September 1, 2023 marked the 50th anniversary of the merging of Abbot Academy and Andover. In celebration, Andover has launched “Abbot & Andover at 50: Then, Now, Next,”, a yearlong program which includes speaker and alumni events, banner displays, and a special exhibition from the Andover Archives.
Established in 1828, Abbot was an all-girls’ school that merged with Andover into a single co-educational institution in 1973. According to Jane Demers AA (Abbot Alumni) ’73, a member of the last graduating class of Abbot, the merger was a mutually beneficial arrangement. Abbot had been experiencing financial struggles at the time of the merger. Meanwhile, single-sex schools were becoming less popular, resulting in students preferring co-ed institutions as opposed to Andover.
Even before the merger, Abbot and Andover shared a long history of interchange. Students were allowed to cross-register for courses, though Abbot students did not always feel welcome at Andover. Demers, who took several courses at Andover, described the hostility Andover faculty members often exhibited towards female students.
“We had the opportunity to take classes at Andover, although our teachers felt that Abbot girls couldn’t handle math and sciences. I think there had to be special dispensations for girls and my understanding is that the Phillips Academy powers would only let their boys take certain classes at Abbot, because they felt like the math and sciences weren’t rigorous enough… There was a lot of animosity on the part of Phillips Academy towards Abbot women, thinking it was a lesser school, [that] we weren’t intellectually capable of doing the work up there,” said Demers.
However, not all Abbot students had solely negative experiences at Andover. Lissy Abraham ’74, who began her education at Abbot and graduated from Andover, expressed sadness towards Abbot’s closure but appreciated her time at Andover overall.
“It was sad that the Abbot Academy wasn’t going to exist anymore, because [it] was a really special place… It really took care of me in a way that I don’t think [Andover] took care of its students at that time, so it felt much more like home to me. I had classes with the boys all along, starting in tenth grade, so it was also an exciting opportunity… I feel like I was very lucky in that I had teachers at Andover who [were] respectful and didn’t treat me differently,” said Abraham.
Though some alumnae fear that Andover has entirely forgotten Abbot, Maria McCabe AA ’73 recognizes recent efforts to keep Abbot alive. She pointed to the Abbot Academy Fund as a major component of Abbot’s legacy, which funded various projects including the Brace Center for Gender Studies and the Abbot Academy Dance Suite.
“I think that a lot of people who came back for our reunion [agree] that Abbot is very much alive on campus. There are so many things that have really made a difference for Andover because of Abbot, including probably most predominantly the Abbot Academy Fund. It was an incredible gift that Abbot gave to Andover and it’s our legacy. We’ve been able to fund some really amazing projects and it’s grown and grown. It’s really kept the spirit of Non sibi, and also of Abbot, alive,” said McCabe.
In addition to the Abbot Academy Fund and related projects, Abbot is remembered through other aspects of Andover, including certain traditions, alumni events, the Abbot campus itself, and the Abbot Archives. Demers highlighted the Archives’ contribution in carrying Abbot’s legacy forward.
“A lot of Abbot [students] felt it was a wholesale takeover, [not] a merger. There was no recognition for anything it had done, how progressive it was compared to Andover… Our class decided we needed to do something about it and that’s where the Abbot Archives were born. One of our classmates basically single-handedly created those archives, and Paige Roberts, [Director of Archives and Special Collections], really elevated Abbot. I think the history of the merger was lost and [Andover] wasn’t viewing Abbot as an equal but I think that has definitely changed,” said Demers.
While Max Berkenblit ’24, a member of the Brace Student Advisory Board, appreciated Andover’s acknowledgment of the anniversary, he hopes to see further efforts to involve current students in the conversation about remembering Abbot.
“I think it’s really cool that Andover has taken some steps to celebrate the 50th of the merging. I’m a little disappointed by how it’s been a little more in the alumni space rather than in the student space. We’ve had the banners up, but I think there could be more student engagement in this conversation of what it means to be 50 years past [the merger], what it was like before the schools were merged, and how we can honor Abbot as a space that still exists within Andover today,” said Berkenblit.