In Depth

The Changing Presidency

The role of student body president has increased in publicity and importance since it briefly ceased to exist during the 1970’s. Ruth Quattlebaum, Phillips Academy Archivist, said that when student government was first created after World War II there was no student body president, but instead a “senior class officer.” The role “has changed from more of an internal to more of a combination of internal and external,” she said. Abbot also had “a student government with elected representatives, but not a student body president, per se.” For a time, the position became a ceremonial figurehead. Jonathan Stableford ’63, Chair of the English Department, said, “I remember there was nothing for them to do.” Stableford said that there was no extravagant campaign process and the role was not publicized as it is today. Quattlebaum said, “It’s been within recent memory that the students running for school president have really ramped up their campaigns.” Quattlebaum said that before the campaigns gained importance, the elections were even more so a “popularity contest.” Quattlebaum said, “There was a hiatus in the 70’s [1974-1978], those radical times, because there was not a student council… There was so much anti-establishment sentiment, no prom … all the traditional institutions were considered not viable, not worth anybody’s time.” Toward the end of the 70’s, there was a shift “from the sense that student leaders were superfluous to a sense that student leaders were necessary, that we should bring back that sort of responsibility for students,” Quattlebaum said.