Biographical / Historical
James Cameron Mackenzie was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1852. At the age of six, he emigrated with his family, settling in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania. His was a family of modest means, and he received almost no formal education, save for a single term of public school. As a teenager, Mackenzie began working as a clerk in a bookshop, and taught himself to read and write using the books available to him there. At age 18, he entered Phillips Exeter Academy, and in spite of his simple background and lack of formal education, distinguished himself both in scholarship and in the esteem of his peers. Following his graduation from Exeter in 1873, Mackenzie studied at Lafayette College, and worked as the principle and the director of the Wilkes-Barre Institute, a school for girls.
In 1880 he married Ella Smith of Wilkes-Barre, the daughter of General R.C. Smith. Mrs. Mackenzie would be fondly recognized by Lawrenceville students as calm and gracious person, providing a warm and serene presence in the midst of the male-dominated Lawrenceville landscape. Along with his wife, Mackenzie came to Lawrenceville to begin his work in the fall of 1883.
Dr. Mackenzie entered Lawrenceville just after the incorporation of the John Cleve Green foundation, the leading force behind great changes at Lawrenceville. With revenue from the estate of former student John Cleve Green, the school was growing both physically and philosophically. New buildings were erected, the student body expanded, and the curriculum was revolutionized. The “New School” was formed on the model of the British Boarding schools, featuring grade levels or “forms” and distinct individual dormitories or Houses. Notable, Mackenzie spearheaded efforts to create the Upper House (formerly known as Caleb Smith Hall), which has remained a Lawrenceville icon. Mackenzie believed that boys in their final year would benefit from a period of minimally-supervised independence, during which they could adapt to the freedom that college would allow them. This effort illustrates Mackenzie’s inherent trust in the good nature and trustworthiness of his students, who in turn saw him as a trusted advisor and mentor. Athletics and other extracurricular activities also flourished under Mackenzie’s leadership, and it was during this period that the school developed a reputation for producing some of the best collegiate athletes in the country. The Lawrenceville name was also becoming associated with students who were not simply well-versed in academic subjects, but endowed with confidence and strength of character.
In 1899, Mackenzie resigned from Lawrenceville and accepted the position of director at the Tome Institute in Maryland. The school had recently been incorporated, and Mackenzie’s energy and experience were invaluable in its organization and planning. In 1901, Mackenzie left the Tome Institute to found his own school at Dobbs Ferry, NY. The school would later move to Monroe, NY, where Mackenzie remained as director until his retirement in 1926. He died in 1931, and is buried in Lawrenceville, near campus.