Commonwealth was founded in 1957 by Charles E. Merrill, Jr., who served as headmaster until 1981. He chose to locate the School in Boston's Back Bay because, as he put it, “one goal of Commonwealth is to restore good secondary schooling to the city,” recognizing that Boston would be a “stimulating and realistic” setting for education.
He purchased two adjoining brownstones on the corner of Commonwealth Ave. and Dartmouth St., which had previously housed the Katherine Gibbs School, and set to renovating and furnishing them.
In the fall of 1958, Mr. Merrill welcomed the School's first students: 8th graders, as the school at first began a grade earlier than it does today.
"There stood the awesome Mr. Merrill, impresario of the new endeavor to create common wealth among the youth of Boston. His hand reached out to each student in a vigorous pump." —Daniel Taylor '63
The School has developed a remarkable culture, at once intense and supportive. Teacher's office doors are always open, every voice counts in discussion-based classes, and students take pride in the School's energy, humor, and cohesion because so much of it is their own.
Besides instilling discipline and independence of mind, Mr. Merrill hoped to encourage Commonwealth students to be “decent, socially responsible, generous people,” actively engaged in public affairs. Commonwealth graduates frequently choose careers that enable them to make a difference in the world: they practice medicine abroad and at home; teach in public schools, prep schools, community colleges, and major universities; work as lawyers, neighborhood organizers, computer consultants, and business leaders; and pursue careers in the arts, television and film, and politics.