Digging Through the Archives, A Curator of Andover’s History

On the dusty fifth floor of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, Ruth Quattlebaum makes a graceful beeline for the original Phillips Academy Constitution, its location fixed in her memory. Gingerly unwrapping its layers of protection, Quattlebaum picks out the bound Constitution and recites the seminal words that Lieutenant Governor Samuel Phillips wrote in 1778. Quattlebaum digs out other items of Andover’s past: leather fire buckets used by the Fire Brigade Club, unopened time capsules dated to 1950 and dug up from beneath campus soil, and old kerosene lanterns lit on Andover-Exeter weekends during the early- to mid-1900’s. Here in the stacks, among beat-up boxes of black-and-white Senior photographs and scrapbooks of bygone Andover life, Quattlebaum works. Unbeknownst to many current students at Phillips Academy, she is the school’s archivist, in addition to her teaching position as Instructor in Art History. Born in New York almost 65 years ago, Quattlebaum was raised among historians. Her father was a history professor at Syracuse University and later became a historian for the state of New York. Her father’s profession guided young Quattlebaum toward her interest in history. Quattlebaum majored in history at Wheaton College and attended Columbia University for graduate school. After marrying her husband, Instructor in History Edwin Quattlebaum, the couple moved to Berkeley, California in the 1960’s. While in Berkeley from 1966 to 1973, Quattlebaum was surrounded by a whirlwind of political activism. She described the political scene as “a real hotbed” for protests and marches. “Berkeley was seething with radical activity, like the Black Panthers,” Quattlebaum said. “The campus was tear-gassed almost every day; there were peace marches; there were drugs. It was an endless litany of protests. Berkeley was right at the forefront of all of that, so you either participated or you withered on the vine…Times were very heady, and living right at the center of it in Berkeley, you were kind of swept up in it, whether you wanted to be or not.” Quattlebaum said, “The big protest came when we invaded Cambodia [during the Vietnam War]. There was a huge eruption in Berkeley. During the marches, we saw people actually get shot… That, of course, generates another protest… It was really a very exciting time, to be young and to be able to participate in that.” Ruth and Edwin Quattlebaum left Berkeley and arrived at Andover in 1973, the same year as the unification of Abbot and Phillips Academy. When the two first arrived, Quattlebaum was asked by the Head of the History Department to be a research assistant for a book the department was writing on the history of Phillips Academy, entitled Youth from Every Quarter. Thus began Quattlebaum’s interest in the school archives. For her research, she spent a few years reading old issues of The Phillipian, school bulletins and documents to provide information to the History Department for the book. When the previous archivist retired in the early 1980’s, the school offered Quattlebaum the position, which she accepted. “I am not a trained archivist, but I do know a lot about the collection here through first-hand experience,” said Quattlebaum. “The process of research is something that I actually like doing. It’s something very satisfying. Keeping the school’s history just enriches for me, personally, the experience of being here.” The archives, Quattlebaum explained, are divided into two functions. One function is for record management, such as keeping students’ records, records from the Comptroller’s Office and medical records from Isham Health Center. The other function is to maintain the “institutional memory” of Phillips Academy. The archives own an eclectic collection of items from the school’s history, including locks of hair from the girls’ soccer team in the 1990’s when the players decided to cut their hair for a game. A leftover cigar butt from the mouth of Calvin Coolidge was also saved after he spoke at the 150th anniversary of the school in 1928. Quattlebaum said, “I always say that Andover is like a soap opera: the players always change, but the plot line is always the same… I think what an archive can do as an institution’s memory is remind the current faculty that changes that seem new today were actually tried years ago. We can go back and see that things aren’t all that different.” Everyday, Quattlebaum weaves through campus on an orange bicycle, purchased for her by Dr. Quattlebaum in 1971 at Berkeley, and collects random items that might help illustrate Andover’s history for future generations. This continuous consciousness of maintaining the school’s institutional memory is what defines Quattlebaum’s field of work at Andover. Dr. Edwin Quattlebaum said, “Ruth has an amazing memory for details, which is perfect for archiving… She was born in the manner of historical thinking, and all these things make her an ideal archivist.”