Archives and Brace Center Launch Abbot Academy Oral History Project

On Saturday, students taking part in the project underwent training for interviewing Abbot alumnae.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the Brace Center for Gender Studies has partnered with the Phillips Academy Archives to launch an Abbot Academy oral history project. For the project, Andover students will interview Abbot alumnae about their experiences.

Students were trained in interviewing last Saturday, January 25 and later paired with Abbot alumnae. Once they complete the interview recordings, Paige Roberts, Director of Archives and Special Collections, will digitize the oral histories and make them available through the archives.

Flavia Vidal, Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies, said, “Andover students in the far future can have access to the lives of these women right in a campus that doesn’t even exist as it used to. I think it’s incredible. It’s an incredible piece of historical document.”

She continued, “Our idea is that there is this incredible amount of experience, wisdom, history all in the lives of these incredible Abbot alumnae…This is a lived experience and a history that we definitely want to capture. We want to know what being at Abbot meant for these women…How can their experience inform the experience of our current students, and the legacy of female power and female education of a female oriented community?”

The last oral history project with Abbot Academy took place in 2016.

According to Emiliano Caceres ’22, Brace Board Member, the group discussed the difference between objective and personal truth during the oral history training on Saturday. Caceres is excited to learn more about a history that isn’t spoken about often at Andover.

“I’m very excited because I think there is a sense of connection that those interviews create, not just with the person you’re interviewing but also with the history of our school as a whole that I’m very excited to explore. I, for one, hope that I learn more and appreciate more of Abbot history because I feel like it is a side of history that we really don’t talk about here,” said Caceres.

Vidal emphasized that although current Andover students and Abbot alumnae come from two different time periods and schools, they often share similar experiences as teenagers. There are connections in the modern Andover and Abbot experience, according to Vidal.

“You can talk to these people from 50 years ago, and you’re going to discover as a lot of the students discovered on Saturday that you share so many interests that you go through so many emotions, everybody getting disappointed about what they perceive as a low grade is a similar experience,” said Vidal.

For Vidal, the oral history project signifies the legacy of female-centered power and investment that should be shared with the current Andover community.

“Abbot was a school that believed in girls, that believed in the power of educating women, that believed in female leadership, and did a wonderful job raising these girls to be fantastic human beings and citizens and go out into the world that was not welcoming to them, like our world still is not either. So there’s a wonderful lesson there of learning from their accomplishments and everything that they endured and the successes of their life stories and all of that,” said Vidal.

Chenault Ellis ’22 joined the project to participate in a large community effort.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to participate in such a big project before, and I thought that was pretty cool. I also wanted to get more involved in stuff outside of classes. I thought about interviewing people and learning about other people’s experience being really interesting. I think I’ll have a better understanding of what Andover and its sister school was like in the past, and I think I’ll also develop interpersonal and interview skills,” said Ellis.

Vidal believes that there is a possibility that Andover will continue this project with female Andover alumnae.

“We are not ready to move forward yet with this idea, but there’s a possibility once we finish the Abbot project, we might do oral histories with women who went to Andover right so since of course since 1973, there have been many female graduates of the school who did not go to Abbot but who again represents this history of women and lived experience at [Andover],” said Vidal.