Phillips Exeter Academy

Phillips Exeter Academy

Phillips Exeter Academy, at Exeter, N.H.; coeducational; chartered 1781, opened 1783 by John Phillips. It has been an influential preparatory school and has a notable school library. Heavily endowed (1931) by Edward S. Harkness, the school has a large campus and many fine buildings. Founded as a school for boys, it became coeducational in 1970.

See M. R. Williams, Story of Phillips Exeter (1957).

Phillips Exeter Academy (also called Exeter, Phillips Exeter or PEA) is a co-educational independent boarding school for grades 9–12, located on in Exeter, New Hampshire, USA, north of Boston.

Some of the Academy's earlier alumni include: Daniel Webster (class of 1796), U.S. President Franklin Pierce (class of 1820), Robert Lincoln (class of 1860 and son of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln), Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. (class of 1870 and son of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant), Amos Alonzo Stagg (class of 1880 and "grandfather of football"), and Booth Tarkington (class of 1889 and Pulitzer Prize- winning author). Exeter students and alumni call themselves "Exonians”.

Exeter belongs to an organization known as The Ten Schools Admissions Organization. This organization was founded more than forty years ago on the basis of a number of common goals and traditions among the member schools, with a focus on a cohesive standard of education for enriching the "whole" person intellectually, physically and spiritually. Exeter is especially noted for its Harkness education, a system based on a conference format of teacher and student interaction, similar to the Aristotelian method of learning through asking questions and creating discussions.

Exeter is part of America's earliest athletic rivalry between preparatory schools. On May 2, 1878, Phillips Exeter Academy defeated Phillips Academy (Andover) 12-1 in the first ever baseball game played between these two academies. Andover, in turn, defeated Exeter 22-0 in football on November 2, 1878. Ever since, PEA and PA have been athletic rivals; they are at the top of the List of high school football rivalries (100 years+). One of Exeter's most memorable football games took place in 1913 with a 59- 0 victory over Andover. PEA and PA have competed nearly ever year in football since 1878; currently Andover leads in the number of games won.

Exeter also has the oldest-surviving secondary school society, The Golden Branch (founded in 1818), a society for public speaking and inspired by PEA's Rhetorical Society of 1807-1820. Now known simply as 'Debate Team,' these groups served as America's first secondary school organization for oratory and prepared students for the communication skills required for success at Harvard University. Exeter was originally intended to be a preparatory school primarily used for matriculation to Harvard. However, today, Exonians matriculate to many top universities across America and abroad, although each year more students go to Harvard than to any other single college or university.

Origins and philosophy

The Academy was established in 1781 by merchant John Phillips and his wife Elizabeth. Phillips was previously married to Sarah Gilman, wealthy widow of merchant Nathaniel Gilman, whose large fortune conferred onto Phillips ultimately established Exeter Academy. The Gilman family donated to the Academy much of the land on which it stands, including the initial 1793 grant by Governor John Taylor Gilman of the Yard, the oldest part of campus; the Academy's first class in 1783 boasted seven Gilmans. In 1814, Nicholas Gilman, signer of the U.S. Constitution, left $1,000 to Exeter to teach 'sacred music.'

John Phillips was also the uncle of Samuel Phillips, Jr., who had founded Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1778. As a result of this family relationship, the two schools also share an academic rivalry to match their athletic one.

Exeter has three mottos noted on the Academy's seal: "Non Sibi" (in Latin)—"Not for oneself"- indicating a life based on community and duty, "Finis origine pendet" (in Latin)— "The end depends on the beginning"- reflecting Exeter's emphasis on hard work as preparation for a fruitful adult life, a third motto, "Χάριτι Θεου" (in Greek)- "By the grace of God", reflects Exeter's Calvinist origins, of which the only remnant today is the Academy's requirement that most students take two courses in religion or philosophy.

Exeter's Deed of Gift, written by John Phillips at the founding of the school, warns that:

"Though goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind."

The student body

The Academy lays claim to a tradition of diversity. One of its unofficial mottos– "Youth from Every Quarter"– is greatly upheld today. The Director of Scholarships H. Hamilton "Hammy" Bissell (1929) worked actively to assist qualified students from all over the U.S. to attend Exeter. Currently, 45 states, 26 different countries, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are represented in the student body of the Academy. Students of non-European descent represent 38% of the Academy. (Asian 24%, Black 8%, Hispanic/Latino 6%, Native American 0.4%) Male and females each represent 50% of student body. Legacy students represent 13% of the student body. As a result of this tradition, Exeter students come from a broad range of socioeconomic origins and backgrounds. Of new students entering in 2006 (a total of 345), 54% attended public school and 46% attended private, parochial, military, home or foreign schools.

Tenth Principal Richard Ward Day also believed in the value of students studying outside of the town of Exeter, broadening a student's experience and forms of education. During Day's tenure, the Washington Intern Program and Foreign Studies Program were begun. The Academy currently sponsors trimester-long programs in Stratford, England; Grenoble, France; St. Petersburg, Russia; Göttingen, Germany; and Cuernavaca, Mexico. As a result, some of Exeter's alumni may have never even studied on the Academy's campus.

Eighty-one percent of the students live in on-campus dormitories or houses. The remaining nineteen percent of the student body are day students from the surrounding communities, and PEA has been co-educational since 1970. In 1996, a new gender-inclusive Latin inscription Hic Quaerite Pueri Puellaeque Virtutem et Scientiam ("Here, boys and girls, seek goodness and knowledge") was added over the main entrance to the Academy Building to augment the original Huc Venite, Pueri, ut Viri Sitis ("Come hither boys so that ye may become men") to reflect the school's current coeducational status. The Academy also uses a unique designation for its grades: entering first-year students are called Juniors (nicknamed "Preps"), second-years students are Lower Middlers (also called "Lowers"), third-year students are Upper Middlers ("Uppers"), and the Seniors continue to be called "Seniors".

Harkness and Exeter's academics

On April 9, 1930, philanthropist and oil magnate Edward Harkness wrote to Exeter's Principal Lewis Perry regarding how a substantial donation he had made to the Academy might be used for his vision of a new way of teaching and learning:

"What I have in mind is a classroom where students could sit around a table with a teacher who would talk with them and instruct them by a sort of tutorial or conference method, where each student would feel encouraged to speak up. This would be a real revolution in methods."

The result was Harkness Teaching in which a teacher and a group of students work together, exchanging ideas and information, similar to the Aristotelian method of antiquity. In November 1930 Harkness provided a $5.8 million gift to support this initiative. Since then, the Academy's principal mode of instruction has been by discussion, "seminar style", around an oval table known as the Harkness Table. The completion of the Phelps Science Center in 2001 meant that all science classes, previously the only ones taught in a more conventional layout, could also be conducted around the same oval tables. Classes are small, no more than 12 students per class, to encourage all students to participate. These Harkness classes feature heavily in both the school's identity and its day-to-day life

Lectures at Exeter are rare. For example, math is not taught with traditional text books. Instead, workbooks written by the faculty are used. Students complete complex word problems from the workbook and present their work to the class. Students are not given theorems, model problems, or principles beforehand. Instead, these emerge from students' complementary approaches to the assigned problems. Elements of the Harkness method can now be found at academic institutions across the globe, and Phillips Exeter Academy offers 450 courses in 19 subject areas, the student to teacher ratio is 5:1, and a substantial majority of the faculty have advanced degrees in their fields.

The success of an Exeter education is proven by Exeter's large body of students matriculating to top universities. For example, the classes of 2005-2007 most frequently enrolled at the following colleges: Dartmouth, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Stanford, Tufts, and Yale.


Exeter's endowment as of 5 October 2007 was $1 billion. This is the third-highest endowment of any American secondary school, behind the $9.0 billion endowment of Kamehameha Schools in Hawaii, and the $7.8 billion of the Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania, but ahead of the $775 million endowment of its traditional rival, Phillips Academy. Due largely to the successful investments of the school and gifts from wealthy alumni, this school has an endowment of over $1 million per student.

According to the New York Times, Exeter devotes an average of $63,500 annually to each of its students, an amount well above the 2007-8 annual tuition of $37,500. This money is spent on, in addition to operating expenses, maintaining small classes (with a typical student-teacher ratio of no more than 12 to one), computers for students, financial aid, and maintaining two swimming pools, two hockey rinks, and the largest secondary school library in the world. Exeter also ensures a high quality cafeteria, serving such meals as made-to-order omelets for breakfast. "

Campus buildings and facilities

Some of Phillips Exeter Academy's noted buildings on campus are discussed below:

  • Academy Building: The third of its kind, erected in 1914 after a devastating fire ruined the second example. The latest Academy Building was designed by the noted architect Ralph Adams Cram of Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson and houses the History, Math, Religion and Classical Languages departments. Two wings were added to the original structure during the building boom of the 1920s and 1930s, orchestrated by Principal Lewis Perry. The Academy Building also houses the Assembly Hall (formerly known as the Chapel). In former times, non-denominational, Christian religious services were conducted in the Chapel every morning Monday through Saturday before the beginning of classes and attendance was mandatory for all students in keeping with the wishes of the founders of the Academy. The bell (visible in the above photo of the Academy Building tower) was rung in a succession of rings to call the student body to worship: Ones, Twos, Threes, Fours and Fives. After Fives were rung, monitors would begin walking down the rows checking attendance on the benches. The bell continues to be rung to mark the end of classes.
  • Class of 1945 Library: The campus is known for its modern library, designed by Louis Kahn. It is a building of much repute: it was awarded the 25 Year Award by the American Institute of Architects in 1997. On May 19, 2005, the library was honored on a United States Postal Service stamp that inaugurated it as one of twelve Masterworks of Modern American Architecture along with the Chrysler Building, Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall and the TWA terminal in New York's JFK Airport. As of 2006, the library houses 158,000 volumes and has a shelf capacity of 250,000 volumes. It is the largest secondary-school library in the world.

  • Fisher Theater: Home to the Drama Department, Shakespeare Society, and the Dramatic Association (DRAMAT). Includes a blackbox theater (seats: 90) and a main stage (seats: 300).
  • Forrestal Bowld Music Center: Home to the Music Department, the Music Library, and a cappella groups.
  • Nathaniel Gilman House. Corner of Front and Elm Streets. Built in 1740, the Gilman House is a large colonial white clapboard home with a gambrel roof hipped at one end, a leaded fanlight over the front door and a wide panelled entry hall. This home, as well as the Benjamin Clark Gilman House, also owned by the Academy, were built for members of Exeter's Gilman family. The Nathaniel Gilman House is home to the Academy's Alumni and Alumnae Affairs and Development Office.
  • Mayer Art Center: Home to the Art Department and the Lamont Art Gallery.
  • Phelps Science Center: Designed by Centerbrook Architects, the center provides laboratory and classroom space. Recipient in 2004 of American Institute of Architects New Hampshire's Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture.
  • Phelps Academy Center: Opened in the spring of 2006. It is home to the new Grill, the new Post Office, the Forum (a 300 person auditorium), most student clubs including the PEAN (Phillips Exeter Annual, the student yearbook), the Exonian (Exeter's student newspaper, the oldest continuously running secondary school newspaper in the country), PEALife Magazine (PEAL), the Student Council (StuCo), Student Activities, and WPEA, the school's student-run radio station.
  • Phillips Church (formerly the Third Congregational Church): Renovated and reopened in the winter of 2003, the building is a place of worship for students to all faiths. The building includes a Hindu shrine, a Muslim prayer room and ablutions fountain, a kosher kitchen, and a meditation room. Services that are individual to Phillips Church include Evening Prayer on Tuesday nights, Thursday Meditation, and Indaba—a religious open forum.
  • Phillips Hall: Home to the English and Modern Languages Departments. Includes the Elting Room (home to faculty meetings). The fifth floor is entirely devoted to debate, and serves as the Phillips Exeter Debate Team meeting place. Built during the tenure of Principal Lewis Perry.
  • Abbot Hall: the school's oldest dormitory, named for the Second Principal Benjamin Abbot.
  • The Boiler Plant: The Academy has its own steam-boiler operation where steam is raised and piped all over the campus, heating most of the buildings.


Tuition to Exeter for the 2007–2008 school year is $36,500 for boarding students and $28,200 for day students, not including optional and mandatory fees. Exeter offers need-based financial aid. Beginning with the Prep (freshman) class of 2010, Exeter has offered admission on a need-blind basis.

On Wednesday, November 7, 2007, Principal Tyler Tingley announced that beginning in the 2008-2009 academic year, admitted students whose family income is $75,000 or less will receive a free education.

Summer school

Each summer, Phillips Exeter hosts over 700 students for a five-week program of academic study. The summer program accommodates a diverse student body typically derived from over 40 different states and dozens of foreign countries.

Exeter's summer school is divided into two programs of study: Upper School, which offers a wide variety of classes to students currently enrolled in high school who are entering grades ten through twelve as well as serving post graduates; and Access Exeter, a program for students entering grades eight and nine, which offers accelerated study in the arts, sciences and writing as well as serving as an introduction to the school itself. Access Exeter curriculum consists of five academic clusters; each cluster consists of three courses organized around a focused central theme. Some of Exeter's summer school programs also give students the opportunity to experience studies outside of Exeter's campus environment, including interactions with other top schools and students, experience with Washington D.C., and travel abroad.


Exeter is known not only for its strong academic curriculum, but also for its history of highly competitive athletic teams. PEA first organized its PEA Baseball Club on October 19, 1859, and on September 6, 1875, Exeter had the first meeting of the Phillips Exeter Academy Athletic Association. Captains of all Exeter's athletic teams were awarded the right to display the Academy's "E" on their sweaters, along with a certificate from the Phillips Exeter Academy Athletic Association authenticating their rights in writing.

Today, students are required to participate in intramural or interscholastic athletic programs. The school offers 65 interscholastic teams at the varsity and junior varsity level as well as 27 intramural sports squads. Other various fitness classes are also offered. The boys' water polo team has won twenty-two New England prep school championships. Until winter of 2008, boys' swimming had won fifteen of the last seventeen New England championships, placing runner-up both losing years. The cycling team is the defending champion. Wrestling has won the New England tournament thirteen times as well.

Exeter is a fixture in New England championship tournaments in nearly all sports, narrowly missing the championship in both boys' and girls' soccer in 2005, and winning the New England Class A Championship in football in 2003. In 2007, the boys' squash team finished second at the New England Division A Interscholastic Championship and fourth at the National High School Team Tournament. Both the men's and women's cross country teams have become perennial powerhouses, winning the NEPSTA Championship multiple times in the past decade. The wrestling team has won more Class A and New England Prep School Wrestling Association titles than any other team, most recently winning the Class A tourney in 2007, 2003 and the New England tourney in 2001. It has also crowned a National Prep Wrestling champion, Rei Tanaka, in 1990. Both the girls' and boys' ice hockey teams have won New England championships recently as well.

The boys' crew took first, fourth and fourth place at the U.S. Rowing Junior National Championships in 1996, 2002 and 2008 respectively. The girls' team took sixth place at the 2006 championships, fourth in 2007 and third in 2008. The boys' crew was the first organized sport at Exeter and over its more than 100 years of competition has produced several Olympians, National Team members and numerous Division I rowers. The school's traditional athletic rival is Phillips Academy, and the annual Exeter-Andover Football game has been played with great passion since 1878. Other opponents on the sports fields include Deerfield Academy, Northfield Mount Hermon, Choate Rosemary Hall, Loomis Chaffee, Avon Old Farms, Worcester Academy, and Cushing Academy.

The athletics program utilizes many facilities including:

  • The George H. Love Gymnasium: Houses squash facilities with 10 international sized courts, one swimming pool, two basketball courts, a weight training room, sports science lab, gym offices, two hockey rinks, a training room, locker rooms and visiting team locker rooms.
  • The Thompson Gymnasium (Gift of Col. William Boyce Thompson [1890]): Houses a basketball court, a dance studio, one swimming pool, more visiting team locker rooms, a cycling training room and a media room.
  • The Thompson Cage (Built 1931; gift of Col. William Boyce Thompson [1890]): An indoor cage (two tracks: one with a wooden surface and one with a dirt surface, an open dirt surfaced multipurposed area) with a wrestling room and gymnastics space attached.
  • Ralph Lovshin Track: An outdoor, all-weather track named for the long-serving, much loved track coach.
  • Plimpton Playing Fields: Room for all the Academy's Varsity and JV sports.
  • Phelps Stadium: Used for football, lacrosse and field hockey. Has been recently converted into turf surface.
  • William G. Saltonstall Boathouse: Center of crew on campus, on the Squamscott River. Named for the Ninth Principal.
  • Amos Alonzo Stagg Baseball Diamond: Named for the distinguished alumnus.
  • Hilliard Lacrosse Field
  • Roger Nekton Championship Pool: Named for the distinguished and long-serving former swimming and water polo coach.
  • 23 outdoor tennis courts
  • Several miles of cross country and running trails
  • Wrestling practice room

Exeter's emblems

Exeter is known by two symbols: a seal depicting a river, sun and beehive, incorporating the Academy's mottos; and the Lion Rampant. The seal has similarities to that used by Phillips Academy Andover—an emblem designed by Paul Revere—and its imagery tends to be Masonic in nature. A beehive often represented the industry and cooperation of a lodge or, in this case, the studies and united efforts in support of the Academy. The Lion Rampant is a symbol derived from the Phillips family's coat of arms, thereby making a statement that all of the Academy's alumni are part of the "Exonian family".

School colors and the alumnus tie

There are several variants of official school colors associated with Phillips Exeter Academy that range from crimson red and white to burgundy red and silver. Black is also a color associated with the school to a lesser extent. Exeter's official school color is typically generalized as a deep red, a color associated with Harvard University and Exeter's once primary matriculation. The traditional school tie reserved for both the standard school year alumni and the summer school alumni is a burgundy red tie with alternating diagonal silver strips and diagonal rows of silver lion rampants. The alumnus' tie was typically made from a Boston manufacturer also associated with Harvard University neckware.


The first Greek Letter Society at Phillips Exeter Academy, Pi Kappa Delta, was formed in 1870, and fraternities long played a significant role in student affairs and formed a strong bond among alumni members. By 1891, four of the Academy's most noted fraternities were established. Kappa Epsilon Pi- known by its skull and laurel wreath badge, was often fashioned as a preparatory order of Skull and Bones. Principal Fish dissolved all traditional brotherhoods during his tenure, but by 1896, six new societies were chartered along with the continued activation of Kappa Epsilon Pi. However, all of Exeter's fraternities during this period had newly appointed faculty members for strict supervision. By the 20th century, there were five extant societies, with Kappa Epsilon Pi remaining as the Academy's most prestigious fraternity. On June 8, 1946, all of Exeter's surviving fraternities were ordered to close by Exeter's administration since it was believed that all fraternities had outlived their usefulness.

Notable alumni

Exeter has a history of political families in attendance, such as David Eisenhower, grandson of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and John Negroponte, the first Director of National Intelligence. Businessmen Joseph Coors and David Rockefeller, Jr. have also attended. Within the fields of the arts and technology, PEA alumni include brothers Win Butler and William Butler of Montreal indie rock band Arcade Fire; Dan Brown, the best-selling author of The Da Vinci Code; John Knowles, author of A Separate Peace; Gore Vidal; George Plimpton; and Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Professional athletes include Sam Fuld and Tom Cavanagh (ice hockey).

Exeter in print

Several pieces of fiction mention Exeter. Some of the more significant works have been by alumni, who often change the name of the school in their works. Examples are listed below:

  • A Separate Peace: This novel by John Knowles is set at "Devon", a thinly-veiled fictionalization of Exeter, in the summer of 1942. The climactic scene of the novel is set in the Ralph Adams Cram-designed Chapel.
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany: In this novel by John Irving, the protagonist/narrator, John Wheelwright, and his best friend, Owen Meany, are both day students at Gravesend Academy, modeled after Exeter. Owen writes a popular column in The Grave (modeled after The Exonian) called "The Voice", which is critical of the school administration and the Vietnam war, among other topics. Part of this book was later adapted for the movie Simon Birch, though none of the Exeter parts made it into the film.
  • The World According to Garp: In this novel by John Irving, the protagonist/narrator, T.S. Garp, is the illegitimate, only child of Jenny Fields, the school nurse at "Steering School", Irving's fictionalized name for Exeter. Young Garp grows up in Steering's infirmary, eventually attending the school and joining its wrestling team. The book was adapted into a screenplay for the film of the same name, starring Robin Williams, Glenn Close, and featuring a cameo by the author as a wrestling referee.
  • A Widow for One Year: In this novel by John Irving, Eddie O'Hare, one of the main characters of the story, is a student at Exeter. Also, Eddie's father, "Minty" O'Hare, is a teacher there, and Eddie is raised on the campus.
  • The Imaginary Girl Friend: In this collection of autobiographical essays by John Irving, both Exeter and wrestling are discussed. The dust jacket features a photo from the PEAN of the 1961 Exeter Varsity Wrestling Team.
  • Tea and Sympathy: This play by Robert Anderson (later a movie as well) treats the inner struggles of an Exeter student.
  • In Revere, in Those Days: A novel by Roland Merullo, this is about a boy who, instead of attending public school in his predominantly Italian town in Massachusetts, attends Exeter and plays hockey.
  • American Psycho: A novel by Bret Easton Ellis. The main character, Patrick Bateman, refers to his education at Phillips Exeter Academy before attending Harvard and Harvard Business School.

The following pieces of nonfiction mention Exeter and/or document its history.

Exeter in film

Exeter has also been a subject in film. Some examples are listed below:

  • American Psycho (2000): The movie's main character, Patrick Bateman, is said to be a graduate of Exeter.
  • A Separate Peace (1972): The movie is filmed on the Exeter campus, with the author having based the fictional Devon on his years at Exeter.
  • Trading Places (1983): Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) is mentioned to have attended Exeter as part of his "excellent breeding" by Mortimer Duke (Don Ameche).
  • The Prince of Tides (1991): Bernard Woodruff, the son of one of the main characters, Dr. Susan Lowenstein, played by Barbra Streisand and her real-life son Jason Gould, responds, when asked disparagingly where he goes to school, "Phillips Exeter, smartass." (Source, IMDB)
  • Murder Without Motive: The Edmund Perry Story (1992): Edmund Perry, the story's protagonist, attended Exeter as a scholarship student prior to his death. The focus is on the four years he spent there and the events at the Academy which ultimately led to the tragedy.
  • Scent of a Woman (1992): Al Pacino's character mentions Exeter losing to the Baird School in football.
  • The Door in the Floor (2004): The main character is an Exeter student who moves to The Hamptons to be the apprentice of an author.


External links

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