Monday, June 4, in Kennett Square, Pa. She was 101.

Mrs. Cooke’s health had been failing in recent weeks; the immediate cause of her death was pneumonia.

Mrs. Cooke was a teacher and administrator in New York City schools and later established an educational counseling service to help parents place their children in the most appropriate educational environment.

She held her first teaching job at the Dalton School, where she taught 3-year-olds and served as assistant head of the nursery school in the 1940s. In 1950 she left Dalton to work for the Art Lending Service at the Museum of Modern Art but soon returned to the school, where she was appointed director of admissions in 1954.

In 1965, Mrs. Cooke and several other faculty members left Dalton to found a new school in Manhattan with the goal of creating a truly integrated, independent elementary school at a time when the average minority enrollment in the city’s 40-odd private schools was in the low single digits. Mrs. Cooke and her co-founders, led by Augustus Trowbridge, who became the school’s first director, named the new school the Manhattan Country School to reflect the fact that students would spend part of the academic year at a 180-acre farm in upstate New York. Their announced aim was to begin with a 30 percent minority enrollment and eventually create a student body in which no race would constitute a majority.

“With the goal of equal relationships among the races, we decided that an integrated school would have to enroll students not ‘regardless of race, creed or color,’ but by deliberately seeking out these attributes,” Mr. Trowbridge later wrote in his book about the school, “Begin with a Dream.” His inscription in the copy of the book he gave to Mrs. Cooke read, “To Ruth, a fellow founder of MCS without whom the story of this book could never have been told. Thank you for your devotion to our school’s mission.”

Mrs. Cooke recruited 11 of 33 “sponsors” the founders hoped would attract attention and funding to the proposed school. Among those she enlisted was the artist Robert Motherwell, whose daughter had been accepted to Dalton while Mrs. Cooke was its director of admissions.

The Manhattan Country School achieved its first goal when it opened in September 1966 with 66 students, of whom 22 were black or Hispanic. The school’s location at 7 E. 96th St. symbolized its commitment to the surrounding communities, both the affluent Upper East Side and the African-American and Hispanic residents of East Harlem.

Mrs. Cooke was the school’s associate director until 1976 and served on the board of trustees during that period. After she left Manhattan Country School, Mrs. Cooke formed the Cooke-Meadoff Educational Counseling Service, in partnership with Estelle Meadoff, another of the former Dalton faculty members who had established Manhattan Country School. The counseling service worked with parents to place their children in schools throughout New York, New England and the Northeast that would be particularly suited to the child’s limitations or abilities, including emotional problems and learning disabilities, as well as exceptional talents or intelligence.

Mrs. Cooke was born Ruth Emerson in New York City on Oct. 20, 1910, to Grace (Parrish) and Haven Emerson, the fourth of the couple’s five children. On her mother’s side, she was descended from the Philadelphia abolitionist Lucretia Mott. Her father was an epidemiologist and public health specialist who served as New York City’s commissioner of health from 1915 to 1917. Later, from 1922 to 1940, Dr. Emerson was professor of preventive medicine at Cornell University and professor of public health at Columbia University.

Dr. Emerson bought the Southold property in 1905 in order to remove his family from the city in the summertime, when epidemics of infantile paralysis were common. Ruth and her siblings, Ethel, Robert, Jack and Ralph, all of whom predeceased her, spent their summers at Bayside Farm, as did their children in later years. Mrs. Cooke and her sister, Ethel Wortis, owned homes on the property.

In 1934, Ruth married British journalist Alistair Cooke, who became a naturalized citizen in 1941. A son, John Byrne Cooke, was born in 1940. The couple divorced in 1946.

The Emerson family sold Bayside Farm in 1993. Mrs. Cooke retired the same year and moved to Crosslands, a Quaker retirement community in Kennett Square, Pa., where she lived until her death. In addition to her son, she leaves seven nieces and nephews and their children.

This is a paid notice.