Andover, in history and name, is inextricably tied to Phillips Andover; for many outside of town, Phillips serves as the easiest reference point. But, in fact, another school first brought Andover to the attention of the country and even the world.
The Andover Theological Seminary, established in 1808, produced many influential alumni, and its buildings now make up the core of Phillips' historic campus. Moreover, the Andover Seminary was not only the oldest in the country, but also the first graduate institution of any kind in America. And yet, few people today are aware of its controversial existence.
Although Massachusetts had stayed fairly true to its Calvinistic Puritan beginnings in the form of Congregationalism, by 1800 a new sect had swept Boston by storm: Unitarianism. This form of Protestantism rejected the aspects of Calvinism inherent to Congregationalism at the time. Rather than accepting that all people were fallen and could only be chosen by God to be saved — predestination — early Unitarians emphasized reason, free will, and the power of people for both good and evil. Also, as the name suggests, they disavowed the idea of the Trinity, believing instead that Jesus was solely a prophet and an example to live by. These changes even swept through Harvard, a founding Congregationalist institution, where the conflict would eventually create the Andover Seminary.
Eliphalet Pearson, first principal of Phillips, later Harvard professor and interim president, was at the center of this conflict. As one of the sole defenders of Calvinist orthodoxy at the college, he fled Cambridge in 1806 after his loss in the bid for president and the election of a Unitarian professor of divinity. With the help of friends at Phillips and in town, he was able to garner enough funding to start the Seminary.
With his Seminary, Pearson wished to counter the rise of Unitarianism by training clergymen to become staunch supporters of orthodox Calvinism. Students partook in three years of study and four major subjects: the Bible, church history, doctrinal theology, and practical arts of the ministry. Before the creation of the Andover Theological Seminary, clergymen obtained a more general undergraduate degree, then proceeded to study under the tutelage of a local minister. Pearson's method would create a more professional minister; in his mind, this type of religious training was crucial for the continuation of Congregationalism.
But in addition to ministers, the seminary also produced hundreds of missionaries. Just several years after its establishment, students and professors showed interest in foreign missions. It would be a way to spread the beliefs of Congregationalism on a global scale. Over the school's 100-year stay in Andover, its graduates proselytized in Greece, Bulgaria, Armenia, Palastine, Turkey, India, Burma, China, Japan, and all over Africa and Latin America. In addition to spreading their beliefs, the men of the seminary also contributed to the study of linguistics. With each new country, they mastered local languages and gathered local lexicons and dictionaries in order to translate the Bible. By 1824, the local press, Flagg and Gould, possessed types for 11 Asian languages, and the first Greek and Hebrew type fonts in America.
All of these accomplishments made the Andover Theological Seminary known to many around the world. But by the 1880s, enrollment dwindled, and the faculty acknowledged that a shift in their reactionary conservatism was inevitable. In 1908, the seminary moved back to Cambridge, but eventually merged with the Newton Theological Institution in Newton, Mass. to become The Andover Newton Theological School.
Despite its struggles in the 20th century, the Andover Theological Seminary helped make Andover the intellectual hub it is recognized as today.
"Andover Stories" is a weekly column about interesting local people and events, told in anticipation of the Andover Historical Society's 100 anniversary in 2011.