Andover Story: Andover’s longest serving school superintendent

Henry C. Sanborn

Though he was not even a candidate for the open position, Henry C. Sanborn was nevertheless recommended by a special search committee in August 1916. The committee members -- John C. Angus, Frederic G. Moore and Phillips Academy Headmaster Alfred E. Stearns -- put forth his name after learning of Sanborn’s successful work in Danvers. An annual salary of $2,300 was also approved.

Sanborn was born on a farm in Webster, New Hampshire in 1872. His family moved to Reading when Henry was 16. He graduated from Reading High School in 1891 before going to Dartmouth.

Postgraduate work was undertaken at George William University in Goettingen, Germany, where he studied “philology,” a scientific study of languages.

First serving as a school superintendent in the Franklin-Penacook, New Hampshire district, he was chosen superintendent of the Danvers schools in 1907. While in Danvers, Sanborn was involved in civic affairs, including executive committee member of the Village Improvement Society, director of the playground committee and park commissioner.

Sanborn’s early path to Andover’s superintendent also is notable.

Sanborn worked his way through college, though later he commented that working took up a lot of time and energy “which could be better devoted to study and other phases of college life.” Needing money for Dartmouth expenses, he invested half-interest in a local bookstore, which made money and afforded him and his partner valuable experience.

Later, when Sanborn’s two sons also attended Dartmouth, he refused to allow them to work after their first year. Both were Phi Beta Kappa in three years. His daughter went to Bryn Mawr, and she also made Phi Beta Kappa, graduating summa cum laude.

In addition to his duties at Andover schools, Sanborn operated a camp for boys in Groton, New Hampshire. He also owned a farm near Concord, New Hampshire. And in his spare time he pursued his hobby of woodworking.

Sanborn’s Andover legacy of 23 years tragically ended on a sad note.

On his last day as superintendent of schools, he passed away “in harness,” probably as he would have wished it.

As reported in the Townsman, “what would have been his first day of retirement saw the flags of Andover drop to half mast, the 1,600 students of the public schools standing in reverent silence.”

Remembrances noted that at the time Sanborn arrived in Andover, the schools were widely scattered, many with only one or two rooms housing six to eight grades. In his last year, 1939, he saw the North School close, the last school in town where a teacher had to teach more than two grades. Sanborn also advanced the schools through the adoption of a junior high school system in the early 1920s.

Sanborn was said to be extremely loyal to his teachers, “loyal because in selecting them he insisted on standards that hired teachers worth being loyal to.”

But his primary interest was in the students, some of whom remembered help he gave them personally, “unconsciously feeling his steadying hand on their shoulder pushing them on;” teaching students “to develop a deep sense of confidence.”

Sanborn is certainly a name that shouldn’t be forgotten, as the Lovejoy Avenue school attests. Also, an oil painting of this admirable man was painted by Harry Sutton Jr., of North Andover, and presented to the Central Junior High School.

Speaking at the portrait’s dedication, Stearns, of the original selection committee, said, “We should develop those who will lift the whole level of the people, to bring about higher standards and ideals. The teaching profession means finer character and ideals and better citizenship. I know of no one who has done it better than Mr. Sanborn.”

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