Gordon ’52, Last Abbot Principal, Returns to Andover in Honor of Coed@40

In the spring of 1968, Abbot Academy was searching for its 18th and final headmaster. Out of 61 applicants, Don Gordon ’52 stood out as an Andover alumnus with high hopes for the school’s future. Gordon, the final Principal of Abbot Academy before the Phillips-Abbot Merger of 1973, visited campus last week to recount his experience at Abbot Academy before and during the merger with Andover. During his first two years at Abbot, Gordon said he faced much opposition as principal, partly due to his sex and partly due to his role in the merger of Abbot Academy and Andover. “I was an instrument of PA, but at the same time I had to be responsible for the health and welfare of Abbot Academy. In a weird sense, I was being asked to ready the bride for a wedding that the bride might not want,” Gordon said. Leading up to the merger, Gordon, with Philip Allen ’29, the Abbot board chairman who also supported coeducation, began coordinating coeducational classes, with Abbot girls taking classes on Phillips’ campus, and vice versa. “I loved working [at Abbot] because I knew I had the opportunity, not just to defend women, but to help educate them. That is much more fun than I can express,” Gordon said. “I believed in the absolute irreducible inequality in every respect of the sexes and I privately despised many of my colleagues [at Andover] in those days because so many of them were male chauvinists and I simply could not abide that,” Gordon said. As one of only two male faculty members at Abbot, Gordon worked to create a gender-balanced faculty. “I knew I had to make some administrative changes, and that meant letting some faculty go while being disliked by some,” he continued. Gordon recognized the challenges that faced his female students. “You are going to have to be civilized and brave. [The world] is full of dangers. It is outrageously beautiful, but the man-made world, as well as the jungle, is a pretty rough place and you have to be confident, strong and opinionated,” said Gordon to the student body during his first speech as Principal of Abbot. As principal, Gordon also established a student-led “town meeting” system for school policy changes, a move considered progressive at the time. The town meetings abolished Abbot’s dress code, allowed students to skip Sunday church and even considered eliminating grades at the school, according to “A Singular School’ by Susan Lloyd. “Several Seniors came to my office within a week, and said, begged me to do something about the tie-shoes rule. They had to wear tie shoes 24/7 and I was horrified. And I didn’t want to behave like a despotic popentate, not at all, it’s not my style, but I had to do something about these things,” said Gordon. Rachel Murree contributed reporting.