Abbot Academy Scrapbooks Share Stories of the Past

The scrapbook of Marion Brown, Abbot Academy Class of 1911, is only one of many scrapbooks in the archives collection.

The scrapbook of Marion Brown, Abbot Academy Class of 1911, is only one of many scrapbooks in the archives collection.

The scrapbook of Marion Brown, Abbot Academy Class of 1911, is covered with a flurry of napkins, cigars, flowers, and buttons. Yellowed letters falling out of the pages and other mementoes encapsulate her experience at Abbot Academy. Beginning her scrapbook with a timetable entitled “Abbot Prison,” Brown detailed her courses, which included Bible, Elocution, Greek, and Studio Art.

There are currently 33 scrapbooks like Brown’s in the Andover Archives, dating from 1857 to 1959, according to the Archives’ website. Each scrapbook paints an individual portrait of life at Abbot Academy, according to Paige Roberts, Director of Archives and Special Collections.

“I think what I like about the scrapbooks and [why] I think most people find them so fun to work with is because they really reflect the personality of the person that created them. So some can be very chaotic and disorganized, and other ones are almost obsessively orderly in the way that the stuff is put into the scrapbook,” said Roberts.

Along with Emma Frey, Instructor in History and Social Science, Roberts has guided students through the scrapbooks since 2013. Roberts noted how each scrapbook could either reflect or contrast contemporary life at Andover.

“I think one particular benefit for students nowadays to look at the scrapbooks is to get a sense of continuity and change, the extent to which student experience on campus is similar, and the ways in which it is very different… And I think… to see yourself in that long line of 240 years of this institution is pretty extraordinary,” said Roberts.

Some of the similarities that Roberts emphasized were reflected in Brown’s relationship with her parents. In one letter, Brown’s father referenced how she continually asked for money and warned her to stay away from Andover boys. Brown’s father also noted how he planned to spend more time with her when she returned home.

“When-ever I receive a letter from you I know what it means [money]… I will make it a point to be home the next time you are to enjoy your delightful society and incidentally to keep the boys away,” wrote Brown’s father.

Roberts feels that one of the most historically rich aspects of the scrapbooks are the glimpses into social life at Abbot. In particular, when Abbot girls went to a dance or a theater performance with Andover boys, a “dance card” matched Abbot and Andover students for the duration of the night or for a specific dance.

“We’re talking about these very formal dance cards. But on the other hand, they’re still dances.

There are still these incredibly sort of complicated relationships around interacting with people in terms of romantic relationships and dances and things like that. So we may not have dance cards anymore, but in some ways, it still [might] feel the same to the [students] on campus,” said Roberts.

The scrapbooks also provide a source for historical scholars to determine whether important historical movements or events were discussed at Abbot, according to Roberts.

Roberts said, “To a certain extent, [the scrapbooks] may tell you something about what’s happening in the larger world at the time. Let’s [take] World War I [for example], if a scrapbook… mentioned little to nothing about the war, then it makes you wonder, what is student knowledge or interest in what’s happening in the war?”

According to Roberts, the scrapbooks offer a unique opportunity to explore student life from the past. Roberts emphasized the individual richness of each scrapbook.

Roberts said, “I feel like they really capture student life in a way that I don’t think any other resource that we have really gives you a sense as to what it’s like to be a student on campus in 1909 or 2020 or whatever because most of what we have are official administrative records, and that doesn’t really give you a sense. Even a photograph here and there doesn’t really capture [student life] whereas [the scrapbooks provide] almost sort of a window or a picture into this person’s life on campus during one or four years.”