“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”*

*Ralph Waldo Emerson

From the website of the EAGLE ACADEMY FOR YOUNG MEN OF NEWARK (New Jersey):


The house system is a traditional feature of schools in the English-speaking world, particularly in Commonwealth countries, originating in England. The school is divided into subunits called ‘houses’ and each student is allocated to one house at the moment of enrollment. Houses may compete with one another at sports and maybe in other ways, thus providing a focus for group loyalty.

Different schools will have different numbers of houses: some might have more than 10 houses (with as few as 50 students in each house) or as few as four or fewer (with as many as 200 students in each). In some cases, individual houses can be even larger, as in McCracken County High School in the U.S. state of Kentucky, whose five houses have nearly 400 students each. Facilities, such as pastoral care, may be provided on a house basis to a greater or lesser extent depending on the type of school. Historically, the house system was associated with established public schools in England, especially full boarding schools, where a ‘house’ referred to a boarding house at the school. In modern times, in both day and boarding schools, the word ‘house’ may refer only to a grouping of pupils, rather than to a particular building.

Houses may be named after saints, famous historical alumni or notable regional topics (e.g. in international schools, houses are sometimes named in honor of local celebrities). Other more arbitrary names—animal names or colors, for example—are also often used. Houses are also often referred to by the original name of the building or by the name or initials of the teacher in charge of the house (housemistress or housemaster). Each house will usually also be identified by its own symbol, logo, or colors.

At co-educational boarding schools, there may be separate houses for boys and girls, as at the Lawrenceville School, whose house system is itself based on that of Rugby School. Students may also be grouped by year groups or status as boarders or day students. At Winchester College and Eton College, there is a separate house for foundation scholars. Where the school has boarders and day pupils, they will often be allocated to separate houses. There have also been cases, for example at Cheltenham College, of pupils being allocated to different houses according to their religion. At traditional full boarding schools such as Radley College and Harrow School, students are grouped by boarding house.


The first boarding school story was Sarah Fielding’s The Governess: or Little Female Academy, published in 1749. They did not become popular until 1857, with Tom Hughes’ novel Tom Brown’s School Days. The house system has since featured prominently in thousands of school stories books, with many authors writing a whole series of books such as Chalet School and Mallory Towers which have been published around the world and translated into several languages. The Harry Potter books and films (re)popularized this genre, and resulted in unprecedented awareness of British boarding schools (and their house system) in countries where they were previously unknown.”

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