As the Academy changes with the times and in our drive to innovate, we also know which parts of our heritage, which traditions, and which pillars are worth preserving. The history research paper is one of those, and The Governor’s Academy is among a dwindling number of schools today that still require all of their students to write history research papers. Mindful of the Academy’s 250th anniversary, history teacher Bill Quigley last year asked students in his AP US history class – all of them members of the sestercentennial Class of 2013 – to research subjects related to our school’s history, drawing as much as possible from archival records. Three other members of the senior class, in US history sections taught last year by other teachers, chose to do the same. Exemplars of independent, authentic learning, their papers artfully present some of the most marvelous highlights of the Academy’s storied history.
Imogene Robinson ’13
The Commencement of 1939 at Governor Dummer Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts, was in many ways no different from the 176 graduations that had preceded it. Ranks of young men strolled proudly up to the podium to receive their diplomas, having just completed a rigorous four-year education at the Academy. Then, an older person approached the podium, exceptionally gray haired and wrinkled, amidst the strapping teenage boys. Even more unusual, however, was her gender, for Governor Dummer Academy was then the oldest nonsectarian boy’s boarding school in America. Or so people thought. That fine spring day, the Academy Board of Trustees awarded Carrie Dummer a certificate of graduation, recognizing her completion of the Academy’s course of study sixty years earlier, in 1879 (Ragle 142).
Dummer and her company of young women had attended classes at Dummer Academy during a 10-year period of coeducation administered by Headmaster Ebenezer Greenleaf Parsons, 1872-1882, an experiment which would be repeated a second time during the headmastership of Perley Leonard Horne, 1896-1904 (Ragle 76, 85, 174). Those excursions from a strictly all-male institution, a haven for legacies of dynastic New England families that sent generations of sons to the Academy, are barely acknowledged in histories of the Governor’s Academy, and records concerning those periods of coeducation are scarce or else in disarray. The presence of females within the stone walls of the Academy, a century prior to its permanent transition to coeducation in 1971, apparently caused too much of an embarrassment to merit much attention in the school’s proud history.
What, then, could have prompted such an undesirable measure? The traditional view, in John W. Ragle’s bicentennial history of the Academy and in popular lore, is that the coeducational experiments at the Academy were temporary expedients to raise enrollments and revenues at a time when the school teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Coeducation could not have endured at the Academy for as long as it did, or even occur at all, however, without the active moral support of Ebenezer Parsons and Perley Horne, whose headmasterships are more than coincidentally associated with the Academy’s first ambivalent enrollments of girls.
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