Townsend Harris is a young school with an honored past. In 1848 the New York Free Academy, our first municipal institution of free higher education, was established by the Board of Education due largely to the effort of Townsend Harris who was, at the time, the president of the Board. The Free Academy later became the City College of New York. The "introductory year" of the Free Academy grew into Townsend Harris High School which flourished until 1942 when it was closed by Mayor LaGuardia because of budgetary constraints.
In 1984, Townsend Harris was reopened with a new location and student body but the same spirit and desires as before. Beginning with the first new class, a tradition of expressing this spirit is found in the pledge the Townsend Harris student makes during his or her first year, known as the Ephebic Oath. The present school has had, from its inception, this rich tradition supported by an active group of alumni. The alumni arrange internships for students, serve as advisors and mentors and raise funds for special projects.