Andover: A Secular School with Protestant Beginnings

The browned sheets of the Constitution of Phillips Academy, signed by Samuel Phillips Jr. and John Phillips in 1778, declare that “the first and principal object of this Institution is the promotion of true Piety and Virtue.”

With the words “piety” and “virtue,” Phillips emphasized goodness in accordance with the Bible. In Frederick S. Allis Jr.’s book, “Youth from Every Quarter: A Bicentennial History of Phillips Academy, Andover,” he writes that the longstanding goal of an Andover education is to teach students “the great end and real business of living.” This idea refers in part to Andover’s beginnings as an institution rooted in Protestant ideology and teaching.

“The object in educating youth ought to be to qualify young persons as ornaments, as blessings and as comforts in the vineyard of the Lord…. All [the instructor’s] views will be to inspire his pupils with that knowledge which will influence them to remember their Creator in the days of their youth,” wrote Phillips in a letter to Eliphalet Pearson, Andover’s first Head of School.

In the centuries following the constitution’s ratification, Andover slowly began to move away from its religious grounding. Now, Andover is not affiliated with a specific religion. In The Phillipian’s 2014 “State of the Academy” survey, 41.6 percent of participants identified as agnostic or atheist. Although religion still plays an integral role in campus life for many students, the school’s institutional emphasis on religion is far more relaxed.


Despite its calling for “youth from every quarter,” Andover, referred to as a “seminary” in its constitution, mandated that all instructors, Head of Schools and trustees be Protestant.

To prevent the school from becoming too sectarian, the constitution also mandated that the majority of trustees be laymen, according to “An Old New England School” by Claude Moore Fuess, Andover’s tenth Head of School.

For students in the late 1700s, school would begin every day with a psalm reading and end every night with a hymn and prayer. On Sundays, the school would travel to the Old South Church, a church in the town of Andover. On Mondays, students would then be quizzed on the sermons they had learned at church that week.


In 1808, the Andover Theological Seminary was formed to train clergy, occupying parts of what is now Flagstaff Cluster.

Although separate from Andover, Allis Jr. offers a description of the Theological Seminary in “Youth from Every Quarter.”

“It is not too much to say that the Seminary was the most important single influence on the school,” he writes.

Responsibility of the Seminary was placed upon the Trustees of Andover, which, writes Allis, “soon began to demand a disproportionate amount of their time and energy, the School and its problems being forced to take a back seat.”


Religious requirements began to ease off under Head of School Cecil Bancroft in the late 19th century. By 1876, students were permitted to attend Sunday church services in the town of Andover, as opposed to service at Andover’s chapel. In 1878, to encourage a more genuine interest in religion, Bancroft made Monday, Wednesday and Saturday religious services and meetings voluntary.

After the Theological Seminary moved to Newton, Mass., in 1908, the school hired Reverend Markham Stackpole as the school’s first minister. Once hired, Stackpole introduced a mandatory Bible course for Lowers.

“In the present generation, it has become increasingly evident that the schools must provide for the study of the Bible as literature. One does not need to argue in these days … [the] Bible is essential to culture,” wrote Stackpole.

From the beginning of his tenure and through the late 1950s, Head of School Dr. Alfred E. Stearns instituted brief chapel services six days a week for students.


In 1956, an article appeared inside _The Phillipian _entitled “Student Conference Decides Faith is Necessary for Intellectual Freedom.” The article argued against an article from Exeter’s newspaper, “The Exonian,” which claimed that mandated religious scholarship inhibits intellectual freedom.

“It would be silly to exclude religion in any interpretation of history, literature and art,” _The Phillipian_ article reads.

This article was followed by another in 1959 reporting on a Philomathean Society forum on the idea of enforced religious courses dissuading students from understanding the true meaning of religion.

“Weekly Poll Finds Students Against Mandatory Chapel,” blared the front page of the October 19, 1960 edition of _The Phillipian_.

“As a minister in this academic community, I am a bewildered and torn person.… The purpose of worship in its shortest definition is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ This is not happening at [Andover] or at other schools.… Scruff-of-the-neck respect for the sacred or for others is not respect at all,” wrote James R. Whyte, who became a minister at Andover in 1966, in a handout distributed for the faculty before their discussion regarding religious reformations on campus.

“[Andover] has always declared its concern for the education of the whole men, and thus it would seem that part of its educational program must address itself to questions concerning the realm of spirit,” disagreed another essay in the same paper.

After the removal of Wednesday’s required chapel on May 7, 1971, compulsory Sunday service was abolished.



In recognition of the growing diversity of campus, Head of School Theodore Sizer’s administration instituted a tripartite ministry, encompassing a Protestant chaplain, a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi, in 1976. The system lasted until 2007, when, under Head of School Barbara Chase, a committee formed again to review the topic of religion at Andover.

The committee met to review the present makeup of the chaplaincy and evaluate the larger necessity of support for the spiritual lives of all Andover students.

Reverend Ann Gardner was hired as the inaugural “Director of Spiritual and Religious Life at Phillips Academy” to meet these needs. The title was specifically chosen to include people that fell outside of the tripartite boat.

“[The committee] realized that not only are there people outside of the judeo-christian model, but there are also people that have no affiliation with any kind of religious tradition. [These people still] struggle with the meta questions. [The committee wanted to] create different kinds of vehicles by which people would be able to… grapple with these larger questions,” said Gardner in an interview with The Phillipian.

[Read more about the religious support groups at Andover.](