Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

June 27, 2013

Adams left a conservative mark on Phillips

Andover Stories
Andover Historical Society

---- — The following article appeared in the Phillips Academy newspaper, The Phillipian, on Feb. 1, 1967. It highlights events at the school during John Adams’ reign in the early 1800s:


While John Adams, the fourth principal of Phillips Academy, was “ruling” with his iron hand, a good many minor revolutions took place.

By 1815, the trustees had established an entrance fee of $5. The regular cost of tuition “to be used for fuel, incidental expenses and tuition” was soon set at $5 a quarter, twice that of 1780.

The second academy building, built on the spot of the present armillary sphere, was manifestly inadequate in terms of the requirements of the growing school. When it was destroyed by fire in January 1818, Adams made a vigorous appeal for funds, and $13,252.73 was appropriated to construct the present-day Bulfinch Hall.

A catalog of the school was printed for the first time. In 1820, at Adams’ suggestion, the trustees arranged prescribed studies for a diploma, the required courses being outlined under 20 heads, of which 13 were classical and two mathematical. Every boy also had to learn to sing and to take lessons from a writing master. It was during this period that the school came closest to satisfying the desires of its founders.

Adams’ influence, however, was exhibited most decisively in the field of morals and religion. Himself a devout and earnest man, he felt a sense of responsibility for the spiritual welfare of his students. Dancing was of course forbidden, and when a rash Frenchman proposed starting a dancing academy in town, Adams attempted with eventual success to have him ejected by the citizens of Andover (”An Old New England School,” Claude Fuess). Smoking, although it was something the principal himself indulged in, was considered to be a heinous offense when committed by students.

The height of Adams’ success at Phillips Academy was probably around 1825, when the attendance at the academy was the greatest it had been since the school opened in 1778. “Even then, a change was foreshadowed. Younger men of a new era were molding the policy of the trustees, and Adams, with his conservative nature, found himself out of accord with their views.”

On Nov. 22, 1832, John Adams, then 61 years old, read a formal letter of resignation at a meeting of the Board of Trustees. He pointed out “with due modesty my achievements,” and presented unimpeachable statistics regarding the general growth and development of the school.

While principal at PA, Adams wrote the following rules “to aid parents and teachers in the government of children:”

As children must have recreations and companionships, be a child yourself among children. A great thing it is for a man of thorough culture to be himself simpler in tastes and natural in manner. In other words, to be a “Little Child” after the method of Christian greatness.

Avoid opprobrious epithets and mock names.

Avoid partiality. Remember the “coat of many colors.”

Never deceive a child. If a nauseous medicine must be given, never say that it is sweet when it is bitter.

Be careful as to the motive presented to children. You may foster a revengeful spirit, or its opposite, in a very young child. A child has been hurt by hitting himself against a chair or table. An injudicious nurse bids the child to strike the chair and so has taught a lesson of retaliation not to be forgotten.

Never indulge in ridicule or irony referring to the faults of your children. By this, you cut not to heal and cure, but to hurt.

Never threaten. He who puts a child under a menace is himself bound and committed.

Never punish a child who criminates himself rather than utter a falsehood. If an offender has frankly confessed the wrong he has done, and that confession is followed by chastisement, the boy will always be tempted to reason that if he had denied the charge, he would have escaped the punishment. Never expose a child to such a temptation.

Everything must look to the securing of entire and cheerful obedience. The Fourth Commandment is the foundation of the whole social code.


Andover Stories is a recurring feature in The Townsman, submitted by the Andover Historical Society.