Our History

Our History

We take particular pride in sharing our school's long and significant history as a force for excellence in teaching and learning locally and nationally. While location and structure changed with the challenges of the times, the Bentley of today remains constant as an outstanding academic program taught in a diverse and respectful school culture. 


The History and Governance of Bentley School was officially established in Berkeley in 1920 as “The Margaret Bentley School for Girls” by Vassar graduate Miss Lucy Soule, and Mrs. Edith Ainsworth. The two women first began the educational institution in 1915 for children of American Episcopal missionaries in Manila, Philippines. The school was named after Lucy Soule’s grandmother, Margaret Bentley.


The school was purchased by Ms. Mary Harley Jenks in 1930, who later founded College Preparatory School (CPS) in the 1960s. In the 1930s the school moved to Benvenue Avenue in Berkeley. It was at this point that the name changed from “Margaret Bentley” to “Bentley School," which included grades Kindergarten through 12th grade, with approximately 60-70 children, five per class. The school was coed through 3rd grade, and all girls 4th-12th grade.


In 1940, Mrs. Esther Hudson Branch, who had been teaching at Bentley since 1934, purchased the school from Ms. Jenks. The two women were lifelong friends and remained so until the death of Mrs. Branch in 1980. Mrs. Branch, in partnership with members of her family, remained proprietor of the school until 1969 when the school was incorporated as a non-profit institution by the State of California. By the late 1940s, the high school grades had been eliminated and the school operated as a K-8 school.


The building on Benvenue Avenue was limited in size. On June 5, 1969 the decision was made by the first Board of Trustees to incorporate the school and raise the capital necessary to purchase the four-acre Stanley Hiller Estate in Oakland to allow for future expansion. The buildings were modified and the school opened on the new campus in the fall of 1970. The school expanded from under 80 to 150 students. Esther Branch retired as Principal in 1972 but remained as President of the Board of Trustees until her death in March of 1980. Helen Sale was Principal of the school from the time of Mrs. Branch’s retirement until her own retirement in December of 1978. Robert A. Munro became Headmaster in April of 1979, a position he held until 2000. During Mr. Munro's tenure the school flourished on its current site and plans were made to develop the Upper School. Dr. Timothy Burns joined Bentley as interim Head for two years, followed by Head of School Rick Fitzgerald's six year tenure.


A plan to double the size of the school was approved by the Board of Trustees in 1981. This plan called for the establishment of two classes at each of the K-8 grade levels by recruiting a second Kindergarten class in the fall of 1982 and each fall thereafter. As that first large class moved through the school, the enrollment reached 18 classes in the fall of 1990. 


On October 20, 1991, the tragedy of the Oakland Hills Firestorm burned five of the nine buildings of the Hiller campus to the ground. The only building that survived the conflagration relatively undamaged was the main building, the original home of Stanley Hiller. Thanks to the generosity of Presentation High School, Bentley was able to temporarily operate in rented space, and the school reopened only five months later, on March 31, 1992, a testament to the dedication and resilience of the entire Bentley community. In honor of the restoration of the Oakland campus, the School would later adopt the Phoenix as its mascot, evoking the mythological creature that resurrected from ashes.


Building on Bentley’s well-established reputation and proven track record of excellence, the Board of Directors purchased the Upper School campus in Lafayette in 1998 and restored Bentley to its former K-12 legacy. In June 2001, Bentley School graduated its first senior class since the 1930s, and the first 4-year class in 2002, boasting an impressive college placement record which continues today.

Bentley Today

Bentley has continued to promote excellence in teaching and learning in an inclusive environment, promoting the growth of each individual, Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Restoring Bentley's Archives

The Bentley Advancement Office is in the process of rebuilding the school's collection of photos, yearbooks and Bentley memorabilia, some of which was lost in the 1991 fire or in various transitions over the years. The current collection contains yearbooks from 1979 until today. All prior years still need to be located to make the collection complete. Please email the Communications staff in the Advancement Office if you might consider sharing yearbooks or other memorabilia for the archives. Thank you for your consideration and generosity.

K - 8 Campus

1 Hiller Drive
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 843-2512

9 - 12 Campus

1000 Upper Happy Valley Rd.
Lafayette, CA 94549
(925) 283-2101