Miss Helen Temple Cooke, the Headmistress of the Dana Hall School, founded Tenacre in 1910. Looking for a more responsible school experience for the 8th and 9th grade boarders, Miss Cooke established Tenacre as the lower boarding division of Dana Hall. Mabel Wolcott Brown was named Tenacre's first Headmistress, a position she held until 1930.
The lower elementary grades were added to Tenacre during the late teens and early 20's. During these early years, traditions such as the Christmas play and the spring musical were begun. Teas, lectures, recitals, readings and sleigh rides were regular campus events. The school colors at this time were red and gray. The curriculum stressed basic subjects such as English, history, French, math, Bible and Latin.
In 1930, Tenacre's first Headmistress, Mabel Wolcott Brown, retired. Two other able women assumed leadership of the school: Miss Annie Edith Lees (Academic Assistant until 1939) and Mrs. Helen Stockton Wells (Principal from 1930 until 1942). Today's administration and classroom building, Leesway, is named for Miss Lees. Wells Playhouse was named in honor of Mrs. Wells. By 1934, Tenacre had many clubs, including the Art Club, HAH (promoting good citizenship), Music Club, Student Council, French Club and Riding Club. By 1935, there were nine grades, first grade through ninth grade, and Tenacre was still all girls.
The 1940's were a time of change. In 1941 two major changes were made; the inclusion of boys and the addition of a pre-k and kindergarten. Marjorie Davison Sharp became Principal in 1942, a position she held for seven years. By 1943, the school occupied seven buildings, had a faculty and staff of 22, and an enrollment of 60 boarders and 100 day students. Boys were admitted, but only through grade three. Marguerite Asher was Headmistress from 1949 to 1952.
The 50's brought many changes to campus. In 1952, Dana Hall reorganized, creating Dana Junior for girls in grades 7–9 and Tenacre for boy and girl day students from pre-kindergarten to grade 6. Miss Phyllis Scoboria became Tenacre's Headmistress, a position she would hold for two decades. Miss Scoboria initiated the time-honored tradition of Orchard Day as a way to celebrate the sixth grade graduates. During this time, Tenacre chose its now familiar green and white colors. The traditional Christmas play, "The Gift of Love," was replaced with "A Little Child."
The 60's was a decade of continued growth and increased parental involvement at Tenacre. Although still part of Dana Hall, Tenacre began the road to independence with the establishment of its own board of trustees. A gymnasium was built in 1964 (replaced in 2000 with a new gym). Academics continued to stress basic subjects and skills. Special assemblies and programs were presented frequently.
In 1972, Tenacre separated from Dana Hall and was chartered as an independent day school. Miss Scoboria retired in June of 1972 after 20 years as Headmistress. Nelson Ohmart served as Head of School for three years, followed by Dennis Grubbs. Under Denny Grubbs's leadership, Tenacre began to strengthen and expand its physical plant. The art and music buildings were built in 1978. The science building was added in 1979. Swimming pools for the summer camp were built in 1978 and 1982 (replaced in 2018), along with a playground and second athletic field. Tenacre's first Fathers' Day was held in 1973 and Grandparents' Day was initiated in 1975.
Throughout the 1980's, Tenacre continued to expand with a resource center and a computer center. The curriculum continued to stress basic subjects, with an emphasis on reading and math skills. In 1984, Paul Schmidt, sixth grade teacher and Assistant Head of School, succeeded Denny Grubbs. Paul served as Head of School from 1984-1988, followed by Richard Perry, Tenacre's 10th Head of School, in July 1988. Tenacre's Big Friend/Little Friend program debuted in the 80's and has become a favorite tradition of current and former students.
In 1991, a capital campaign raised funds for endowment and renovation of the Schoolhouse, the building that houses pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade. In that same year, the first Mother's Day was held followed by the first spring fair, Orchardfest. In 1993, the Christmas play became a tradition of the past. To reflect the growing diversity of Tenacre students, a new and more inclusive December Celebration was initiated encompassing the holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Susan Costello Bryant '60 and Gwyn Loud were named Acting Heads of School for the 1994-95 school year.
In July 1995, Chris Elliot became Head of School. Under Chris's leadership, student council was re-established and the tradition of year-long themes was adopted. The theme for 2021-2022 is Friendship. The 90's debuted such traditions as the two-mile Apple Pie Run, and the introduction of a school mascot, the Tenacre Tiger. The new millennium ushered in big changes for Tenacre. Following a capital campaign, the school opened its doors in September 2000 to a new gymnasium, library, multi-media center, sixth grade classroom, courtyard and administrative offices.
Tenacre celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010. A year-long celebration, from January through December 2010, included a school-wide trivia contest, special pages on the website to commemorate the 100th anniversary, a special 100th assembly, a "birthday party" in December, and the production of a beautiful coffee table book detailing the history of Tenacre.
Tenacre’s At The Forefront campaign, which raised $9 million, helped update and expand the campus facilities. In October 2016, Tenacre started construction for multiple new and improved spaces on campus. Construction was completed in August 2017, in time for students to use the new facilities when school started in September. New facilities from this campaign included the Christian B. Elliot Community Center, Linda B. Nitschelm Dining Room, Casey Hatheway Dunne '11 Stage, a state-of-the-art science center with dedicated classrooms for lower and upper grades, expanded kindergarten space, and additional teaching space. The Schoolhouse was also connected to the main school building.
Will Crissman became Head of School in July 2018, when Chris Elliot retired after 23 years.
Today, Tenacre enrolls 197 students and has 48 staff members.