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In 1909, Edith Lesley began a school to train teachers. Her progressive ideas paved the way for Lesley University, and her legacy inspires our mission today.

Our Mission

Lesley University engages students in transformative education through active learning, scholarly research, diverse forms of artistic expression, and the integration of rigorous academics with practical, professional experience, leading to meaningful careers and continuing lifelong learning. Lesley prepares socially responsible graduates with the knowledge, skills, understanding, and ethical judgment to be catalysts shaping a more just, humane, and sustainable world.

  • Inquiry

    Lesley University is devoted to academic excellence through active teaching, engaged learning, and individual student development. We design and deliver innovative, interdisciplinary academic programs that value inspired teachers, curious learners, relevant scholarship, and real-life application.

  • Diversity

    Our community respects, values, and benefits from the individual, demographic, and cultural differences of our students, faculty, and staff. As an academic community, our creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving approaches are shaped by this diversity. Through their varied learning experiences, Lesley students develop the tools to effectively interact with diverse populations and strive for social justice and equity.

  • Community

    Learning is an individual and collective endeavor that involves students, educators, families, and communities. We believe in the power of collaboration and its impact on personal and social development.

  • Citizenship

    Higher educational institutions have a responsibility to prepare their graduates to participate in the cultural, political, and economic life of their community, nation, and world. This democratic ideal is reflected in Lesley’s academic environment that encourages scholarship, freedom of expression, and the open exchange of ideas.

"I plan for us to be different; to consider the individual of basic importance; to inculcate the ideal of gracious living; and to foster the traditions of American democracy."
Edith Lesley Wolfard, Founder

Our History

The school was founded in 1909 by Edith Lesley (1872-1953), the eldest daughter of a working class family from Maine. After working as a kindergarten teacher and taking classes at Radcliffe College, she opened her own school in 1909. Her goal: to prepare teachers for the growing kindergarten movement. The first classes were held in her family’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Valuing the Individual

From the start, Edith Lesley emphasized the value of the individual. She believed that an education should include not only intellectual development but also social and spiritual growth. She felt strongly that education was the bedrock of democracy.

Among her most important principles was the integration of theory and practice. The young women of the Lesley School applied what they were learning in local schools, gaining classroom experience in these “laboratories for learning.”

Expanding Academic Offerings

The school flourished. In 1912, Edith Lesley married Harvard-educated engineer Merl Wolfard, and they added buildings for classroom and dormitory space. New courses were offered. By the mid 20th century, the Lesley School had grown beyond its roots. It became Lesley College in 1944, and quickly became known for excellence in teacher training. 

A graduate school was added in the 1950s and within 10 years male students were enrolled in graduate education programs. (The undergraduate college remained a single-sex institution until 2005.) The 1980s and ’90s saw academic offerings expanded to include the social sciences, human services, and the fine arts. In 2000, Lesley College became Lesley University. The Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences was established.

Around the time that Edith Lesley opened her school, Boston artist Roy Atherton Davidson founded the School of Practical Arts in 1912. Davidson sought an alternative to the typical art training of his day. His school grew into the Art Institute of Boston, and became part of Lesley in 1998. It was renamed the Lesley University College of Art and Design in 2013.

Perissem ni Perstitissem.
I Had Perished Had I Not Persisted.
The Lesley Motto

A Forward-Thinking Approach

Edith Lesley’s innovative ideas continue to guide the university she founded. Today, Lesley University is committed to a distinctly human-centered mission: to empower individuals to create positive change in the world. The lives and careers of more than 90,000 Lesley alumni worldwide are a testimony to her enduring legacy.