The Phillips Exeter Academy was the inspiration for the Devon School in "A Separate Peace," written by John Knowles, according to an essay written by Knowles and published on the Exeter Academy website. Knowles attended Phillips Exeter Academy from September 1942 to August 1944.
Knowles applied to Phillips Exeter Academy on a whim while attending high school in West Virginia. He wrote an essay about the classic novel "Jane Eyre" as part of his entrance exam, as opposed to a commercial work such as "Gone with the Wind." This essay was what helped him get into the school as a low-middler in September 1942, as he states he was not good in Latin nor in mathematics. Despite that, he soon learned to study and won a $100 grant for his grade after the first term.
He attended summer sessions to catch up on the year he was behind. That summer, in 1943, was when he realized how much he enjoyed Exeter. He spent two summers there and completely immersed himself in the school, and he claims that the summer of 1943 was one of his happiest. That is when he met David Hackett, on whom he modeled his character Finny. That summer was filled with joy, fun, loyalty and friendship, with no envy, hatred or violence as is seen in the book.