The History of Andover’s First Center for Gender Studies

Today, the Brace Center for Gender Studies hosts presentations, including those prepared by Brace Scholars.

In 1996, Andover created the Brace Center for Gender Studies, a space for all members of the Andover community, both students and faculty alike, to engage in stimulating conversation about social issues regarding gender. 

William Russell, an educator and parent of an Andover alum, addressed the Abbot Academy in 1843 on the issues regarding women’s education. Predating the Andover/Abbot Academy by over 100 years, Russell’s words offer insight into the very roots of important topics and organizations regarding gender equality at Andover. 

“History, in the darker periods of antiquity, and in the era of feudal barbarism, is the record, exclusively, of man… An academy for female pupils, ought, indeed, to embrace, virtually, a scope of mental discipline and acquirement, equivalent to that enjoyed by youth of the other sex, not only at the preparatory academy; but at college,” said Russell.

13 years after the merging of Andover and Abbot Academy and 143 years after Russell’s speech, female students and faculty came together in 1986 to form The Women’s Forum, an organization bringing discussions on gender issues, specifically women’s issues, to Andover’s campus. The initial planning committee for The Women’s Forum wrote a document detailing the organization’s goals. In their “Statement of Purpose,” the group stressed the importance of urging both men and women to discuss current events and build connections in the Andover community.

“The Women’s Forum’s purpose is to support and encourage the discussion of women’s issues and gender issues on campus. Most of all we hope that we can build a strong sense of shared purpose and mutual support within the community of women at [Andover], and we hope we can increase the entire community’s awareness of the importance of gender and women’s issues,” wrote the Women’s Forum planning group .

In November 1995, Kathleen M. Dalton, previously an Instructor of History and Social Science, requested start-up funds from the Abbot Academy Association to fund the Brace Center for Gender Studies. With preexisting involvement in the Women’s Forum, she hoped to build upon the foundation the forum formerly established. 

“One of the most obvious needs of the current [Andover] community is for the Center to serve as a source of information and support for faculty and students on campus who are interested in learning more about gender, women’s history, and the dual heritage of Abbot Academy and [Andover],” wrote Dalton in her proposal.

With the work of Dalton and a team of community members, the Brace Center at Andover opened its doors to the Andover community. Dr. Moore, a previous Director of Organization, said the Brace Center aims “to provide resources to enhance and strengthen [Andover] as a coeducational and multicultural institution by providing a place to examine complex issues relating to gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity.”

Today, over 15 years later, the Brace Center continues to address these issues. Sakina Cotton ’24, who is a member of the Brace Center Advisory Board, emphasized the board’s efforts to make the center a welcoming and safe place for discussing and challenging social constructs that have become deeply ingrained in us. 

“Overall, it’s a very welcoming and challenging space. We want to make others feel welcomed and make others learn more. . . . I definitely think it’s influenced a lot of my thinking––how we think about gender, how we think about sexuality––it’s definitely expanded my own thinking about how do we challenge or break social constructs,” said Cotton. 

Despite its distant location from Andover’s central campus, many students are still drawn to the Brace Center as a potential safe space or established community in the deep Abbot cluster. Max Berkenblit ’24, who is also part of the Brace Center Advisory Board, hoped that the center could continue to be a space and resource available for everyone.

“I really hope that the Brace Center serves as a resource for a lot of people. . . . I think it is a really important educational hub as well as just a gathering space for students to either during study hours or during events, to hang out, talk to each other in a comfortable space and meet other people with similar interests,” said Berkenblit.

Palmer Simpson ’23, another member of the board, discussed his own experience and how the Brace Center impacted his learning. Because of the Brace Center, Simpson was able to quickly become educated on important topics on gender studies. He also noted the importance of the Brace Center to the Andover community, as well as how its influence spreads beyond the school’s lines. 

“One of the things that I have started to find more important is [an] inclusive community. It’s also made me really think about being intentional with my actions and being more accepting and open to everyone. I think the fact that Andover has a place like Brace, shows that while Andover is not perfect, there’s progress being made,” said Simpson.